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London Review of Books: Libya and the Recklessness of the West

Author: Hugh Roberts
September 24, 2012


Libya is experiencing a transition away from its earlier state into a region that has changed in its political and religious landscape.

Libya no longer has – or is – a state. The political field throughout most of the Middle East and North Africa is dominated by the various fiercely competing brands of Islamism. The religious field has been in a state of profound disorder since the abolition of the Caliphate following the destruction of the Ottoman Empire in the First World War. A degree of order was effectively restored to it by intelligent nationalist movements which, once in power, promoted a 'national Islam' the better to subject religion to raison d'état and curb its more dangerous and sectarian enthusiasms. But Western policy since the end of the Cold War has been relentlessly opposed to the nationalist tradition and its exponents throughout the region.

The eclipse of this tradition has tended to deprive religious and other minorities of the protection they received from modernising nationalist governments in their heyday and has induced many of them, especially the more mobile, professional, middle-class elements, to seek refuge in the West. The resulting diaspora has become a well of bitterly resentful attitudes towards – and occasional insulting caricatures of – those forces left in possession of the political stage in the countries the émigrés have abandoned. It has been encouraged in this behaviour by the tendency of Western governments to rely on diaspora personalities as a source of endorsement of their own wishful thinking and self-regarding readings of reality in the region and as a source of personnel to be parachuted into power – or at least office – in each and every regime change effected by Western military muscle.

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