the war in syria is on everybodies mind – isis is portrayed to be yet the worst thing human kind has produced in its millenials of violent history, refugees are pouring the consequences of the war into otherwise so happily ignorant european faces and the media attention is so focused on syria that they even forget that iraq is equally in bits and pieces (well, we wrote about iraq for ten years already; syria sells better, despite the current ‘big war’ and potentially decisive battle being in iraqi mosul, but who will notice? itMs all ‘against isis’ anyways; plus, if we write about iraq people might start to assume it’s the americans fault … so let’s focus on syria!).
the thing is – yes isis is brutal, but not the most brutal the world has ever seen; yes, an ever growing amount of refugees in europe puts pressure on socioeconomic systems and societies, but at the same time ‘our systems’, our politicians and our weapons and steel companies are the ones who helped a lot in creating this f*cked up situation in the first place; and last, yes mosul is a decisive battle but syria started in libya and if you want to end syria, you also have to start in libya!
technically one could even argue, syria started in tunesia. do you still remember that at all? 2011, the arab spring. highly (over)celebrated in western media (and sadly picked up largely unreflectedly by an ever more populistic western academia) as the glorious starting point of democracy in the ‘middle ages stuck’- middle east. actually, history could still prove this analysis to be right – but just like in european history, democracy is not something that comes overnight, nor without a lot of bloodshed (remember the jacobines?). personally, i am not so concerned with the question whether this event is a move towars democracy or another shift in the balance of power; what matters is that the tunisian example spread like a fire and spilled over to -among others- libya. the reason why libya is so much more important to mention than the others is simple: because the ‘western alliance’ screwed it up royally! i can’t remember whether it was the europeans or the americans who had the gloriously brilliant idea to kill gaddafi; the brutal, yet stabilizing dictator of the country who for the past decades had been their trusted ally (if you want to throw values over board, this is how you do it!). either way, gaddafi was killed and every fan of game of thrones can tell you what happened next: when you remove the (illegitimate but) strong center of power, what you get is chaos, destruction, and decentralization of power. war, in one word. the state fell apart. local militias formed, townsmen picked up weapons to fight and to defend themselves, and in the mist of war everyone started killing for better opportunities.
the situation today
at the moment, in libya, there are three governments. (if you ask whether any of them are democratic, you missed the point entirely.) local warlords terrorize the cities and towns. people pull taxes, livelihoods, and children at will from those too weak to defend themselves. why? because they can. there is no law. there is no authority to control them. and before you judge – i really really wonder what the streets would look like in baltimore if you pulled out the police for just a few days and told the people to make their own laws. or try paris. people who have money, influence or weapons, try to climb the ladder of influence. power is a soothing drug. it makes you want it while believeing you deserve it. the law of the fist (or the firearm -lovingly supplied by their former official allies in the western countries) trumps all morale, religion, rhethoric, and law.
so when have we forgotten about libya? syria went really badly down the drains around 2013. isis became popularly known in 2014. by that time, war in libya had been waging for three full years. and yet suddenly we forgot about it. boring, let’s move on. but the power vacuum in this one country has created such a black hole of violence, human catastrophe, and weapons that it actually affects the entire region around them – and yet we (in the western world of media and biased perception) decide to completely ignore these inter-connectivities.
let me ask you a question – where does isis have its weapons from?
there is a group of people, some iraqi, some syrian, some from all regions of the world who pour in because they enjoy ‘a good ol’ scrap’ – they want to fight in the syrian war. they want to prove their own masculinity. they don’t have jobs to give them a future – so they look for a future in war: die in glory or fight for more money, women, and opportunity. war gives opportunity to those who have none – it’s the oldest trick in the book; and yet the western continent who (thank god and the european union) has been untouched by war for almost two generations now choses to blatantly ignore this fact based on their own self-image of civilization and somehow ‘higher’ stage of humanity that they then voluntarily and patronizingly export into the rest of the world. but people fight. willingly and voluntairly. and they need weapons to pillage and loot. so where to take them from? the local black market has good-old russian material from the cold war at best. the weapons are used and old and sometimes a bigger threat than the enemy. but isis has fresh weapons. modern weapons. heavy weapons. weapons only a state would (or should?) ususally have. where did they get them from? from libya.
imagine you being a military leader in libya. you’re wealthy above average. you are powerful and yet you still follow commands. what if the supreme command breaks away though? what if your army disintegrates? people leave; they steal a weapon or two on their way out. everything goes down the drains. do you stand and pull everyone together? do you punish those who leave? it might be easy with some but when it’s half your army things get tricky. so what now? do you start fighting yourself? you know how to. you have access to a lot of great weapons. but wait, if they leave, and steal, and get away with it, why wouldn’t you? but why steal a tank when you can sell it? sell it and take a long long vacation on an island somewhere; your bank account hidden on another island or between the swiss mountains. what do you think happened after the collapse of the soviet union? it’s the same story, always. and so the weapons from libya drippled into the black market and into syria.
so nowadays we are all so focused on syria that we forgot libya ever happened. but libya is in pieces. still. the human suffering, despite not being shown in youtube clips made by isis and hence not being quite as media effective in the west, is tremendously high and the laws against humanity will one day fill international court rooms and student’s theses as another ruanda that the west just overlooked. oops.
libya is forgotten. do we take refugees from libya? we don’t. in fact we actively act as though there was nothing wrong there. at max there is some who mention how annoying it is that ever since gaddafi is gone, the libyan state is the center of human trafficking to europe. well, let’s put up a big defence line of maritime patrols in the sea, let’s consider bombing refugee ships ashore in libya, and let’s bribe the new local warlords to not send us refugees – we give them a good deal on more weapons in return! oh glorious europe, the more you announce your values of human rights the more you prove your own hypocricy in libya. libya in fact proves the worry a kurdish major expressed to me just last week: “isis is not our problem. as long as isis is here, western attention is here. the real problem starts after isis, when hashti shabi and other militias will start fighting within iraq an no one will even care to look at their cruelty.”
what a statement. isis is not a problem; the problem ony start when the west choses to turn their attention away. well, we turned our attention away from libya – and people die as a result of our ignorance.
in the west, we uphold human rights. yet we treat muslims and arabs like second class people – ask the jews how that feels. we defend liberties and democracy and yet we support anything that keeps ‘those damn refugees off our backs’. should we shoot at them at the border?-when did it become okay again to even think like that let alone utter it in public?!
so, while europe upholds values of humanity, we forget to be human – because we forget the people behind the numbers and we forget entire civilizations and our own faults in the chaos. we even manage to forget an entire country five times the size of germany!
the thing is, even when you drop the humanity argument – libya is vital strategically too! as long as libya is in pieces, the entire region will be unstable. so if syria started in libya, you need to end it in libya too. but unfortunately people are no longer aware of the inter-connectivities in this world …