Have Prime Minister David Cameron and President Nicolas Sarkozy ever paused to consider how the 20 million Muslims in Europe might react to their military action in Libya? I doubt if the rest of their countrymen will ever place them with Churchill or de Gaulle.
Arabs, like people anywhere, do not like dictators. But Western military intervention amplified on global media, stokes nationalism, localism. A dictator then becomes “our son-of-a-bitch” against an even more despised Western “outsider”, particularly when this “outsider’s” successive interventions over decades have been devoid of any altruism.
Where there has been any demonstrable sympathy (by Americans not Europeans) for the people of Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Muslims have worn their “thank you” on their sleeves. The image is so etched on my mind that I never tire of repeating it: avenues and squares in the name of Bill Clinton and Madeleine Albright in Kosovo! A pity there will never be a street in Benghazi named after Hillary Clinton or Cameron and Sarkozy.
Not only has the West halted the Arab spring, it may have done something much more dangerous. Countries with a majority of their populations in the 20s, the youth bulge, who had come out on the streets waving their flags of freedom, where will they turn now?
Cavernous staircases from the Arab street lead to the basements where extremist recruitment centers are looking for custom.
Since, on current showing, Western leaders have eased to see things beyond their nose, it may be useful to din it into their senses that Muslims, like the rest of the world, have on 24´7 watched Operation Desert Storm, occupation of Iraq, the two Intefadas, a four year long brutalization of Bosnia, occupation of the West Bank, invasion of Afghanistan, civilian deaths in drone attacks in Pakistan – and now, just when the mood in the Arab street was softening towards the West and Israel, come these images of Western action in Libya and rank hypocrisy in Bahrain and Yemen.
A straightforward lesson should have been learnt from Afghanistan where Islamic Madrasas to train Mujahideen against Soviet occupation in 1980 continues to plague the region to this day. How helpless can the Americans be? They have allowed a quarrelling Europe to drag them into their third war with a Muslim country in eight years.
Incidentally, Yemen’s direct link with the Afghan project is generally not understood. Prince Naif bin Abdel Aziz, Saudi Interior Minister, while helping set up training centers for Islamic militancy in Afghanistan, thought of manufacturing thoroughbred Arab Jehadis next door in Yemen. President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s half brother, Ali Mohsin Al Ahmar was given charge of the training camps. Just as the Afghan Jehadis were motivated to evict the Soviets from Afghanistan, so were the Yemenis trained to fight the then pro Soviet regime in the South, with Aden as the capital. Unification of Yemen took place only in the 90s after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The Afghan Jehadis (Taleban leavened with Al Qaeda) are plaguing the US in Af-Pak; the Arab Jehadis in Yemen are a thorn in the US-Saudi flesh. Hence, drone attacks on Al Qaeda positions in parts of Yemen, every attack breeding more Al Qaeda.
For the Saudis the matters are a trifle more complicated with Yemen’s Zaidi Shias in Saada, abutting Saudi Arabia, making common cause with the Socialists in the South against the House of Saud.
It obviously suits President Saleh to play the Saudi card to protect himself from the mounting unrest which has taken a toll in lives. How long can the Saudis ward off multiple pressures – from Bahrain, Yemen, Shia dominated Iraq contiguous with its own the oil bearing Shia dominated Eastern Province?
As if all this was not enough, Messrs Sarkozy and Cameron have committed themselves to Benghazi which was rocked by the Danish cartoon controversy and from where Jehadis have participated in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Libyan revolt was led by a group called the National Conference of the Libyan opposition, founded in London in 2005. Can overseas Libyans make a revolution? If Qaddafi survives, will not opposition to his soft Islam be the harder version of the faith? Remember the Danish cartoon protests in Benghazi in 2006 eventually turned upon Qaddafi.
(The author is a senior journalist and political commentator and can be mailed at email@example.com)