A responsibility to protect, sometimes

Homa Arjomand, of the International Campaign Against Shariah Court in Canada, reports anti-Gadhafi forces in Libya are raping women to punish their husbands for serving under the Gadhafi regime.

Homa Arjomand, of the International Campaign Against Shariah Court in Canada, reports anti-Gadhafi forces in Libya are raping women to punish their husbands for serving under the Gadhafi regime.

“According to Shariah law,” says Arjomand, “enemies’ wives should be raped and they have started raping these women already.”

The currently recognized leader of the interim government, former Gadhafi justice minister Mustafa Jalil, has promised Libyan Shariah will be “moderate,” though he went on to announce a repeal of Gadhafi’s westernized marriage and divorce laws, which included a prohibition on polygamy. Even in moderate Islamic states, polygamy makes chattel of women. In less moderate ones, a woman may be stoned to death for the crime of having been raped.

Canada was in the forefront of the military action against Gadhafi’s forces in Libya, a leader among 17 nations who waged an air war that killed an estimated 10,000 people and handed the country over into unknown hands. We took this action in the spirit of Responsibility to Protect, or R2P, the doctrine that says we the powerful liberal (ahem) democracies of the world have a duty to prevent mad dictators from slaughtering civilians. We do offer a 40-year period of grace on that one, of course, especially if the dictator in question agrees to keep the oil flowing, and handle a few of our more delicate interrogations for us on the side.

Those who find themselves under the protection of R2P, should they survive, often wake up to the realization that there is a time limit on the program. In the case of Libyan civilians, that moment would appear to have arrived when Gadhafi died. Dictator murdered, protection delivered, mission accomplished, hands washed: goodbye, Libya.

The problem with doctrines like R2P is that no matter how noble the sentiment, they are far more likely to reflect national interests than international responsibility. That’s why millions of civilians are brutalized, raped, murdered or driven into exile every year without a great deal of interference from powerful liberal democracies. We turn a blind eye to atrocities all the time, how do we pick our Libyas? Who gets defence agreements, and who gets bombs?

In Libya’s case, to judge by the players, there appears to have been not so much a conspiracy as a confluence of interests. Mustafa Jalil was known as a moderate in Gadhafi’s Libya, who as justice minister spoke out against human rights abuses by security forces. How he survived so long in his post is as yet unexplained, but he is among a number of members of the transitional council who appear to have at least a passing interest in human rights.

If things don’t work out for acting prime minister Ali Tarhouni in Libya, he’s kept a fall-back position. A Libyan-born American, he still has his job on the faculty of the University of Washington Michael G. Foster School of Business. Tarhouni inherited the prime minister’s job from his friend Mahmoud Jibril, who formerly taught strategic planning at the University of Pittsburgh, and who has been at the forefront of efforts to liberalize trade in North Africa.

The teaming up of right-leaning hyphenated Americans with human rights advocates and powerful, but disaffected members of the old regime recalls the so-called colour revolutions, where local discontent coincided with US funding and organizational help to unseat governments, which opposed “liberalized trade.” Another striking similarity is that Gadhafi had become more and more of a stone in the shoe of liberalized trade, which he was not alone in identifying as Western economic imperialism in a thin disguise.

In a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in 2009, Gadhafi called for the African Union to have a permanent seat on the Security Council. Though hardly a radical move in itself, it was indicative of the dictator’s Pan-Africanism. However mad he might have been, Gadhafi had the oil money to influence African affairs, and he made use of it. He was a driving force behind the African Investment Bank, and the African Monetary Fund, both of them inimical to globalist interests.

In its ideal form, Responsibility to Protect is hard to argue against. If we are strong enough to stop Pharaoh’s army, how can we refuse? Too often the world has stood by and let innocents be slaughtered, not for want of the might to stop it, but for lack of political will. In practise, R2P turns out to be typical of high-sounding doctrines in a colonial world – a tool of colonialism.

Next time you hear that your government is going to war to protect somebody, think long and hard before you believe it. It might be true, and it might not. Consider the women being raped by our allies in Libya tonight. Who’s protecting them?

Al Pope won the Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in BC/Yukon in 2010 and 2002. His novel, Bad Latitudes, is available in bookstores.

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