March 8, 2011

Downplaying violence of Libya's rebels helps no one

The Libyan rebellion could end today, if Muammar Qaddafi decides to take some deal from the international community and the forces opposing him, or it could continue for some time. What distinguishes Libya from the other countries being overtaken by popular frustration and protests is that Qaddafi's opposition is armed, organized, and dangerous.

Non-violent protest is a noble undertaking, and where it inspires or succeeds, all the better. In Libya's case, tribal allegiances have been suppressed for 40-plus years, the regime has been especially brutal, and Qaddafi unleashed his wrath and fury early in the peaceful phase of demonstrations. The American Revolution was certainly violent, and it had to be, though the British oppression that provoked it was mostly economic and political rather than physical. Non-violence is not a prerequisite for legitimacy.

The outcome is far from certain, even if the rebels succeed. Will there be anything resembling a democracy that respects minority rights? There seems to be no military guarantor of security and stability, as has so far emerged in Egypt. Although many nations, including recently the United States, have traded with Qaddafi's Libya and supplied weapons, the West cannot be considered his sponsor in any substantive sense. His downfall need not be a rebuke against Washington, and NATO, the European Union and the United Nations Security Council seem to be mostly on the same page.

Aside from possibly establishing a limited "no fly zone", we need to give the rebels some space to wage their own battle for Tripoli. Whatever Libyan government results will likely be no more lethal than Qaddafi has been over the years, and there will probably be more opportunity for collective leadership and transparency.

Overall, the press coverage and commentary have downplayed the two-way violence in Libya, exception for concerns that weaponry might find its way into the hands of terrorists (imagine that!). Discounting the rebels' use of force does a disservice to the Tunisian and Egyptian transformations still underway, and to the murmurings of change elsewhere in the region.

There is no shame in a violent uprising, especially if it is justified and moreso if it is objective reality. The price of liberty is not just martyrdom, it can also be violent combat and ruthless aggression against a tyrant. It would be valuable for a Western audience to be reminded of this once in a while.

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