I’ve kept myself from exulting over Libya too much because the left is divided on Libya, but I’m exultant. There is an old journalistic rule that a trend requires three events, and Libya consolidates the Arab spring as a trend of great revolutions across the Arab world. It has uprooted a hateful tyrant, it has added auto-mechanics-turned-armorers and geologists-turned-generals to the west’s new image bank of Arab ingenuity. It has silenced all that tribal talk in the name of democracy. And America was on the right side.
The neocons and neoliberals have battened on to Libya as a sequel to Iraq. They bring up Iraq all the time, they want to justify their murderous occupation in Iraq by claiming Libya. I don’t buy it, but I can tune them out.
I am hopeful that ten years after 9/11 America has learned something, that it can be on the side of the people in the Arab world, on the side of a genuine popular uprising, which is what Libya is. When the Libyan ambassador to Washington, Suleiman Aujali, said yesterday that NATO was there in our hour of need, I was stirred by that. We can change our paradigm in the Arab world. And I believe there is a way for the west to participate in the rebuilding of Libya without a foremost imperial interest. And if Europe cares about oil or refugees, again, I don’t really care. Look what the refugee problem has done to the Palestinian issue, and Somalia. And as for oil, I want the left to talk conservation, and global warming.
Ten years ago Arundhati Roy wrote a famous essay in the Guardian attacking the U.S. military-imperial presence in Asia, and I want to believe that era is ending. Roy said that we don’t see Asians on TV; but we have seen Arabs all over television this spring, in inspiring roles, and I believe in the American story enough to think that our civil rights movement and feminist movement and gay rights movement are available to the world; and that after 7 decades of demonizing Arabs, 7 decades since FDR promised King Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia that he would consult the Arab neighbors on the future of Palestine, and that promise was voided, we will begin to apply the principle that All men are created equal to the Arabs world.
The contradiction here is Palestine. Israel is the reason that “Arabists” were marginalized in the State Department. Israel is a good part of the reason that we were sold a “clash of civilizations.” Right now on MSNBC Jane Harman, a stalwart of the Israel lobby, was saying that our real enemies are Syria and Iran. They threaten our “strategic interest,” Israel.
But I say Libya’s liberation hurts that agenda, it does not advance it. The Arab spring is a great motion of history in our lifetimes. It is eroding Zionism in the name of democracy. Of course it will be a great contradiction if a month after the U.S. helps the rebels capture Tripoli, we work against Palestinian self-determination in the U.N., but it took Jews and Americans a few decades to fall into the messianic trap that is Zionism, and it is going to take us a while to dig out, and it actually helps this process that all the contradictions of our Palestinian policy are being held up to the light. We are for human rights in Libya, against them in Palestine. For the International Criminal Court in Libya, against it in Israel. For self-determination and democracy in Libya, against them in Palestine and Israel. These contradictions are too stark to be ignored. They show that the special relationship is unprecedented, they show that what we readily endorse in Pakistan, East Timor, and Kosovo — self-determination– we cannot tolerate in Palestine. Americans are being educated. The Arab spring will change us too.