We noted two days ago that Moammar Qaddafi is simultaneously playing the al-Qaeda card to rally US imperialism to his side and playing the US imperialism card to rally the Libyan people to his side. On March 9, he was so indiscreet as to do both in the same breath! "If al-Qaeda manages to seize Libya, then the entire region, up to Israel, will be at the prey of chaos," he told Turkey's TRT television. "The international community is now beginning to understand that we have to prevent Osama bin Laden from taking control of Libya and Africa." Instead of leaving it at that, he went on to say that he welcomes Western plans for a no-fly zone because it would allow "Libyans to see through the real intentions—to seize our oil—and then they would take up arms" to defend the country.
He also went on to repeat the bizarre fiction that he doesn't really run Libya, and therefore can't step down! "Since 1977, the Libyan people have held the power," he said. And there isn't any revolution going on anyway, he asserted, minutes after warning that al-Qaeda is on the brink of taking power: "Peace and security hold sway in a large part of Libya." (Middle East Online, March 9) That same day, he made similar comments to France's LCI television, saying that European powers "want to colonize Libya again… It's a colonialist plot." (Middle East Online, March 9)
While the "al-Qaeda" card is 100% jive, there may be at least an element of truth to the "colonialist plot" card—but of course it ignores the fact that if any such plot exists, Qaddafi is abetting it by conveniently providing a "humanitarian" pretext through his massacres and atrocities. It doesn't smell to us like Qaddafi is quite crazy enough to actually believe his wackiness—we think he knows he is lying. But he seems to really believe that others will believe his lies if he repeats them loudly and often enough—or at least will play along as if they do. This is the kind of mental pathology that comes of 40 years surrounded by yes-men who tell you what want to hear, on pain of being shot.
However, lies have a disturbing habit of becoming true—or, put more accurately, those in power have a pathological tendency to create what they fear, or want others to fear. This now applies to Qaddafi and Western leaders alike. As we have noted, the most hopeful thing about the new wave of Arab revolutions is that it represents a secular pro-democracy imperative which has broken with the depressing and long-entrenched "narrative" of US-backed autocrats versus extremist jihadis. But if the West intervenes, this will "change the channel," so to speak—from a "story" about revolutionary movements shaking off dictatorships to one about Muslims fighting the West. In other words, into a form more easily exploited by al-Qaeda and neo-colonialists alike.
We can see signs of this ominous transition already—in the xenophobic tendencies that have been displayed by the Libyan revolutionaries, in the recent anti-Christian and anti-woman violence in Egypt, in the xenophobic and sectarian turn to the protest movement in Bahrain—and, most significantly, in the real al-Qaeda attacks in Yemen. As we stated after the most recent such attack, al-Qaeda is now trying to play catch-up as the populist momentum has been seized by pro-democratic and basically secular protest movements. That could change very, very rapidly if there is Western military intervention. Let's hope we can avoid it.