Libya’s Spectacular Revolution Has Been Disgraced by Racism

Richard Seymour, Guardian (London), August 30, 2011

“This is a bad time to be a black man in Libya,” reported Alex Thomsonon Channel 4 News on Sunday. Elsewhere, Kim Sengupta reported for the Independent on the 30 bodies lying decomposing in Tripoli. The majority of them, allegedly mercenaries for Muammar Gaddafi, were black. They had been killed at a makeshift hospital, some on stretchers, some in an ambulance. “Libyan people don’t like people with dark skins,”a militiaman explained in reference to the arrests of black men.

The basis of this is rumours, disseminated early in the rebellion, of African mercenaries being unleashed on the opposition. Amnesty International’s Donatella Rivera was among researchers who examined this allegation and found no evidence for it. Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch similarly had not “identified one mercenary” among the scores of men being arrested and falsely labelled by journalists as such.

Lurking behind this is racism. Libya is an African nation–however, the term “Africans” is used in Libya to reference the country’s black minority. The Amnesty International researcher Diana Eltahawy says that the rebels taking control of Libya have tapped into “existing xenophobia”. The New York Times refers to “racist overtones”, but sometimes the racism is explicit. A rebel slogan painted in Misrata during the fighting salutes “the brigade for purging slaves, black skin”. A consequence of this racism has been mass arrests of black men, and gruesome killings–just some of the various atrocities that human rights organisations blame rebels for. The racialisation of this conflict does not end with hatred of “Africans”. Graffiti by rebels frequently depicted Gaddafi as a demonic Jew.

How did it come to this? A spectacular revolution, speaking the language of democracy and showing tremendous courage in the face of brutal repression, has been disgraced. Racism did not begin with the rebellion–Gaddafi’s regime exploited 2 million migrant workers while discriminating against them–but it has suffused the rebels’ hatred of the violently authoritarian regime they have just replaced.

An explanation for this can be found in the weaknesses of the revolt itself. The upsurge beginning on 17 February hinged on an alliance between middle class human rights activists and the working classes in eastern cities such as Benghazi. Rather than wilting under repression, the rebellion spread to new towns and cities. Elements of the regime, seeing the writing on the wall, began to defect. Military leaders, politicians and sections of business and academia sided with the rebels.

But the trouble was that the movement was almost emerging from nowhere. Unlike in Egypt, where a decade of activism and labour insurgency had cultivated networks of activists and trade unionists capable of outfoxing the dictatorship, Libya was not permitted a minimal space for civil society opposition. As a result, there was no institutional structure able to express this movement, no independent trade union movement, and certainly little in the way of an organised left. Into this space stepped those who had the greatest resources–the former regime notables, businessmen and professionals, as well as exiles. It was they who formed the National Transitional Council (NTC).

The dominance of relatively conservative elites and the absence of countervailing pressures skewed the politics of the rebellion. We hear of “the masses”, and “solidarity”. But masses can be addressed on many grounds–some reactionary. There are also many bases for solidarity–some exclusionary. The scapegoating of black workers makes sense from the perspective of elites. For them, Libya was not a society divided on class lines from which many of them had profited. It was united against a usurper inhabiting an alien compound and surviving through foreign power. Instead, the more success Gaddafi had in stabilising his regime, the more the explanation for this relied on the claim that “Gaddafi is killing us with his Africans “.

A further, unavoidable twist is the alliance with Nato. The February revolt involved hundreds of thousands of people across Libya. By early March the movement was in retreat, overseas special forces were entering Libya, and senior figures in the rebellion called for external intervention. Initially isolated, they gained credibility as Gaddafi gained ground. As a result, the initiative passed from a very large popular base to a relatively small number of armed fighters under the direction of the NTC and Nato. It was the rebel army that subsequently took the lead in persecuting black workers.

Under different conditions, perhaps, unity between the oppressed was possible. But this would probably have required a more radical alliance, one as potentially perilous for those now grooming themselves for office as for Gaddafi. As it is, the success of the rebels contains a tragic defeat. The original emancipatory impulse of February 17 lies, for now, among the corpses of “Africans” in Tripoli.

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  • Daniel

    As Gaddafi presented himself at the end as the last defence against sub-saharan blacks swarming into Europe I guess the other side are now going to be reneging and spewing them out.

  • racially insensitive joke

    African Arabs are the best Race Realists on the planet. They know what trouble lies south of the Sahara, and they want to keep it as far away as possible.

    They share that RR trait with the ante-bellum Yankees, who knew that if the Southerners were allowed to carry their slaves with them into the White Territories, then chaos and mayhem would eventually follow, along with the mass raping of White daughters.

    Yankees and Arabs have so much in common, that here in Dixie Land were are learning how to admire the wisdom of both.

  • aj

    Libya only has a population of 6 million people. If they let the two million “migrant workers” (Blacks) with their high fertility rates, and endlessly large extended families permanently settle it is over for Libya.

    The “arabs” of Sudan are now completely black and only are distinguished from the blacks because they speak Arabic. The Libyan people would go from tan to black and any pretense of maintaining a civilization would be ended forever.

  • Anonymous

    No, Arabs don’t like blacks. Then again, no one does – not even many blacks.

    Actually, many white liberals love blacks, as long as they never have any real contact with them. But otherwise, no one likes blacks. It’s the combination of bad behavior and ignorance.

  • (AWG) Average White Guy

    Ghadaffi had a vision of a United States of Africa.

    He instructed Libyans to intermarry with black Africans.

    He is now in hiding; probably in Zimbabwe.

    Think there’s a connection?

  • je suis paganisme

    Just read the first twenty or so pages of “The Arabian Nights” and you will see how true it is that Arabs don’t like blacks.

    They are depicted very unflatteringly, lusting after Arab women.

  • Georgia Resident

    Whoopee. Now all the blacks are going to flee to Europe and the US-which was probably what Obama was planning on when he ordered the bombing of Gaddafi’s forces. Now, instead of the marginally Caucasian Libyans dealing with the sub-Saharan Africans, it will be wholly white Europeans and white Americans dealing with them.

  • SKIP

    “Think there’s a connection?

    NO! the only thing coming out of Libya is gonna be the muslim brotherhood, terror sponsorship and IEDs, thank you very much U.N. Obamuslim and Hillary! The same thing is gonna come to America as soon as we start resisting the islamic takeover, THEN the muslim gloves are gonna come off and REAL violence is coming and the blacks will be up to their low slung (swag) pants in the looting, robbing, burning, murdering and raping with, THEY THINK, impunity.

  • Anonymous

    “Just read the first twenty or so pages of “The Arabian Nights” and you will see how true it is that Arabs don’t like blacks.

    They are depicted very unflatteringly, lusting after Arab women.”

    Huh? Wasn’t it actually the opposite, with Arab women being depicted as having a weakness for blacks?

  • Anonymous

    Ten years ago I knew a Black pharmacist who went to work in Saudi Arabia for a year. On discussing her experience there she said something to me that I have never forgotten: “Arabs hate Black people with a vengeance!”.

  • Anonymous

    2 — racially insensitive joke wrote at 7:20 PM on August 31:

    African Arabs are the best Race Realists on the planet. They know what trouble lies south of the Sahara, and they want to keep it as far away as possible.

    They share that RR trait with the ante-bellum Yankees, who knew that if the Southerners were allowed to carry their slaves with them into the White Territories, then chaos and mayhem would eventually follow, along with the mass raping of White daughters.

    Yankees and Arabs have so much in common, that here in Dixie Land were are learning how to admire the wisdom of both.

    ———

    Well, though he was head of the machine that destroyed the south and butchered it’s people, Lincoln sure knew about blacks, was quite vocal about it, and it was not flattering!

    I laugh every time I see those creepy paintings that merge Obama and Lincoln’s faces together.

    How stupidly Ironic. The dumb liberals don’t know Lincoln used the word N****R?

    It’s in print all over. Easy to find. He used it in speeches before he was president!

    He wanted to herd up the slaves ans ship them back to Africa.

    I really must point out to my liberal friends when we pass one of those creepy posters, that Lincoln would qualify as a massive biggot today. But, hey, so would Obama!

  • Anonymous

    #4 wrote ‘No, Arabs don’t like blacks.’

    It seems that white nationalists ‘ don’t like blacks’ as

    no matter the group in conflict with blacks from the brawl between Georgetown and a Chinese basket team, to the charge that

    Libya’s Revolution had been disgraced by racism , and any other dispute involving blacks, the white nationalist always sided against blacks even American citizens.

    Maybe when the world change to become a Muslim Europe, an Asian

    Australia and New Zealand , a Minority United States and Canada , and an assertive China as the superpower and giving the orders, then they will shift away from blacks to some degree.

  • Joe

    The article states: Arabs Do Not Like blacks.

    My question is Who Does?

    And they do more and more everyday even right here in America to cause these negative feelings to grow?

  • voter

    “Libyan people don’t like people with dark skins,”a militiaman explained in reference to the arrests of black men.”

    Perhaps Libyans don’t like foreign mercenaries who’ve been oppressing them.

    Or is it The Guardian’s position that blacks can do no wrong?

  • Carson

    “It seems that white nationalists ’ don’t like blacks’”

    Who is robbing, raping and murdering us? And then calling us racist for noticing we are being robbed, raped and murdered?

    Blacks cause trouble and misery for whites on a daily basis. They hate us more than we can ever hate them.

    No Arab, Hispanic or Asian has ever done me any harm. Good for them if they fight back against the same dog that bites us.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t hold North Africans/Arabs/Muslims/etc in terribly high regard in comparison to white Europeans. But in the Evolutionary Sweepstakes, the brown-skinned peoples of the Maghreb are clearly light-years ahead of the black-skinned peoples of sub-Saharan Africa. And, what is more to the point, the North Africans themselves KNOW this.

    (Or, to put it bluntly, “The darker they is, the smarter they ain’t.”)

    The entire populations of Mediterranean countries like Libya, Morocco, Algeria, etc, have ALWAYS regarded blacks as a lower form of life. As low-skilled, low-intelligence grunt-workers suitable only for slavery (in the old days) or seasonal exploitation (these days). For your average Arab, there’s no point in having ANYTHING to do with people from the wrong side of the Sahara unless you need some free labor, or you need to raise some cash by selling black tribesman to international slavers.

    Remember: Arabs were dealing with (and also dealing in) black tribesmen for several centuries before the first white man ever saw his first black man. And the early Arab accounts (circa 1000-1500 AD) of such contacts are NOT flattering.

    However, ALL of this age-old, easily-obtained information about Arab-black relations seems to be news to this Guardian writer. But then, we shouldn’t be surprised: virtually EVERY eternal verity about race, politics, and human nature, is news to a Guardian writer. They are Utopian ideologues living in a world of the purest fantasy.

  • Anonymous

    Isn’t it amazing to so often see that journalists actually know very little of the subject they are reporting on? You’d think he’d have known that Liberians didn’t like blacks.

  • George

    In the face of overwhelming proof…still these Leftist continue to spout their multicultural nonsense. “Racism” is NATURAL to the human condition. Liberals, get it through your head that reality doesn’t conform nor cares about your fantasy world. Things are as they are for reasons your puny human minds can’t grasp.

  • Jim Smith

    Libyans are NOT Arabs. Not even close.

    Please read the extensive information on this site:

    http://mathildasanthropologyblog.wordpress.com/2008/11/09/egyptians-are-not-arabs-they-are-egyptians/

  • Anonymous

    How many words does it take not to say something? Don’t Libyans hate blacks simply because Kaddafi used them as mercenaries against his own people? Unleashing the black fury, involving traditional African cruelty, on brown Libyans makes him a sort of race traitor and justifies present reprisals.

  • Gollywog

    Not sure the writer knows it- you clearly don’t- but Liberians are black. And have always been ever since they were shipped back across the Atlantic.

  • Anonymous

    “You’d think he’d have known that Liberians didn’t like blacks.”

    You mean Libyans