As I lay in bed Wednesday morning, eyes still a bit sluggish, I grabbed the Blackberry that lay next to me. Half-consciously opening my inbox, I was floored and fully awoken by what stared back at me: The subject line of a daily brief from Foreign Policy Magazine read: “U.S. ambassador killed in Libya.” I was incredulous. For goodness sakes, “Why Libya?” I muttered repeatedly. I have been following Libya’s nascent and often shaky accent to stability since Moammar Gaddafi’s deposition, I never for once found it a hotbed for anti-American sentiments. What happened? It was a moment of disappointment that became more disheartening once I immediately understood what realities this portends, whoever the perpetrators were.
As details continue to pour in, we now have an idea of the circumstances surrounding the death of U.S. ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others in an American consulate in Benghazi, Libya. It is highly regrettable that a few Africans chose to be cowards, murderers, and hijackers of freedom. And as I feared, throughout the day and since then, this has been an impetus for many, Africans and those outside the continent, to condemn and claim validation against Western intervention in Libya this past year.
Yevgeny Y. Satanoskvy, president of the Institute of the Middle East in Moscow, was quoted in the New York Times as saying American leaders should not expect “one word of sympathy” from their Russian counterparts. The current Russian President, Vladimir Putin, back then, was unrestrained in his condemnation of NATO’s intervention in Libya.
And, even on Facebook, a fellow African was quick to point out to me that “this (events like the attack on the consulate) was foreseen and foretold, after the forceful demise of Ghadaffi.” In his words, he does not “support tyranny and dictatorship, but there are deeper realities that drove the motive” to oust the former Libyan leader and save the millions of lives across Libya.
All these entrenched opinions are deeply unfortunate. They posit we are better off abdicating our moral responsibilities to one another in times of direness, such as when Moammar Gaddafi and his sons knocked on the gates of Benghazi and swore to annihilate all the “rats [citizens]” within. Had it not been for a NATO intervention spearheaded by France, how many body bags would have been enough to collect the corpses of the many women and children of Benghazi?
For those who advocate the neutrality of nation states with means and privilege to salvage humanity, when this humanity finds itself threatened by some of its own most vicious and vilest attributes, need only look through our checkered history to see why this can’t be so.
The world folded its arms when confronted with the sadism of Adolf Hitler. And when it finally awoke its own consciousness, 6 million Jews were ghosts blowing in the wind and millions more would have died had the Allied powers not intervened. In Rwanda, we saw the callousness and brutality of indifference and passivity. In a period of 100 days, an estimated 500,000 lives were snuffed out in wanton acts of genocide, with at least 800,000 souls lost by the time the conflict was over. Six years later, a penitent world body, the U.N., would go on to decry its sin as a blatant ‘failure” of the Rwandan people.
And even in present times, we continue to see the effect of overt inaction in places like Darfur and the Nuba Mountains, where in Darfur for example, The Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters estimates, with 95% confidence, of an excess number of deaths between 178,258 and 461,520.
Subsequently, all the conspiracy theorists who claim we are better off had Gaddafi been left to shake every child in Benghazi from limb to limb till there was no tissue left; do lend humanity a huge disservice.
As public opinion in Libya does show, this latest incident is grossly unrepresentative of the wills and aspirations of the Libyan people. Libyans thank the U.S. and other NATO states that assisted in their deliverance. It would be hogwash to think extremists, such as the cowards that surfaced on Tuesday night, will not use the freedoms provided by a democratic society to destabilize said freedoms.
If anything, we ought to join hands with brothers and sisters in this North African state to reaffirm our commitment to human dignity and freedom. The lesson here is not for us to backtrack our steps, but to show ourselves resolute and unshakeable. It is clear, as peoples, we inhabit different geographical locations with different time zones, but our indivisible humanity, our commitment to shared values and beliefs is what is ultimately under attack here. We must not allow fear or complacence to usurp these from us.