Published in the Guardian
The cost of Colonel Gaddafi’s rule on Libyan society is incalculable. For the last 42 years, a national trauma has been in the making. What we are witnessing now is its bloody crescendo. Libyans are deeply unsettled by Gaddafi and his regime’s careless contempt for human life. The dictatorship is willing to employ any methods necessary to remain in power.
Strange men asking strange questions have been visiting classrooms in Tripoli. They want to know what the children’s parents make of recent events, what news channel they watch at home. Using children to inform on adults is a tactic that has been used before by Gaddafi, but not this aggressively. Hundreds of people have gone missing in Tripoli.
In the rest of the country the extreme, indiscriminate and punitive nature of the violence exacted by Gaddafi’s forces left ordinary Libyans with little choice but to bear arms. Boys as young as 14, who a few weeks ago carried books to school, are now carrying guns. Children have seen blood. They have followed the long sad whistle of a bomb and heard it crash a few metres away. They have touched corpses.
The nightmare will end. And when it does, Libyan society will begin to deal with the shadow cast by these events. And it is for this reason – to limit the loss of life and also the depth of the national trauma – that we hoped the wheel of international diplomacy could have moved at a faster pace.
However, this should not distract from the fact that the UN security council resolution is an extraordinary achievement. It is unrelenting in its commitment to saving lives, yet nuanced enough to take into account Libya‘s sensitivity to foreign intrusion – a result of its exceptionally brutal colonial experience under the Italians – and seems committed to Libyan sovereignty and political independence. Its authors would do well to remain true to these sentiments.
David Cameron has proven himself to be a very different man from Tony Blair. Along with France, Britain – a country that only recently played a central role in rehabilitating Gaddafi’s international image – spearheaded the resolution. I hope from now on the cynical view that Britain’s national interests would be best served by a loyal Libyan dictator will be discarded, and that future Anglo-Libyan relations are informed by the belief that a democratic Libya, a Libya built on independent and secure institutions as well as a robust civil society, would make a more stable and honourable partner.