Friday, April 08, 2011
Libya debate posted by Richard Seymour
But he was relatively innocuous compared to Sukant Chandan, whose breathtaking defence of the Qadhafi regime and insistence on hectoring Libyans present, including Hamid from the Libyan Youth Movement, left activists infuriated. I mean, literally fuming. Sukant's opening line was a cracker, to be sure. "Qadhafi never called me a p***. My beef is not with Qadhafi, it's with the Brits." The subsequent argument involved harnessing unexceptionable observations about imperialism to a less tenable argument that Qadhafi's regime represented some kind of advanced welfare state, and that his opponents are 'Contras'. He also argued that the uprising in Syria was an imperialist subvention, intended to undermine Hezbollah. Stunned gasps and disbelieving laughter from the Libyan activists in the audience.
Hamid offered only a qualified and very reluctant defence of the NATO intervention. "We did not want NATO to come, but what alternatives did we have? No one helped us, no one armed us. We know what the West is about, we know what NATO is - but if someone tells us what the alternative is, I will be happy to hear it." I don't agree with this, for reasons you know well enough, and I admit I rolled my eyes impatiently when he claimed that Libya had carried out Lockerbie. But he ended up spending far more of his time attempting to defend the reputation of the revolution from its calumniator, and to this extent I found I had far more in common with him than I had with the Son of Malcolm. At one point, as Sukant repeatedly barracked Hamid, demanding that he stipulate his opposition to Africom setting up a base in Libya and confirm that Palestine is the number one issue for Middle Eastern freedom - yes, literally, demanded - an Egyptian woman stood up and begged him to "drop it". "This is why people are pissed off with you. It's not about imperialism, we agree with you on all of that, it's that you're so arrogant!" After a few more mouthfuls of frustrated anger, she walked out. And there was more where that came from. As the crowd dwindled, people walking out or just drifting away, and the heckling and back and forth with audience members became more chaotic, the only people who backed Sukant up were a small amen corner, who nodded along at his most obvious pronouncements.
My own arguments will be familiar to you by now, so I won't rehearse them here. Yes, I think I persuaded a few people, or at least gave them reason to pause. In the end, I think this turns out to be a sort of parable about a very unproductive and divisive kind of Third Worldism. Sukant wants to unite the people of the global south against imperialism, but succeeded largely in uniting people against himself. He's tragically stuck repeating the slogans of a bygone era, defending its ostensible 'gains' amid a revolutionary process that, of its nature, will unsettle all the coordinates that we're used to working with. We have to learn to think on our feet, adapt, learn from these struggles, and listen to those waging them. Otherwise we may just find that the ideas that were revolutionary yesterday end up fortifying the forces of conservatism and reaction today.