Der Spiegel writes: “Libya is well on its way to becoming a failed state, making it the perfect prey for IS. Furthermore, Libya is close to Italy, has plenty of oil and offers a possible corridor to Boko Haram in Nigeria as well as to Islamists in Mali and in the Sahara. Indeed, if IS succeeds in solidifying its presence here, the terrorists could pose a threat to Southern Europe in addition to destabilizing all of North Africa.”
Passages like these make one breathless. The sheer audacity of revealing and, at once, displacing onto IS the program of the neoliberal, imperialist West! France has invaded Mali; America’s grip on Nigeria is longstanding. Without any interference from IS, Southern Europe can be equally characterized as “on its way to becoming a failed [group of states]” under the whip of economic terrorism. If Libya now is an opportunity for the diabolical, marauding Islamic State to invade, who prepared the vacuum? Until 2011, Libya enjoyed the highest standard of living in Africa; health, education, and income above the regional average; free education and health care; 89% adult literacy; subsidized food; and virtually no homelessness.
Der Spiegel continues: “Darna [sic] has become a colony of terror, and it is the first Islamic State enclave in North Africa. The conditions in Libya are perfect for the radical Islamists: a disintegrating state, a location that is strategically well situated and home to the largest oil reserves on the continent. Should Islamic State (IS) manage to establish control over a significant portion of Libya, it could trigger the destabilization of the entire Arab world.”
Not a single one of us, I venture to guess, would dream of destabilizing the Arab world (by which Spiegel must mean the Arab-Islamic world). Every one of us can see that the humanitarian West has made it stable—the rubble of Afghanistan, its skies vibrating with humming drones; the thrice drawn and quartered Iraq; Syria, a site of carnage; Palestine’s Gaza, the world’s largest open-air prison, regularly enduring Israel’s ferocious operations of “mowing the lawn,” with punctuated equilibrium of the kind nature uses to decide which species survives and which vanishes. What would happen if IS intervened to spoil the bounty the West has lavished on these places and peoples? We must worry; we must act to prevent IS from bringing chaos to the West’s exemplary imposition of order.
For this reason, Italy’s governing cast pipes in, some straight out of the commedia dell’arte, as per usual when the German Big Brother intones. It joins Spiegel’s alarmed chorus of concern over IS in Libya:
13 February: Minister of the Exterior, Paolo Gentiloni (a left politician), playing the tricky servant, Brighella, warns that “Italy is menaced by the situation in Libya, 200 marine miles” off Italian shores.
14 February: Il Corriere della Sera, Italy’s leading daily, ominously announces, “The Islamic State advances in Libya. Italy ready to act with the United Nations.” Meanwhile, the vice-president of the Senate Defense Committee, Sergio Divina, playing Harlequin, Brighella’s dumber brother, calls for deployment of special battalions trained in anti-terrorism and for the navy to place their frigates in defense of territorial waters—mare nostrum.
15 February: Defense Minister, Roberta Pinotti, playing Colombina, the fixer with heavy eye makeup, screeches, “Italy is ready to lead a coalition . . . to stop the advance of the Caliphate, 350 kilometers from our coast. . . . Italy imagines [sic] that it has a leadership role in Libya geographically, economic, and historical. France, Great Britain, Germany, Spain, Malta, and others will join. The United States will be involved strategically; as to direct participation, we will see.” She is forced to admit that her statements are mere “hypotheses.”
16 February: From Iraq, IS official radio, al Bayan, calls Gentiloni “Minister of Italy on Crusade.”
17 February: the liberal newspaper, La Repubblica, gets addled. It concocts an appeal from the radically fundamentalist Libyan government in Tripoli, forgetting that Italy backs the faction in Tobruk. It appeals to al-Qaeda- and IS-linked Islamic fundamentalists in Tripoli: “Tripoli! Act, or IS will land in Rome.”
18 February: Gentiloni does PR damage control: “We will have no adventure or crusade in Libya.” The parrots in the press follow suit, backtracking from the brink of neo-colonial hysteria. There must be a “political solution,” they sing.
19 February: La Repubblica, now sober, backs Renzi’s plan to act within legality and the UN, but it cannot refrain from fear mongering: “Terrorists [will infiltrate] among the refugees fleeing Libya on rafts.”
And that’s why I called this example of Italy’s seven-day buffoonery over the alleged threat of IS to Il Bel Paese, a commedia dell’arte, an act staged, perhaps, to cover the horror of the news on 12 February of 330 refugees drowned in the waters off the island of Lampedusa.
The militarist chorus in Italy pressed to distract the public from the tragedy off Lampedusa, however, does not explain parallel shrillness elsewhere. In fact, Egypt’s coupster, al Sisi (“To me, humanity means compassion and peace”), supporter of the government in Tobruk like the rest of the American kennel of faithful lapdogs, bombed the bases of IS in Derna on 16 February, after previously bombing Bengazi. He equates IS with the Muslim Brotherhood. His take on IS? He must give a show of force by defending the Sinai and the border with Libya—or he’s political toast. French Defense Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, too, favors a military intervention in Libya to fight terrorism, of course. The US pushes for a European attack—that is the nub of the hysteria. Too busy in Iraq and Syria, the empire can’t waste airplanes on broken Libya. With the removal of independent-minded Qaddafi, Libya for the US is “mission accomplished.” “We came, we saw, he died,” cackled Hillary, announcing the assassination of Qaddafi. His people can rot. “It was worth it,” would conclude another murderous Secretary of State, Mistress Madeleine Albright. Nobody can accuse the Democrats of lacking tenderhearted women in leadership positions.
Angelo del Boca is a historian of Italian colonialism and of Libya. He has written three volumes on the history of Italians in Libya and East Africa (Gli Italiani in Africa Orientale). Interviewed by Il Manifesto and asked why the Italian government acts so arrogantly and myopically in this phase of the global crisis, del Boca said, “Because we lack a foreign policy and an authentically Italian diplomacy. Renzi says that Libya is a ‘failed state.’ And who caused it to fail if not the war of 2011, willed at all cost by Sarkozy’s France? They forget that millions of migrant workers and Libyans fled the war. One million of them are in Egypt; 600,000 in Tunisia. When NATO bombers where hitting Libya in March of 2011, I warned that Libya would become the new Somalia. And it’s what has happened. . . . Now, Romano Prodi, has expressed many times his opposition to a military solution. He’s seen favorably as a UN mediator even by the authorities in Tripoli. [Send him] Immediately. Before it is too late.”
Well might we reflect with Marlow in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness:
The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or who have slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much.
But why must it be conquered, is the question we ask.
Luciana Bohne is an Intrepid Report Associate Editor. She is co-founder of Film Criticism, a journal of cinema studies, and taught at Edinboro University in Pennsylvania. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.