Since the rebellion against Gaddafi began in February, I followed the movement against him closely, I cheered the rebels on with each city they took, and when Gaddafi’s forces began to push back against the rebels and slaughtered civilians in his own country, I applauded NATO’s decision to intervene under the pretense of protecting civilians with a loose interpretation of a no-fly zone. I still believe NATO made the right decision; it was clear Gaddafi was close to crushing the rebellion, and he would have merciless killed thousands in Benghazi, but the rebels still had enough anti-Gaddafi forces on the ground that, with help from NATO’s air force (but without any occupation), they could still easily defeat Gaddafi. It took longer than I expected for them to defeat Gaddafi, and granted they have not captured him yet as of writing this, but the days of his regime are clearly over. I still support the decision for NATO to support the revolution, and I still support the Libyan people’s courage in overthrowing Gaddafi, but the amounting stories of the Libyan rebels’ racist persecution toward dark skinned black Africans, in Tripoli and elsewhere, has diminished my hopes of a truly democratic Libya.
The majority of Libyans are Arabs and Berbers, but there’s a minority of black Africans in Libya who the majority of Libyans do not identify with. There does not seem to be any conflict yet between the Arabs and Berbers, but the black Africans have suffered at the hands of the rebels. Racism is not new in Libya: Gaddafi exploited black Africans as migrant workers, and many Libyans held prejudices toward the black Africans, but while the racism is not new, the actions of the rebels is still appalling.
When the rebellion began, rumors emerged that Gaddafi was using black African mercenaries in his military, which has not been verified and rejected by some researchers, but with Gaddafi’s mentality, it would not surprise me if he recruited any mercenaries that he could, including black Africans. However, I have no evidence that these rumors have any factual basis, but would it surprise anyone if Gaddafi did hire black Africans to serve as mercenaries in his efforts to defeat the revolution? Anyway, whether these rumors have any truth to them or not, certainly not all black Africans worked as mercenaries for Gaddafi, yet many rebels have treated all black Africans indiscriminately, and some rebels have executed already captured black Africans who they accused of being mercenaries, and calls for “ethnic cleansing” have already been discussed. Perhaps the most disturbing sign of the overt racism among some of the rebels is the graffiti that applauded the rebels as the “brigade for purging slaves, black skin.” Gaddafi’s forces have executed prisoners, prisoners of war, civilians, hospital patients, and anyone else they could take their vengeance out on since losing power, but the rebel forces need to prove they are the higher moral force than Gaddafi’s regime, and their indiscriminate racism has called that into question.
As I said earlier, I still rejoice over a revolution that overthrew Gaddafi’s 42 year long tyranny, but I am now much more skeptical over whether the Libyan revolution will live up to its democratic aspirations. The truth is the revolution had some flaws from the beginning: it was composed of diverse rebels who shared no ideological commonalities except for their opposition to Gaddafi. I have no doubt some revolutionary Libyans are disgusted by the acts of violence by some rebels against black Africans, who are now fearing for their lives. However, during a violent revolution that has been so disorganized, it is unfortunately difficult to enforce the ethics of war on all the revolutionaries. One Libyan submitted an op-ed piece denying the racism among the revolutionaries, but based on every other report, there seems no question that some rebels have committed racist atrocities that need to be stopped immediately. The rebels are composed of different factions: some proponents of human rights, some Islamic fundamentalists, some who simply resented or suffered during Gaddafi’s rule, some opportunists looking for power, and many other factions. There is no consensus among the rebels, and while I do believe the NTC (National Transitional Council) has good intentions for Libya and the people, uncertainty remains among who will fill the vacuum of power, whether they will live up to the democratic aspirations of the early rebellion, and what kind of human rights violations the rebels will commit. I am not surprised by the human rights violations; as I said, in a revolution, some rebels will take advantage of ensuing chaos. I am disappointed, however, in how widespread it seems, and how there has been a reluctance of the French, British, and U.S. officials in denouncing the acts of racism; the three powers supporting the rebels’ campaign immediately need to call on the rebels to act in a more humanitarian measure if they want to continue to receive military support or their financial aid, which is currently frozen.