Chimes of Freedom in Benghazi

Rami G. Khouri

BEIRUT -- The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) decision to sanction the use of all necessary force to protect Libyan civilians is complex and full of imprecision and uncertainty as to both modalities and consequences. Yet in view of the current events in Libya -- the ringing battle for freedom and dignity by the rebels, the cruel and vicious attacks of the Gaddafi regime that after 41 years of dictatorial rule now uses foreign mercenaries to lay siege to its own people -- the UNSC decision is morally compelling, and I applaud it with all my heart. Now that the majority of the Libyan people, the Arab League and the UNSC members have spoken of their desire to stop or remove the odious Gaddafi, there can be no hesitation about doing everything within the power of people and states to assist the rebels, militarily, economically, politically, and with humanitarian aid.
The simultaneously Killer and Comical Colonel Gaddafi is an abomination in the annals of statehood, leadership, and Arabism. He is in a class of his own in degrading his country in terms of hundreds of billions of dollars of wasted and stolen money, untapped human potential, embarrassment in the community of nations, and the persistent dilapidation of both the human spirit of his people and the dignity and integrity of nationhood. He has moved beyond the stage of being a harmless fool, and now practices mass brutality and sows death. So he must be stopped, primarily because his own people have shown by their actions -- and their willingness to die -- that they want him out.
Many who follow public affairs and diplomacy in the Middle East have debated for weeks whether the world should intervene to assist the rebels and thwart or remove Gaddafi. Those arguments are important for a short while, because they touch on important principles of morality, law, practicality and historical precedence that implies future consequences, i.e. if the world intervenes in Libya today can it also refuse the call to intervene to secure the wellbeing of civilians in Gaza, Sudan, Yemen or other conflicted lands? That is an important argument that we must pursue, but it can wait until Libya is free and Gaddafi is either history or on trial in a fair international or Libyan tribunal. There are times in life when nuanced arguments of diplomatic principles must be set aside in order to embrace with all our might the compelling opportunity to come to the aid of the brave Libyans who are paying for their liberty with their lives. If they offer their lives against overwhelming military superiority for the opportunity to live as normal human beings, the least the rest of us can do it to offer our unlimited support to that stirring endeavor.
I have long opposed Western, especially Anglo-American, military intervention in the Arab world, but the case for protecting or assisting the Libyan rebels is different because of the clear support for such a move among Libyans, other Arabs and most of the world. Many Western and Arab governments courted and did business with Gaddafi, so perhaps now they have an opportunity to redeem themselves to some extent by working with the brave Libyan rebels to emasculate him and ultimately allow the Libyans to reconfigure their country in freedom, democracy, sensibility and dignity. Foreign military support for the free Libyans -- including imposing a no-fly zone or making aerial attacks on Gaddafi troops and installations -- entails many potential risks. Those risks are worth taking, I believe, and they can be mitigated by concrete and emphatic Arab support for and participation in any military moves, whether direct or indirect.
It is time for those Arab leaders who have long spoken of the importance of law, morality and other such valued concepts to step forward and actively assist the liberation of Libya. Arguments to the effect that Arab honor or collective solidarity prevent one Arab country from engaging in diplomatic or military action against another is a hollow argument in the Libyan case. Gaddafi and his family have trampled and savaged the concept of Arab honor so badly, and brought only disgrace and humiliation to Arabism over 41 years. Arabs who speak of honor and Arabism speak in lies and hypocrisy if they stand by -- politically immobilized and morally castrated -- and just watch the Libyan events on television. Those same Arabs who speak so frequently of honor and Arabism can give life to both ideas by substantively participating in political and military moves to defeat Gaddafi, the great betrayer of all the good things that Arabism includes.
Arab men and women in many countries have shown their desire to live in societies defined by freedom, democracy, dignity and integrity. Arab leaders for the most part have not done that. Now is their chance to redeem themselves, while they still have the opportunity of leadership that has already been taken away from a few of their colleagues. Now is the time for all honorable men and women to go to the aid of Benghazi. The chimes of freedom ring there, and the people need our assistance. Rami G. Khouri is Editor-at-large of The Daily Star, and Director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, in Beirut, Lebanon. Copyright © 2011 Rami G. Khouri -- distributed by Agence Global