Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Gaddafi Facing the Music... Is NATO Next?
As the NATO bombardment of Libya takes its toll and rebels continue to duke it out with the dictator Gaddafi, contradictions of the operation there are coming to a head. Specifically, one has to wonder whether the economic, social and cultural stranglehold of Gaddafi's decades-old regime isn't so much fading as switching hands.
Recently, a flurry of revolutionary music has been making its way through the country via the web. Gaddafi's regime had kept a tight lid on the nation's music ever since the early '70s, so it's no surprise that the most popular pro-rebel songs have come out sans copyright, sans artist info. As Khaled Mattawa says on the Freemuse site:
"Gaddafi's aggressive ideological dictates began to infiltrate all cultural production in Libya. The colonel's insistence on music, and arts, of the people, in reality meant an insistence that all artists praise his rule and person... As a result, many artists were sidelined or silenced."
Styles have ranged from rap to folk to a long-lost, unofficial Libyan national anthem. It should come as no surprise that with the rebellion against Gaddafi more than three months old, music has found its way from the genuine grassroots proudly taking on the regime.
Whether that will be the case after he's gone is another matter. By now the UN and US have their tentacles firmly wrapped around the "official" opposition, the Transitional National Council (TNC), a group who a few months ago were largely ad-hoc. Now, they're a firmly entrenched bureaucratic body, backed to the hilt by Western dollars. "Regime change" wasn't originally on offer from NATO and the West. Now it's all the world's leaders can talk about. So much for avoiding "mission creep."
As Patrick Cockburn wrote recently in the Independent:
"Libya has...moved a long way from the democratic hopes of February. An important signal since the start of June has been the intervention of NATO attack helicopters, making the rebels more an auxiliary force in a foreign-run campaign. The deployment of the rebels is now largely decided by NATO, without whose air power the local anti-Qaddafi forces would long ago have been defeated.
"Many Libyans want Qaddafi to go, but the Transitional National Council in Benghazi may not have the legitimacy or the support to replace him. He is very likely to be displaced before the end of the year, but this will be a victory primarily won by NATO, and not popular revolution."
In other words: "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss." Does this mean that Libyan people are terminally screwed? No. The rebellions in Egypt and Tunisia, which have retained their popular character without sliding into civil war, remain a beacon for the entire region (same can be said in relation to Yemen and Syria, both of which are dangerously close to going down Libya's path).
It does mean, however, that the flowering of art, music and culture that accompanies revolutions is bound to hit the brick wall in Libya very soon. That wall is going to look suspiciously similar to the guns and tanks rolling through the streets of Kabul right now. Musicians there haven't exactly been granted "artistic freedom" by the occupiers. Far from it; there's going to be a whole new authority for Libyan artists to direct their voices against very soon.