Libyan “Resistance” Produces New Definition of “Collateral Damage”

Speaking to Al Jazeera recently, Mustafa Gheriani, a Transitional National Council spokesman, said the following about "collateral damage": the opposition government understands that "collateral damage may also take place and we do accept it, because we look at the big picture which saving more lives… So a few people being victims of circumstances or of being at the wrong time or the wrong place it is more or less very bad luck" ("Libyan rebels fight to control Brega", 3 April 2011).

Ah, how the interpretation of death changes depending on what side of power one is aligned with. If one is on the side of the "opposition" and Gaddafi sends his tanks and planes, even the death of dogs is unacceptable. If one is on the side of the regime and NATO sends its bombs and missiles – with the approval of the "opposition" – the death of a "few" civilians is just "bad luck" and entirely justifiable in the name of the "big picture". The "big picture" being, of course, "democracy".

If this totally ideological understanding of death is not an expression of the problematic nature of an already compromised "opposition", an opposition that invites and welcomes an imperial intervention for resources disguised and legitimized as a "humanitarian intervention" ontensibly to protect all civilians from harm, then I don't know what it is.

It is usually empires, illegitimate regimes, selfish ruling elites, doctrinaire and dogmatic religious leaders, and others like them the ones that ideologically – even theologically – usually transform evil into good and good into evil. It is systems of domination that diguise themselves as systems of freedom – like capitalism, liberal democracy, religious fundamentalisms so efficiently do – the ones that produce what Marx called the "fetishism of commodities". Imperial warfare, no more and less than guerrilla warfare, also has an uncanny way of tranforming death into life. What appears as "state terror" from one perspective becomes "terrorism" from the other. This is not an argument in favour of neutrality or fetishistic "peaceful resistance" – also another mechanism that can transform values into their opposites – but an argument for critical and self-critical emancipatory struggles.

The fetishism of illegitimate power – and of war as the continuation of power by other means – is a phenomenon whereby human life is transformed into its opposite, that is, the life of objects; the life of nature is the death of humans; the relationship between objects or corporations appears as the true human relationship whereas the relationship between humans becomes objectified and alienated and is an obstacle to the life of objects and corporations; the fight between objects – like commodities – leads to fights among their corporate representatives and to the necessary sacrifice of humans and fights among humans get transformed into mere expressions of commodities fighting for their own survival.

It is usually, then, systems of illegitimate power, just as capitalism, liberal democracy, and religous fundamentalisms from Taliban's version of Deobandi fundamentalism to the US Tea Party version of Evangelical fundamentalism, the ones that effect a "transvaluation" of values whereby what appears good from the point of view of hegemonic forces is actually bad from the point of view of human or environmental life.

Today, as the Libyan "revolution" unfolds, the spokesperson from the Libyan opposition frames the casualties of war for Al Jazeera as follows: "So a few people being victims of circumstances or of being at the wrong time or the wrong place it is more or less very bad luck". Today, the same oppositon spokespeople justify the intervention in the name of "revolution" while at the same time open the backdoor for Blackwater-style "mission creep" above and beyond what Resolution 1973 – a badly and hastily written, vague, and illegitimate resolution – allows. The opposition is however happy with the distortions of this resolution and the increasing role of western imperial powers on the ground. And just as the US is said to be "winding down" its bombing on Gaddafi's military targets, the UK's Independent newspaper reports something else, something quite predictable: "The first discernible signs of mission creep by the coalition were detected in Libya yesterday. In several places around Benghazi, there were palpable signs that Western "assistance" was active on the ground" ("Western military advisers become visible in Benghazi", 3 April 2011).

Tomorrow, once the imperially-backed "revolution" succeeds, the very same groups that today are so willing to legitimize "collateral damage" in the name of the "big picture" of democracy will also be justifying to their fellow empoverished citizens the socio-economic tsunami of corporate-driven globalization that will sweep through their country as a necessary price to pay for "freedom". Libyans will be required to pay a heavy price for the current military and political support they are getting for "regime change" in their country. And this price will include, for starters, neoliberal free trade agreements, structural adjustment programs, debt restructuring and repaymet programs, large-scale global corporate investments into mining, energy, large-scale infrastructure projects for the free-trade zone economy, and exotic housing projects (such as those in Dubai and Bahrain) in order to house the flood of tourists that will come visit them and the employees and executives of global corporations and diplomatic representations from imperial countries that will be setup after the "revolution". The Paul Bremer administration in Iraq in 2002-03 is just a small prelude of what will happen in Libya one "evil" Gaddafi, like "evil" Saddam Hussain, is out of power. This is what "development" will look like. This will be the price of an imperially-backed "revolution" and "regime change".

And all the free trade agreements, structrual adjustment and debt restructuring programs and global corporate investments that will come, as they inevitably will in an oil and natural gas rich country, as we have seen them do in similar countries from Latin America and Africa to the Middle East and the Asia Pacitic region, will come indeed but at the expense of the life of communities and environments. And all the sacrifice and death that we see, time and time again, being produced by these processes all over the world, will be justified again and again in the name of the even bigger picture: "economic growth" as the means to "development" and some future "life" with dignity. For it is in the nature of imperial war as in the nature of power politics as well as capitalist economic growth that "a few people [become] victims of circumstances or of being at the wrong time or the wrong place" and when this happens, well, "it is more or less very bad luck".

But in Libya we are seeing only the beginning.

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