It should come as no surprise to us that the popular narratives as presented by the dominant for-profit media sources can often get a story wrong due to various factors of ownership, advertisement, sources, ideology and flak. Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman call explaining these diversions of fact “the Propaganda Model.”
Last year Herman and Chicago-based researcher David Peterson published The Politics of Genocide, a book which follows popular narratives on proclaimed acts of genocide (i.e. Darfur, Rwanda, Kosovo) and un-proclaimed (i.e. Iraq). They carefully separate fact from fiction and found that, "The anomaly of disparate word usage (and differential attention and indignation) can only be explained by the adaptation of the media and intellectual to the propaganda and public relations needs of the Western political establishment,” and that, "The Western establishment rushed to proclaim 'genocide' in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Rwanda, Kosovo, and Darfur, and also agitated for tribunals to hold the alleged perpetrators accountable. In contrast, its silence over the crimes committed by its own regimes against the peoples of Southeast Asia, Central America, and Sub-Saharan Africa is deafening. This is the 'politics of genocide.'"
We can certainly see this today with the violence in Libya as opposed to the violence in Iraq. What is worse is that while the violence in Iraq against intellectuals and dissidents is clearly coming from the Iraqi government-under-US-occupation, there are growing concerns that the narrative in Libya about a popular peaceful democratic uprising may not be accurate. On February 20, 2011 The Hill referred to it as “pro-democracy demonstrations” and US Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, said, “We're very concerned about reports of firing on peaceful protesters." But images of hangings and gun-wielding protesters cast doubt on this claim.
Initially the protests were calls for a “constitutional monarchy,” thus providing stark differences to other uprisings throughout the region where there have been calls for democracy and free and fair elections.
And as violence escalated in Libya there became claims that Gaddafi has hired “black African mercenaries” to violently put down the "peaceful protests."
Racism has longed plague Libya and black Africans like most indigenous people have often been the victims of oppression. In October of 2000 BBC reported that “thousands of African immigrants living in Libya have been attacked by local residents. Some have had to take refuge in their respective embassies.”
A little more than a year ago UN Watch, a human rights arm of the international organization, issued a report on racism in Libya: “Libya must end its practices of racial discrimination against black Africans, particularly its racial persecution of two million black African migrant workers. There is substantial evidence of Libya’s pattern and practice of racial discrimination against migrant workers.”
Against the backdrop we can start to understand that some of the current fighting between black Africans and Arabs has more to do with race relations than politics.
Over at Monthly Review, one of their editors, Yoshie Furuhashi, said, “Al Jazeera reports that Black African workers now live in fear in the rebel-held territories in Libya. Some of them have been attacked by mobs, others have been imprisoned, and some of their homes and workshops have been torched. ‘Many African workers say they felt safer under the Gaddafi regime,’ says Al Jazeera's Jacky Rowland, reporting from Benghazi,” and that “It will probably take some time before the rest of the Left catches on to the counterfeit nature of the product sold to the world.”
On February 23, 2011, the UNHCR, said that the UN "has become increasingly concerned" about the many African migrants and asylum seekers in Libya. "We have no access at this time to the refugee community," according to Melissa Fleming, a UNHCR spokesperson.
A couple of days later a journalist for UK’s Daily Mail was in Benghazi covering on the “mercenaries” when he reported:
The Africans I saw ranged from a 20-year-old to one in his late 40s with a grizzled beard. Most were wearing casual clothes. When they realised I spoke English they burst out in protest.
‘We did not do anything,’ one told me, before he was silenced. ‘We are all construction workers from Ghana. We harmed no one.’
Another of the accused, a man in green overalls, pointed at the paint on his sleeves and said: ‘This is my job. I do not know how to shoot a gun.’
Abdul Nasser, a 47-year-old, protested: ‘They are lying about us. We were taken from our house at night when we were sleeping.’ Still complaining, they were led away. It was hard to judge their guilt.
On the same day BBC reported: “One Turkish construction worker told the BBC: ‘We had 70-80 people from Chad working for our company. They were cut dead with pruning shears and axes, attackers saying: 'You are providing troops for Ghaddafi.' The Sudanese were also massacred. We saw it for ourselves.’"
Another example to highlight the race factor: There is a video of the protesters floating around the internet showing them chanting, "We are Arabs!"
The International Business Times carried a story on Tuesday that said,
According to reports, more than 150 black Africans from at least a dozen different countries escaped Libya by plane and landed at the airport in Nairobi, Kenya with horrific tales of violence.
"We were being attacked by local people who said that we were mercenaries killing people. Let me say that they did not want to see black people," Julius Kiluu, a 60-year-old building supervisor, told Reuters.
Meanwhile the US is posturing for a possible military intervention in Libya. How convenient. While constitutional monarchists are trying to overthrow the government and are attacking black Africans the US is running with the popular narrative of Gaddafi violently putting down peaceful protests for democracy.
Yesterday US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, applauded the removal of Libya from the Human Rights Council by saying, “The General Assembly today has made it clear that governments that turn their guns on their own people have no place on the Human Rights Council.”
The question to be asked of the US is if tea party activists began a violent uprising to overthrow the government and replace it with a constitutional monarchy while chanting "We are Whites!" and massacring immigrants, indigenous people and racial minorities, would the US have a legitimate claim to use force to put it down? The question is speculative but there is good reason to believe that yes the government would.
And of course the government of Bahrain has fired on unarmed protesters who actually are trying to overthrow a dictatorship in favor of democracy but since the US government has warm ties with the dictatorship and already has military bases and a naval fleet present there are no threats of US intervention.
This is not a peaceful protest for democracy. It’s a violent uprising to install a monarchy, which is also violently going after immigrants and indigenous peoples (black Africans) who apparently feel safer under Gaddafi than they do “free Libya.” Is it possible that the “black mercenaries” who are fighting with the protesters are defending Gaddafi’s regime in order to protect themselves from persecution? Possibly. The point herre is that we should be aware that things aren’t always how they appear, especially when those who control how we are informed have their own reasons to get the facts wrong.
There are usually three criteria for the use of force by the US:
- The victim can be portrayed as evil.
- The victim is defenseless.
- The victim has something we want.
Gaddafi is certainly a tyrant. He is no liberator or working class revolutionary. He is a dictator. Libya is also no match for the US military, who outspends the world combined. And Libya is rich in oil.
We don’t know exactly what is going on. More information is needed, but we have enough to know that the real story is far from the popular narrative and that that narrative is being used as a useful tool to justify US military force.