Global politics are always complicated. Our relationship with countries and their leaders are layered and weighed against our so-called national interests, political pragmatism and a bunch of other factors we rarely think about.
Here in the US how most of us view global politics is challenging because the mainstream media is where most of us get our news. These outlets have their own agenda and thus they tend to present stories from abroad in neat little news cycles and only after something has literally blown up to the point its hard to ignore.
In observing these newscasts we get a glimpse into a particular region where stories are framed as a made for TV movie story. On one hand we have the bad guys, the villains of sorts like Mubarak the ruler of Egypt, Ben Ali Ruler of Tunisia and as of late Colonel Mumar Gadhafi-Despot of Libya.
On the other hand, we have the good guys like the Pro-Democracy protesters camped in Tahir square or the young students forcing down Ben Ali. Now we the somewhat faceless anti-Gadhafi forces who are being cheered each day and getting military pledges of support from the US as they are capture city after city from their embattle ruler.
These uprisings have been presented to us with around the clock, blow by blow coverage, leaving many of us on the edge of our seats as we watched landmark events like the Pro-Mubarak supporters rushing the crowd with camels and beating protesters or Gadhafi’s ‘evil’ henchmen roaming the streets looking to slaughter those who stand up against them.
All this coverage is complete with theme music, fancy graphics, smooth talking pundits waxing poetic as they preen for their next high priced speaking gig and of course our on the ground guides (news reporters) who sometimes become the news themselves.. ie CNN’s Anderson Cooper when he got his ass kicked from those Pro-Mubarak thugs.
Unlike the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan where reporters were embedded with our combat troops, here we see folks out in the streets ducking bullets and trying not to get their equipment snatched. The whole thing is fascinating. But like most made for TV movies the action in Egypt, Tunisia and maybe Libya has been framed to have a happy ending. Mubarak left office. Ali was bounced out, Gadhafi is on his last leg. We all toast one another, give high fives and cheer. We wave the Egyptian or Tunisian flag, became instant water cooler experts on the region and move on to the next uprising as if this was a soccer tournament
What’s lost while we immerse ourselves in these digestible ‘good vs evil’ news narratives are the complex realities that exists in the aftermath of these uprisings. For example, while our attention is focused on the battles in Libya very few of us have given a second thought about what’s going on Egypt. For many, that’s yesterday’s news. It’s a done deal. Nobody stops to think or find out if things have gotten better or worse. Nobody seems to care or even know that protests are still going on Egypt as folks are still out in the streets demanding sweeping reforms. Their end goal is to ensure they never have another dictator like Mubarak in place again. Sad part is while were watching Libya the military in Egypt which everyone cheered has been cracking down.
Many of us immediately after Mubarak was forced out of power started cheering for uprising in Bahrain, but that’s been all bit forgotten. Does anyone know or care who the Crown Prince of that country is or how long he’s been in power? ? Do we know what the opposition is fighting for? Do we really care? Bahrain in our collective consciousness has come and gone even as folks still pushing for change, boldly challenging Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa.
For a brief moment we heard about protests in Yemen which has long been a stronghold for Al Qaeda, but sadly that country has been out of the news cycles for weeks even though protest against the government are continuing daily.
This is not to put anyone down for not understanding all the particulars or staying up to speed with everything going on in the middle east. That’s a monumental task for most, but all of us need to be striving to expand our understanding of global happenings as the world around us get smaller. More importantly all of us need to be looking at the roles we played in passively and sometimes very actively supporting the regimes and dictators who are being challenged.
For example, very few of us are reflecting on the fact that two months ago if asked who ruled Egypt we did know the name Hosni Mubarak. Very few of us cared that there was brutal repression even though many have gone over there to see the ancient wonders of the Pyramids and Sphinx. Many of us are not bothered by the fact that for 30 years we as a country supported a ruthless dictator.
Over the years there have been all sorts of pilgrimages to Egypt aka Kemet but have we spoken about Mubarak and his oppression? Was that an oversight? Why didn’t we know what was going on and what role did we play along with our government in the oppression the millions who eventually spilled out on the streets? We need to sit back and think about that for a minute as we cheer these uprisings.
As things unfold in Libya many are asking the long hard questions about the support many have shown over the years for Gadhafi. When the bloodshed started I saw all sorts of tweets and facebooks status asking about the support Minister Farrakhan has shown Gaddafi over the years, the visit Reverend Jeriamiah Wright made in 1984 or the recent visit made by former Congresswoman and Green party candidate Cynthia McKinney. What was that about people are asking? Why are these folks who are about the business of social justice in bed with a guy like Gadhafi?
Others were quick to point out that singer Lionel Richie did a concert in front of Gadhafi’s bombed out home in Tripoli in 2006. Still others are asking about the private concerts given for Gaddafi’s son and the family overs the years that have featured luminaries like Beyonce, Jay-Z, 50 cent, Russell Simmons, Mariah Carey, Usher and numerous others. How can all these people pal around with a ruthless tyrant everyone seems to be asking?
There are no easy neatly packaged answers. Minister Farrakhan came out during his saviors day address and talked about his long friendship with Gaddafi. He’s been down with Gadhafi for almost 3 decades. But he’s not alone. In a recent article in the Root called Romancing Dictators they outline list of notables Black leaders from Jesse Jackson to former US senator Carol Mosely Bruan who have hung out with dictators. Are such folks in support of oppression? Hungry for power? Or caught up in the fanfare of being in the presence of folks who are the heads of state of their respective countries?
It could be plain old selfishness and shortsightedness on their part or there could something more. Each of those folks have to wrestle with why they hung or been friendly with leaders who we deem unsavory but so do many of us on smaller scales. For example, some of us reading this remain supportive and friendly with wife beaters, drug dealers, the neighborhood thug etc.. Some of us have adorned or supported artists who have named themselves after ruthless despots like Khadafy, Scarface, Noreaga, Gotti etc.. Would we name ourselves or support an artist who’s named himself after a Klan leader or Hitler?
This is not to dismiss any one’s transgressions or say two wrongs make a right, but to raise questions that ALL of us must answer. Who are we rolling with and why? What principles and values do we hold and are we being true to them? Can we afford the luxury of aligning ourself with the state and being against the people?
There are some that are insisting that those artists who performed for the Gadhafi clan have blood money and they should give what they earned to charity. Folks are outraged that such prominent artists would perform for the leader of that country. That’s something to consider.
I wonder if folks are just as upset with the US-Libya Business Association which include American companies like Dow Chemical, Chevron, Exxon, Halliburton, Shell, Raytheon and Occidental Petroleum to name a few. There are more companies including some prominent lobbying groups like the Livingston group, White & Case and Blank Rome who have all broken bread with Libya. Do these companies have blood on their hands and should they like the aformentioned artists be giving the money they earned to charity as well? Do we give any of these artists and companies a pass because they all got down with Gadhafi after sanctions were lifted under George Bush?
In any case if these artists and businesses don’t give back their earnings are you willing to boycott them to avoid having blood on your hands? It’s interesting to note that the website to the US-Libya Business Association has suddenly went dark once all the drama started. It seems like an attempt to erase their digital footprints.
As I said earlier global politics are always complicated and the reason is because we as a country have a hard time breaking our habit of propping up and supporting dictators. Over the years we’ve made all sorts of excuses. Back in the days we were afraid of communism spreading so we put our money behind all sorts of crazy despots who seemingly took glee in smashing on their people. No one wants to talk about how years later we do robust business with China, a communist country with a shoddy human rights and free speech record, while decrying the our disdain for that form of government at Tea Party rallies. Are we trying to have it both ways?
Later we said we had to protect our ‘national interests’ in the Middle East (translation Israel), so it didn’t matter who we got behind as long as they promised not to attack Israel. So we supported the Shah of Iran, We supported Saddamn Hussein, We turn a blinds eye to the abuses in Saudi Arabia. We supported Muburak. What’s crazy is that earlier on, there were News pundits that were ok with keeping Mubarak in power for fear of the Muslim Brotherhood boogey man taking over Egypt.
We can go on and on listing our glaring contradictions. The list is long, especially as we started bending the rules and tossing aside our principles in the wake of 9-11 as we been engaged in the ‘War on Terror‘. It’s from us propping up Osama Bin Laden to our support of the Contras to our full embrace of South Africa’s Aparthied regime.
We as a country have long layed down in some strange political beds. What’s even sadder is that many of us try to act like the rest of the world doesn’t notice. Trust me, they do. When such contradictions are pointed out, there are apologist who are quick use the labels Unpatriotic and Anti-American.
Even now with President Obama, while he made history in being the first African-American president, him aligning himself with Wall Street and carrying out wars and alliances with some of these same ruthless despots is just as troubling as when Bush was doing it..
As a country we’re quick to point out the human rights abuses of everyone but the dictatorships we support along with our own. As Minister Farrakhan pointed out the other day in his remarks about Gadhafi, if he’s persecuted for crimes against humanity, the same should apply to former President George W. Bush for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s a real talk.
With that being said, all of us need to look beyond the neatly packaged revolutions we’re seeing on TV and take some unattractive things into account. First, we need to ask ourselves why are we aligning ourselves with dictators and tyrants in our quest to smash on oppressive forces here? Are we doing so because they can open up purse strings? Is it because we find ourselves powerless here and gravitate toward anyone who exudes it themselves? Is it because we don’t trust our media and concluded that anything they report needs to be viewed with lots of skepticism?
Is it because we hate US imperialism so much that we blindly get behind anyone else who shares the same sentiment and is willing to pressure or stand up to the leadership without fully examining their position on other key issues? If so how are we any different from the people and policies we say we detest? For example, I know there are white supremacist who dislike the police. Do I stand alongside them if I’m in agreement?
At the same time those who are in the mist of liberating themselves need to be honest in assessing whether or not they want freedom for themselves or for all people? For example, in Egypt we saw the coming together of a large poor voiceless class of people and a middle class population. In victory will the poor be forgotten as the Middle class rushes to fill the seats of power? Will things change for those who are down and out? Such lines aren’t always rich and poor, a lot of times they center along Tribal, religious and ethnic lines.
In Libya we hearing reports about Black Africans being beaten in the streets accused of being foreign mercenaries when in fact many are fellow Libyans? In places where there are Black-Arab tensions and conflict how will that be resolved or will we have a situation where freedom comes in these uprisings, everyone dances in the streets and when the dust settles we have new group of oppressors in power?
None of this is easy, but true freedom comes about when everyone is liberated and we act upon principles not selective alliances that allow us to get caught up in to where we are indistiguishable from the despots being challenged.
Bottom line Which Side are you On? Its a question we better ask ourselves over and over again as we fight the power.
-written by Davey D