The Unbiased Eye

A scientist's commentary on events and culture

Libya’s Cartoon Connection

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The cartoons are the ones in the Danish newspapers five years ago that outraged Muslims who considered them blasphemy by depicting Muhammed.

There is some poetic license in the headline, I admit, but there is in fact a connection between the early Libyan protests and the Islamic fervor that sought to impose a death penalty on several cartoonists. This connection is far from the whole story, but the more I find out, the more I have this déjà vu, and the more I see that we are involved in something we do not fully understand and that we cannot (indeed, should not) control.

And this is why each new photograph of wreckage in Libya makes me wince.

The protests in Libya started on Feb. 16 when a lawyer allied to an opposition group was arrested in the eastern city of Benghazi. There have long been opposition groups who hate Qaddafi, but there’s no telling what role they play in this civil war.

The next day, the conflict escalated when another rally took place in Benghazi. This was cryptically described by Reuters as “the anniversary of clashes in 2006 in Benghazi when security forces killed protesters attacking the city’s Italian consulate.”

That was curious. Why were they attacking the Italian consulate?

The demonstration on Feb. 17, 2006, was Islamicist and was called to denounce the cartoons in a Danish newspaper. The demonstrators set fire to the consulate. Explanations for the choice of target vary; it might have been because it was the only western consulate in the city, or because the Italian with the title reforms minister had been on television wearing a T-shirt with one of the cartoons. Qaddafi’s troops reactly brutally, opening fire. The death toll was around a dozen people.

The demonstration this year was a commemoration of the one five years ago.

It’s not that I am a fan of Qaddafi, who is just about as bad as any of the dictators and potentates scattered around the world, and if I had magic powers I would remove him from his stronghold and neuter his power to do any more harm.

But as a practical matter, I don’t have magic powers and I wince every time I think about our planes and boats and their bombs and missiles, which we all know full well sometimes hit the wrong targets.

The real stupidity of our policy is that we have chosen sides with very little idea about who we are supporting.

I think we’re following romantic notions about democracy and freedom. We are projecting these on other cultures as if all we had to do was to remove the bad guy in power and soon they’ll be living in a carefree world where political power endlessly shifts from Republican to Democrat and back again — just like Iraq, where we removed the bad guy, and like Iran where the citizens removed the bad guy themselves.

Maybe our diplomats believe that by removing the distasteful Qaddafi we will persuade Arab masses to view us with warm and fuzzy feelings. We won’t find out much about their games for another 25 or even 50 years.

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Written by theunbiasedeye

March 21, 2011 at 7:27 pm

Posted in Global, Politics

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