Has anyone else noticed the odd double-standard that has characterized the media’s reporting on Libya, and even more so the politicians’ spin on events there?
When the rebels tell chilling stories about how Gaddafi is mercilessly killing civilians, they are presented as hard fact–or rather soft, stretchy fact, that can be inflated like a balloon from “scores” to “hundreds” to “thousands.” But when the Libyan government alleges that coalition bombs are killing civilians, these are immediately qualified with “these reports cannot be verified”; the media then hastens to raise doubts about these “allegations,” and ends by dismissing them as propaganda.
When people rose up and demonstrated against Gaddafi, no doubts were raised about their sincerity or their motives, or their numbers. We were encouraged to believe that they were merely the tip of the iceberg, a few of untold masses who were ready to rise up and be rid of him. But when people have taken to the streets demonstrating in favor of Gaddafi, we are first encouraged to think that they have merely been bribed, and when this argument stops working, we are reminded that there are hundreds of thousands more that did not take to the streets, and we can only assume that it is because they hate Gaddafi and are too afraid to say so.
When the Arab League calls for a no-fly zone and invites the UN to intervene, we are told that this is absolutely crucial, that the Arab League is very important and lends legitimacy to the whole operation, that without the Arab League’s request for action, action would probably not be taken. But as soon as the Arab League says, “Whoa, wait a minute!” and calls for a halt of coalition attacks, everyone is hastening to explain why the Arab League is unimportant, can’t be taken seriously, and can be safely ignored.
When Gaddafi makes absurd speeches and accusations, as he is wont to do, we are told that he is a lunatic and should not be listened to or believed. But when he makes a fiery speech about how the rebels will be shown “no mercy,” but will be hunted “house to house,” then immediately these words are trumpeted far and wide, and we are urged to take them literally and with absolute seriousness, as proof that hundreds of thousands will die if we don’t intervene right away. Worst of all, in almost every report, speech, and opinion column, a crucial caveat of Gaddafi’ threat is left out–those who continue to resist will be shown no mercy; those who surrender will be shown amnesty.
In other words, it was precisely not civilians that he was threatening to kill, but armed rebels who continued to resist by arms. And this is a very different matter. Most countries reserve the right to kill armed rebels within their borders seeking to overthrow the government–that doesn’t make it right, of course, but we cannot simply call it “genocide,” as some of the more sensationalist attacks on Gaddafi have. Indeed, many countries reserve the right to kill armed rebels within their borders who are seeking merely to secede and mind their own affairs, leaving the main government entirely alone. Pat Buchanan pointed out the hypocrisy quite brilliantly in an editorial yesterday,
Indeed, Gadhafi has asked of Obama, “If you found them taking over American cities by force of arms, what would you do?”
Well, when the South fired on Fort Sumter, killing no one, Abraham Lincoln blockaded every Southern port, sent Gen. Sherman to burn Atlanta and pillage Georgia and South Carolina, and Gen. Sheridan to ravage the Shenandoah. He locked up editors and shut down legislatures and fought a four-year war of reconquest that killed 620,000 Americans — a few more than have died in Gadhafi’s four-week war.
Good thing we didn’t have an “international community” back then.
The Royal Navy would have been bombarding Lincoln’s America.
Of course, it may well be that Gaddafi would’ve killed civilians anyway…certainly such an assault would have entailed many civilian deaths, intended or not. Quite possibly, his promises of amnesty could not be trusted. Perhaps he was not merely out to vanquish rebels, but to indulge in a bloodthirsty taste for massacre. Perhaps peace negotiations were not an option, because he was hell-bent on wanton destruction. But if so, this should be argued for, not merely assumed. One of the Western media’s favorite tactics is to demonize our enemies–to paint them as irrational, bestial, possessed of no shred of human feeling. This tactic obviates any need for dialogue or diplomacy–any calls for such can be dismissed as absurd, because, “Such people simply cannot be reasoned with.” We know a priori that they are bestial, and so are entitled to treat them as such, and to assume the worst of all their actions.
As Christians, however, we are called to believe that love is stronger than hate, that no one is past redemption; rather than making our enemy sub-human, separated from us by an unbridgeable chasm, we are called to put ourselves in the shoes of the murderer and the oppressor, because Christ made himself one of us when we were murderers and oppressors.
And this, by the way, is why I am so distressed at what is happening. I have been a bit taken aback in the last couple days to find that my vociferous opposition to the intervention is shared by many of the arch-conservatives back home that I almost never see eye-to-eye with. But while they may rant against the war because Obama started it, and everything he does is evil, or because it was “unconstitutional” or, worst of all (but most frequent of all), because it is not clear to them how it “serves American interests,” that is not why we must oppose it. I’m all for helping the oppressed, not American interests. But will this help the oppressed? Not if it is founded on deception, as it seems to be. Not if it shows no love of enemy, no interest in reconciliation. Not if it is has no clear objectives or victory strategy. In short, we must oppose it because it has given no clear evidence of being in any way a just war. I hope in a post this weekend to analyze the conflict rigorously in terms of traditional just war criteria, to show just how seriously it falls short.
(Thanks to Nick Needham for the Buchanan link; and here are a few more for thought-provoking further reading: http://www.newvision.co.ug/D/8/12/749765; http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/mar/22/libya-conflict-aims; http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/22/world/africa/22tripoli.html?_r=1&hp; http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/mar/22/libya-no-fly-zone-united-nations; http://www.stratfor.com/weekly/20110321-libya-west-narrative-democracy)