Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: Guns first, then with indecent haste, the deals


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The Independent Online

It didn't take long for barbarism to crawl out in Libya and here in Europe. As the regime fell, victory turned to vendetta and voyeurism.

Over there, maddened men summarily killed Colonel Gaddafi and his son Mutassim and put them on display. Few public figures spoke up against the execution, perhaps because they think it's no big deal. After all Osama Bin Laden and al-Qa'ida's Anwar al-Awlaki were eliminated on the orders of Obama. It's girlie to insist that bad men should be tried.

Then along slithered Philip Hammond, our new Defence Secretary, with indecent haste, inviting British businesses to "pack their bags" and head for Libya. The French might be there already. That's one solution for the economic crisis. Make wars and dosh. Repulsive, this modern scramble for Africa and the Middle East, but not at all surprising. It is called "national self-interest".

You may have backed Nato's intervention for noble reasons and because the rebels asked for help. A part of me did too and undeniably, without European firepower, Gaddafi would still be crushing his terrorised people. After 42 years Libyans are liberated. You'd have to be cold as ice to resist the sight of the thousands who came out into the light after a long, dark age. They winked, laughed and sported their country's new colours. I understood their sense of release. I lived under a tyrant too, Idi Amin of Uganda, one of Gaddafi's best buddies. It is impossible to describe the fear that never sleeps, pounds away when you are walking, eating or quietly reading in a library. People disappear and you have to pretend you didn't know them, ask no questions. Trust between friends, lovers and siblings burns away. God willing, Libyans will learn to live free and to trust again. That does not mean we all have to indulge in unthinking rapture or accept without question the spin of British and French governments.

Last Thursday I was at a dinner to discuss Libya with senior officials, expert negotiators, academics and journalists. No one had anticipated Gaddafi would die that day, and his regime fall, so spirits were high. But I had not expected normally cautious thinkers to confess to feeling "euphoric" and justifying the intervention as wholly altruistic and a corrective for the "mistakes" (their word) made in Iraq. They assured us it was nothing to do with oil or other advantages for the allies.

I was unconvinced and uncomfortable with some of the over-pleased round the table. The Libyans present were immensely grateful and who can blame them? But the rest of us have a duty to interrogate the official narratives. An Arab analyst spoke about the uncertain future and pointed out the inconsistencies in Anglo-French responses. If Libya, why not Syria? Later two people were critical of my "contrariness" and I sensed they thought that my doubts were treachery.

Well here are some more treacherous questions. Was the killing of Gaddafi necessary because alive and in court he might have revealed too much about French and British complicities in recent years? Claude Moniquet, a security expert in Brussels, told Euronews back in March that the allies had a moral purpose behind their military action, but that there were also, "or so the rumours have it, several embarrassing skeletons in the closet. Remember when France put out the flags when Gaddafi visited only two years ago?" Mr Blair was so often in the tyrant's tent the smell of Gaddafi must be upon him still. When will he answer for this intimacy?

Our vulgarians bellow he was a "mad dog". Well for many years European leaders and establishments sought out the rabid beast and his kith and kin. We are still selling weapons in the Middle East to despots, some of whom wear deceptive cloaks of benevolence.

The King of Bahrain used Saudi Arabian soldiers to stop protests and filled prisons with doctors and nurses. He was denied a royal wedding invitation, but was welcomed to Downing Street and met with large smiles all round. Why? What does that say about our stated support for suppressed populations? That they can suffer and perish unless their deliverance can bring our country vast profits and valuable geopolitical influence?

In the Independent on Sunday, the philosopher AC Grayling expressed serious concern that "a nation freeing itself from tyranny uses a tyrant's methods". It doesn't bode well. There should be more candour and scepticism, please, and on both sides. Freed Libyans should, while being grateful for their liberation, also be wary of Western interests and remember the long imperial history of duplicity and rapaciousness. And we should watch what the new Libyan leadership does next and stand ready to condemn any human rights violations. The ogre has been slain, but this is not a fairy tale and there is no happy ending, not yet.