Is The International Coalition’s Involvement in Libya Necessary?

March 21, 2011  |  

Over the weekend, I had a chance to revisit the movie The Battle of Algiers, a 1966 war film based on the events during the Algerian War (1954-62) that resulted in the North African country Algeria gaining its independence from France.

For those who haven’t seen it, here is a brief synopsis: The highly politicized film reconstructs the events that occurred in the capital city of French Algeria between November 1954 and December 1960. The war “officially” starts when the National Liberation Front, a merger of smaller groups intent on obtaining independence, initiates conflict against the Republican government of France. Over the course of the movie, the NLF engages in guerrilla warfare to rid the country of the French Pieds-Noirs imperialist occupiers. The French, who weren’t going to be rid of a country they colonized that easily, engages in highly militarized violence to capture and assassinate leaders of the revolt. In the end, the French would win the battle of Algiers. However, they lose the Algerian War due to a mass revolt by the Algerian people, who were inspired by the strength of the NLF.

I re-watched the movie, hoping to gain some valuable insight into what exactly constitutes a revolution and more importantly, who gets to determine when a leader has lost his or her legitimacy to rule?

My film screening also coincided with last Thursday’s UN Security Council’s authorization of a “no-fly zone” over Libya—a measure that gave the OK for coalition forces to use “all necessary measures” to protect civilian rebels from attacks by Moammar Gadhafi’s forces. Interestingly, it is France who recognized the legitimacy of the Libyan opposition forces, and pushed the UN for resolution and to take the lead on air strikes onto Gadhafi’s military targets and strongholds.

Perhaps France is feeling guilt or some newfound moral proclivity because for years they were the oppressive occupying regime in countries such as Algeria, Tunisia, Chad and Niger. In the past, the FLN was considered a terrorist much in the same vein as we do other Islamic radical organizations, and the FLN’s pleas for intervention were virtually ignored by the UN Security Council.

Of course, due to their newborn empathy for the Libyan freedom fighters, the French would gain some valuable allies from the UK and the United States, who are both waist-deep in global condemnation about its own occupational forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  In a speech President Obama gave before the air strikes began, he attempted to justify US involvement in the coalition’s “humanitarian intervention” by saying that “we are answering the calls of a threatened people. And we are acting in the interests of the United States and the world.” Then, we collectively watched as US forces dropped over 110 Tomahawk missiles on the same day that ironically marked the 8th Anniversary of the Iraq War.

In a matter of weeks, we have watched as the rebellion has gone from peaceful Libyan protesters to armed Libyan rebels. Yet, no one is quite clear of the protestors/rebels’ identity or aspirations. We could assume (much like what occurred leading up to the Algerian War of Independence) that this is a ragtag group of rival movements who may have fought against each other at some moment in time but now see a common goal. But what happens beyond the removal of Gadhafi?  And more importantly, will the change in Libya be a good thing for the people or are we setting ourselves up to be co-conspirators to the same atrocities (such as civil war and genocide over ethnicity) that Libya experienced under Gadhafi?

Charing Ball is the author of the blog People, Places & Things.

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