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Eighty years after Umar al-Mukhtar’s execution, western Europe’s rulers announce the Libyan plunder

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Umar al-Mukhtär (b. c. 1862), a leader of Sanüsi resistance to Italian colonisation until his execution in 1931. Photo: General History of Africa, Vol VII, UNESCO 1985

We do not know if the president of France and the prime minister of Britain were aware of the historic signifiance of the timing of their joint visit to Libya last week. Either David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy had been informed of what had happened there, exactly 80 years before, and chose the date as a symbol of the military might that occupying colonial powers have had in North Africa; or they did not, their presence at the time being coincidence. Whichever the explanation, the Libyans who watched the two western European political leaders in their country could not have failed to have observed the anniversary of the execution of Umar al-Mukhtär, Libya’s legenary freedom fighter and the ‘Lion of the Desert’. It had taken place exactly 80 years ago, on 16 September 1931.

The Cameron-Sarkozy visit recalled all the sordid and bloody traditions of imperialism: untrammelled hypocrisy, rank economic plunder and the ruthless use of force to secure such plunder. They were feted by the leaders of NATO’s local client, the National Transitional Council (TNC), under heavy security in Tripoli. Delivering the ghastly charade, Cameron hailed “free Libya” to the cheers of the assembled crowds. “France, Great Britain, Europe, will always stand by the side of the Libyan people,” his counterpart Sarkozy declared.

A comment in The Guardian has explained that in Libya the long decades of oppression could not be forgotten so easily. The Italians had devastated the old pastoral economy, and depopulated much of the land: the very term Siziliani (many of the settlers had come from Sicily) remained a term of loathing. Memories of anti-colonial resistance helped to legitimise Libya’s new British-backed king, Idris, who as head of the Sanusi order had been a figurehead for the struggle against the Italians. But such memories also helped bolster the 27-year-old Colonel Gaddafi when he accused the king of selling out to latter-day imperialism, toppled him in a coup and set up the republic.

Poster for the file, 'Lion of the Desert' (1981)

This year that republic became the pretext for NATO’s neo-colonial adventure — to protect Libyan lives from the regime of Muammar Gaddafi — one that has almost completely been dispensed with. Based on a blatant illegality [‘Is the resolution on Libya legal under international law?‘], NATO warplanes continue to pound targets around the remaining pro-Gaddafi towns of Sirte and Bani Walid with scant regard for civilian lives as the TNC and its NATO backers push to bring the entire country under their control. The World Socialist Web Site has explained that all the hypocritical claims that the war for “regime change” in Libya was all about saving human lives notwithstanding, the aims of British and French imperialism in Libya, North Africa and the Middle East are no more humanitarian today that they have been for the past 200 years.

Earlier that week, the CEO of Italy’s energy giant ENI, Paolo Scaroni, was in Tripoli to discuss the resumption of Libyan gas exports. ENI was Libya’s largest energy producer before this economic war was illegally launced the energy company wants to defend its dominant position. Libya has the largest proven energy reserves in Africa: 46.4 billion barrels of oil and 55 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Libyan officials reported to the “Friends of Libya” gathering in Paris on September 2 that five major foreign energy corporations were back in the country.

To compare better the bloody and tragic history of ‘regime change’ carried out under colonial domination then and now, here is an extract that describes the events leading up to 16 September 1931.

“To worsen the situation even further, on 21 December 1922, Emir Idrïs al-Sanusï, the Union’s spiritual leader and supreme commander, went into voluntary exile to Egypt. His unexplained and sudden departure, which is still being debated among historians, completely demoralized the people and caused many of the warriors either to leave the country or surrender to the Italians. However, before leaving, al-Sanusï appointed his brother Al-Ridä as his deputy, and Umar al-Mukhtär as commander of the National Forces in the Green Mountains, and it was under his leadership and because of the efficient guerrilla warfare that he developed that the resistance continued until 1931. He divided his forces into three major mobile companies (adwär) and camped in the mountainous area south of al-Mardj at Jardas. The series of attacks launched against him in the summer of 1923 were all repelled. Another army sent against his camp in March was routed.”

Partie de Tunis et de Tripoli. Afrique no. 3. (Dresse par Ph. Vandermaelen, lithographie par H. Ode. Troisieme partie. - Afrique. Bruxelles. 1827). Cartographer: Vandermaelen, Philippe, 1795-1869. Date: 1827. Collection: David Rumsey Historical Map Collection

“It was Tripolitania that fell first. By June 1924, all arable land was occupied. But aware of their weakness as long as they did not control the desert, the Italians began a long campaign to control the desert and finally Fazzän. This was not marked by success despite the use of aerial bombing and poison gas. Several Italian advances were stopped. As late as 1928 the Libyans blocked the main Italian force at Faqhrift south of Surt. But by the end of 1929 and the beginning of 1930, Fazzän was finally occupied and the Libyan resistance in the west and south collapsed.”

“Meanwhile, the resistance in Cyrenaica continued and succeeded in inflicting heavy defeats on the Italians. When the Fascists failed to suppress the revolution of Umar al-Mukhtär in Cyrenaica through direct military attack, they resorted to some measures unprecedented in the history of colonial wars in Africa. They first erected a 300 km-long wire fence along the Tripoli-Egyptian border to prevent any aid coming from Egypt. Secondly, continually enforced, they occupied the oases of Djalo, Djaghabüb and Kufra to encircle and isolate the warriors in Cyrenaica. Finally, they evacuated all the rural population of Cyrenaica to the desert of Sirt where they kept them in fenced concentration camps. This measure was meant to deprive al-Mukhtär’s forces of any local assistance. Other mass prisons and concentration camps were established at al-Makrfln, Sulük, al-Aghayla and al-Barayka. Conditions in these camps were so bad that it is believed that more than a hundred thousand people died of starvation and diseases, not to mention their animals which were confiscated. In al-Barayka prison camp alone, there were 80,000 persons of whom 30,000 are said to have died between 1930 and 1932, according to the Italians’ own statistics.”

“Despite these wicked measures, the revolt continued and hit-and-run tactics were resorted to. The Italians again offered to negotiate with al-Mukhtâr. A series of meetings were held between the two sides. Among them was the one held near al-Mardj on 19 July 1929, attended by Governor Badoglio. At this meeting, the Italians offered to bribe al-Mukhtlr who turned down the offer and insisted on liberating his country.”

One for you, two for me. French President Nicolas Sarkozy (right) greets British Prime Minister David Cameron on Thursday at the Elysee Palace. Photo: Der Spiegel/DPA

“Later, when al-Mukhtär discovered that the Italians were trying to apply the policy of ‘divide and rule’ among his followers, he broke the talks with the Italians and resumed his tactics of guerrilla warfare which included skirmishes, raids, ambushes, surprise attacks and incursions spread all over the country. In the last twenty-one months before his capture, he fought 277 battles with the Italians as Graziani himself admits. In September 1931, however, al-Mukhtär was captured and taken to Benghazi. He was then court-martialed and executed before thousands of Libyans at the town of Sulük on 16 September 1931.”

[Extract from the chapter, ‘African initiatives and resistance in North Africa and the Sahara’, by A. Laroui, in Volume VII of ‘General History of Africa – Africa under Colonial Domination 1880-1935’, UNESCO-Heinemann, 1985]

From the very start of the Gaddafi regime, the Guardian comment observes, present and past merged as the anti-colonialist Gaddafi ordered British and American air bases to close and kicked out the 20,000 Italians still living in the country, nationalising their property. As his regime became more and more unpopular, so it found new uses in Libya’s history of oppression. Even as it razed the monuments of the Sanusi leadership, now seen by regime propagandists as feudal usurpers of a popular nationalist movement, so it sent researchers into the countryside as part of a vast oral history project to collect memories of the guerrilla war and Italian atrocities.

Such moves not only wrapped the regime in the heroic mantle of the anti-Italian jihad, they served geopolitical purposes too. Two years after forcing the Italians to leave, the socialist Gaddafi was inviting Italian corporations back in, turning the former colonial oppressor into Libya’s chief European business partner. And when in 2004 he sought new respectability in Europe, Italy became a crucial ally and history was part of the deal: Berlusconi apologized publicly for Italy’s past crimes, and in return, Gaddafi promised to keep Italy’s unwanted illegal migrants locked up in camps inside Libya.

There is more on Libya here: The bloody cost of ‘democratic transition’ in Libya ; A time before the pillage – what North Africa should mean to us ; Mussolini and Ethiopia, Italy and Libya, the mill of history ; Libya, the economic reasons for invasion ; Nato’s fascist war and the Black Code of the West ; So, why did the powers now attacking Libya easily tolerate Gaddafi for the last 10 years? ; The West’s Libya campaign has begun

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The bloody cost of ‘democratic transition’ in Libya

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Libya's oil and gas industry. Graphic: Der Spiegel

The real nature of the US-NATO invasion of Libya has become even clearer in the last week. The orchestrated media coverage, similar to the trigger-happy reportage that marked the Gulf Wars and the USA’s Iraq and Afghanaistan wars, has focused on demonising Muammar Gaddafi and on the ‘rebels’ who are now in Tripoli. Absent from the popular coverage, especially on television, is the ordinary Libyan. Not absent any longer are the commercial roots of this invasion, for the German media are now openly talking about the business opportunities or Libyan “reconstruction”.

The Security Council’s stipulations that ground troops not be introduced into the country, that an arms embargo be kept in place and that mercenaries be prevented from entering Libya have all been flouted in this criminal operation to seize control of an oil-rich former colony and loot its resources, observed the World Socialist Website. There is barely any attempt to hide the fact that special forces, intelligence agents and mercenary military contractors have organized, armed and led the “rebels”, who have not made a single advance without the prior annihilation of government security forces by NATO warplanes.

After being terrorized for five months by NATO bombs and missiles, the people of Tripoli are now facing sudden death and a looming humanitarian catastrophe as a result of the NATO campaign to “protect civilians”. Kim Sengupta of the Independent reported Thursday from the Tripoli neighborhood of Abu Salim, which the “rebels” stormed under the cover of NATO air strikes. Known as a pro-Gaddafi area, its residents have been subjected to a reign of terror.

Libya military bases. Graphic: Der Spiegel

“There was no escape for the residents of Abu Salim, trapped as the fighting spread all around them,” Sengupta reported. “In the corner of a street, a man who was shot in the crossfire, the back of his blue shirt soaked in blood, was being carried away by three others. ‘I know that man, he is a shopkeeper,’ said Sama Abdessalam Bashti, who had just run across the road to reach his home. ‘The rebels are attacking our homes. This should not be happening. The rebels are saying they are fighting government troops here, but all those getting hurt are ordinary people, the only buildings being damaged are those of local people. There has also been looting by the rebels, they have gone into houses to search for people and taken away things. Why are they doing this?’ ”

Asked why local residents were resisting the NATO-led force’s takeover of the city, Mohammed Selim Mohammed, a 38-year-old engineer, told the Independent, “Maybe they just do not like the rebels. Why are people from outside Tripoli coming and arresting our men?” Meanwhile, other reports laid bare war crimes carried out by NATO and its local agents on the ground in Tripoli. Both the Associated Press and Reuters news agencies documented a massacre perpetrated against Gaddafi supporters in a square adjacent to the presidential compound that was stormed and looted on Tuesday.

“The bodies are scattered around a grassy square next to Moammar Gadhafi’s compound of Bab al-Aziziya. Prone on grassy lots as if napping, sprawled in tents. Some have had their wrists bound by plastic ties,” AP reported. “The identities of the dead are unclear but they are in all likelihood activists that set up an impromptu tent city in solidarity with Gadhafi outside his compound in defiance of the NATO bombings.” AP said that the grisly discovery raised “the disturbing specter of mass killings of noncombatants, detainees and the wounded.”

Libya oil pipelines and infrastructure. Graphic: Der Spiegel

Among the bodies of the executed the report added were several that “had been shot in the head, with their hands tied behind their backs. A body in a doctor’s green hospital gown was found in the canal. The bodies were bloated.” Reporting from the same killing field, Reuters counted 30 bodies “riddled with bullets”. It noted that “Five of the dead were at a field hospital nearby, with one in an ambulance strapped to a gurney with an intravenous drip still in his arm.” Two of the bodies, it said, “were charred beyond recognition.”

[See ‘A time before the pillage – what North Africa should mean to us’.]

The pretence that the US and its European NATO allies were intervening in Libya to “protect civilians and civilian populated areas from threat of attack,” as stated in the United Nations Security Council resolution, has effectively been abandoned. Behind the fig leaf of this resolution the naked imperialist and colonial character of the war has emerged. Der Spiegel has reported that three weeks ago, Hans Meier-Ewert, head of the German-African Business Association, travelled to Libya together with representatives from 20 German companies. Since all regularly scheduled flights to Tripoli have long ago been cancelled, the German government made a Transall military transport plane available for the journey, and the mission was headed up by Hans-Joachim Otto, a state secretary in the German Economics Ministry.

In Benghazi, where the rebel movement is headquartered, the group handed over aid goods and medical supplies to the city’s hospitals – public relations and photo ops. There, the Germans also met with representatives of the Libyan transitional council and of the country’s central bank in an effort to pursue economic interests in the country. Libya is rich relative to its African neighbors, but the Europeans consider its infrastructure woefully inadequate. Felix Neugar, an ‘expert’ on Africa with the German Chamber of Industry and Commerce (DIHK), has complained that Libya lags far behind the high standard of the large Gulf oil producers.

Economic associations estimate that between 30 and 50 German companies were active in Libya before the war. “But it was a difficult country to do business in,” reported Der Spiegel. “State-owned companies dominated most markets, and legal standards were at best fluid under Gadhafi’s leadership. During the meeting in Benghazi with the transitional council, the German economic leaders were assured that the private economy would be strengthened, says Meier-Ewert. Contracts signed with the Gadhafi regime are to be honored, and many Libyans with extensive business experience are planning to return from exile, the German delegation was told.”

Libya tribes and tribal areas. Graphic: Der Spiegel

The Germans aren’t the only ones who have begun exploring opportunities in post-Gadhafi Libya. The Italian oil concern Eni is doing all it can to defend its status as the largest foreign oil producer in the country. Even before the rebels stormed the Gadhafi residence in Tripoli this week, Eni technicians had begun preparing to restart the flow of oil. And Eni has the full support of the government in Rome. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is meeting with rebel leader Mahmoud Jibril in a few days.

“Right now it is still too early to say when, how and under what conditions production can begin again in Libya,” said BASF subsidiary Wintershall, an oil producer active in the country since 1958, told Der Spiegel. The war also interrupted the construction of a highway that the German firm STRABAG had been working on. This autumn, the company plans to send a team to Libya to assess the situation. RWE Dea, another German firm that drills for oil in Libya, hopes the new government will uphold existing contracts. In the end, raw material exploitation contributes to reconstruction, the company says.

A lucrative reconstruction however requires destruction to be visited on Libya and its populace. This is taking place in appalling measure. Reporting from a local hospital, the Telegraph said: “As battle raged in the Tripoli streets hundreds of casualties were brought in, rebel fighters, Gaddafi’s soldiers, and unlucky civilians, laying next to each other in bed and even on a floor awash with blood, screaming or moaning in agony. Many died before they could be treated.” The paper interviewed Dr Mahjoub Rishi, the hospital’s Professor of Surgery: “There were hundreds coming in within the first few hours. It was like a vision from hell. Missile injuries were the worst. The damage they do to the human body is shocking to see, even for someone like me who is used to dealing with injuries.” Most of the casualties, he said, were civilians caught in the crossfire. The Telegraph reported that Tripoli’s two other major hospitals were similarly overflowing with casualties and desperately understaffed, as were all of the city’s private hospitals.

The aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) warned that the city is facing a medical “catastrophe”. The group told Reuters that “Medical supplies ran low during six months of civil war [i.e., NATO bombardment] but have almost completely dried up in the siege and battle of the past week. Fuel supplies have run out and the few remaining medical workers are struggling to get to work.” The lack of fuel means that hospitals that have kept their power by running generators can now no longer do so. Health officials in Tripoli report that blood supplies have run out at the hospitals and that food and drinking water is unavailable over whole areas of Tripoli.

Distant from the battle, the hapless civilian victims and the constant terror of US-NATO airborne drones, fighter jets, bombers and surveillance aircraft, Western leaders have been parcelling out Libya’s future – this is mostly taking place in Paris, as the French government has played a leading role in the so-called “international deployment” against Gadhafi. The French government has proposed a quick meeting of the so-called Libya Contact Group, which is comprised of the countries that participated in the military operation. Germany, given its abstention in the United Nations vote to endorse a no-fly zone, is not a member of the group.

The meeting could happen as soon as next week, and high on the agenda will be drafting a plan together with the National Transition Council for the “international community’s” future role in Libya. The European Union’s deadly doublespeak is being broadcast regularly: “The way is now open for Libya for freedom and self-determination,” European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said in a joint statement. They added that Europe would make “every endeavour” it could to help, providing “support for its democratic transition and economic reconstruction”. Of course it will, at a cost in North African lives and for a profit to be reckoned in many billions of euros.

A time before the pillage – what North Africa should mean to us

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The ugly triumphalism of the decade of 2000-10 is being held aloft again, as the fighting in Libya continues. As before, it is the scandalous regimes conventionally called western liberal democracies which are blaring out their triumphal tattoos, all over the media and across the Internet. The bankers, financiers, arms dealers, oil barons, fuel traders, commodity speculators, land grabbers and their cronies in government (many governments) are already counting their superprofits.

L'Afrique, ou Lybie ulterieure - This map of Africa by Nicolas Sanson, royal geographer to Kings Louis XIII and XIV, and commonly known as the father of French cartography, was published by Sanson’s own house in 1679 in Paris. The map was based, according to Sanson, on a composite of information drawn from other maps as well as “upon the observations of Samuel Blomart.” It also may have drawn on the Dutch writer Olfert Dapper’s work of 1668, Naukeurige Beschrijvingen der Afrikaensche gewesten (Description of Africa). The continent is presented as “Greater Libya” and the map concentrates on the Saharan region of north Africa and the surrounding land of west Africa, stretching from Guinea and the black coast to Nubia in the east <http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.wdl/dlc.142&gt;.

The Maghrib that is North Africa is being readied for an even more intense period of plunder and pillage, of that there is no doubt. The very idea of ‘rebel’ had been perverted, as it has been the past year from Morocco to Syria. Amidst this savage celebrating, there is a need to turn to history and its many threads, to rediscover and hear again of the luminous nature of that which is now being ridden under, to reflect on the carefully constructed fruits of civilisations that inspired and instructed the thinkers and doers of western Europe.

From ‘The spread of civilization in the Maghrib and its impact on western civilization’, by M Talbi, extracted from ‘Africa from the Twelfth to the Sixteenth Century’, Volume 4 in UNESCO’s General History of Africa, Heinemann-California-UNESCO, 1984.

The century of the Almohads – It is hard to decide just when a civilization reaches its peak, when its influence is greatest. For the Maghrib, was it under the Aghlabids in the ninth century, when the armed might of Ifnkiya threatened Rome and ruled the Mediterranean? Or in the tenth, when the Fatimids made Mahdiyya the seat of a caliphate which rivalled that of Baghdad? Or should we opt for the Almohad era (i 147-1269), when for the first time, under a local, authentically Berber dynasty, a vast empire was united which extended from Tripoli to Seville? We have to recognize that there were several peaks, and among all those peaks that of the twelfth century was certainly not the least.

And Spain? It had certainly fallen from the political greatness it had known of old under ‘Abd al-Rahmän II (912-61) or under the ‘reign’ of the dictator, al-Mansür b. Abï cAmir, the redoubtable Almanzor of the Christian chronicles. But the case of Spain and the Maghrib was comparable with that of Greece and Rome : Spain conquered its uncouth Berber conquerors, Almoravid or Almohad, twice over, and by giving them the age-old treasures of its artistic and cultural traditions made them into builders of a civilization. So from the twelfth century onwards, the civilization of the Muslim West was a fusion of the culture of Spain and the Maghrib, even more than it had been in the past.

This photograph of a street scene in Tripoli, Libya, is from the George Grantham Bain Collection at the Library of Congress. Although little information about this photograph has survived, it most likely was acquired and distributed by Bain in connection with news of the 1911-12 Italo-Turkish War in which Italy wrested control of Libya from the Ottoman Empire <http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.wdl/dlc.2444&gt;.

It was a civilization built in part — although how great a part is difficult to say – by blacks who came from the regions south of the Sahara. They were to be found in large numbers in Morocco and throughout the whole of the Maghrib. Intermarriage, against which there was no prejudice whatsoever, was common and naturally had some biocultural influence, the nature of which, however, is difficult to determine with any degree of certainty or accuracy. There were also blacks to be found in Spain, principally in Seville and Granada. As slaves for a time, or as free men, they played a considerable role in the army and the economy, and they also brought with them certain customs of their native country. Some of them, such as Jean Latin, a university professor in Spain, attained the highest levels of the intellectual world and gave a stronger African flavour to the Spanish Maghrib.

Art and architecture – In the period that we are interested in, this civilization was centred in the western half of the Maghrib. Kayrawän had declined greatly and Ifnkiya had lost its primacy. We should note that the century of the Almohads was also that of the Almoravids (1061-1147). Apart from the religious aspects, which do not concern us here, there was no break between the two dynasties as regards their civilization. Almohad art, in particular, was merely the flowering culmination of processes which had been developed or introduced from Spain under the Almoravids.

The Almoravids were great builders. Few vestiges remain of their civil architecture, more exposed to the fury of men and the ravages of time and weather. Of the palaces they erected at Marrakesh and Tagrart, nothing is left; of their fortresses, very little; nor do we know much about their public engineering works, in particular their irrigation. But some of the finest religious monuments are still there for us to admire. The most characteristic of those extant today are in Algeria. The Great Mosque of Marrakesh, unfortunately, disappeared under the tidal wave of Almohadism. At Fez, the mosque of al-Karawiyyïn is not entirely Almoravid, but a building of the mid-ninth century, altered and enlarged.

This treatise by the prominent Shafi’i theologian Muhammad al-Amidi (died 1233) deals with questions of original existence and mental existence. The manuscript copy shown here was made in 1805 by an unknown scribe. It is from the Bašagic' Collection of Islamic Manuscripts in the University Library of Bratislava, Slovakia.

On the other hand, the Great Mosque at Algiers, built around 1096, is a genuinely Almoravid foundation which has not suffered unduly from the alterations made in the fourteenth century and again during the Turkish period. There is also the mosque of Nedroma. But the most beautiful building is undeniably the Great Mosque of Tlemcen, an imposing monument measuring 50 m by 60 m, begun about 1082 and completed in 1136. It united the vigour and majesty of the Saharans with the refinement and delicacy of Andalusian art. Marcáis writes: ‘There is no need to emphasize the importance of the Great Mosque of Tlemcen. The peculiarities of its design, and still more the juxtaposition, even the close association, of the Andalusian ribbed dome with the Iranian-inspired corbels [projections] in the form of mukarnas [stalactites]… give it an eminent place among Muslim works.’

Literature – The twelfth century was also notable for brilliant literary activity. The initial reservations of the Almoravids and Almohads concerning poets and profane works in general soon dissolved under the hot sun of Spain. The princes of both dynasties lived up to the tradition that an Arab sovereign should also be an interested and enlightened patron. They encouraged culture and gave their patronage to men of letters.

Here, too, the western part of the Spanish Maghrib held the place of honour. Ifrîkiya did not make much of a showing. Almost the only writer to be mentioned during this period is Ibn Hamdïs (c. 1055-1133), who was a genuine poet with a widespread reputation – and he was born in Sicily. As a youth he had to leave ‘his Sicilian fatherland’, which had been conquered by the Normans, and ever afterwards he dwelt on his memories of it with an engaging nostalgia. After a short stay at the court of al-Muctamid ‘ala ‘lläh (more properly called Muhammad b. ‘Abbäd al-Mu’tadid) at Seville, he spent the greater part of his life in Ifrîkiya. The Muses were cultivated more successfully in the far Maghrib and above all in Spain. Among the more talented practitioners of the art were Ibn ‘Abdün (who died at Evora in 1134); Ibn al-Zakkâk al-Balansî (d. c. 1133); Ibn Bakï (d. 1150), who spent his life journeying back and forth between Spain and Morocco and whose muwashshah (a genre in which he excelled) ended in a Khardja in the Romance tongue; Abu Bahr Safwän b. Idrîs (d. 1222); Abu ‘1-Hasan ‘Abï b. Harïk (d. 1225); Muhammad b. Idrïs Mardj al-Kul (d. 1236); Ibn Dihya, who left Spain, travelled all through the Maghrib, living for a while in Tunis, and died in Cairo; Ibn Sahl (d. 1251), a native of Seville, of Jewish origin and great poetic sensibility, who entered the service of the Governor of Ceuta after his native city fell to Ferdinand III (1248); and Abu ‘1-Mutarrif b. ‘Amïra (d. c. 1258), who was born at Valencia, served the last Almohads in various cities of Morocco and ended his life in the service of the Hafsids of Tunis.

In this constellation two stars shone with particular brilliance: Ibn Khafadja (1058-1139), uncle of the Ibn al-Zakkâk mentioned earlier, and above all Ibn Kuzmän (b. after 1086, d. 1160). The former, without quite being a court poet (he came from a well-to-do family from Alcira, in the province of Valencia), did the conventional thing and eulogized the important men of the day, among them the Almoravid prince Abu Ishäk Ibrahim b. Tâshfin. But it is mainly as an inimitable poet of nature that Ibn Khafadja has come down to posterity. In his sensuous and romantic verse he sings of the joy of living, the water of rivers and ponds, gardens and flowers, fruits and the pleasures of existence. He was called al-Djannän (the gardener) and there is no anthology old or new that does not offer a selection of his poems. He is one of the classic Arabic poets.

North Africa to Lampedusa, the terrible voyage that Europe ignores

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'NATO: Bah! It's just African immigrants dying of hunger' Cartoon by Victor Nieto, Venezuela. Nieto's cartoons frequently appear in Aporrea and Rebelión among other sites. Translation by Yoshie Furuhashi

“According to the refugees, when water ran out people drank sea water and their own urine. They ate toothpaste. One by one people started to die. After waiting a day or so, they decided they had to drop the bodies into the sea.”

That is the account of Melissa Fleming, chief spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), to a Geneva news briefing. In a UNHCR camp in Tunisia, agency workers interviewed three Ethiopian men who said they were among nine survivors from a boat that left Tripoli on March 25 carrying 72 people.

Their boat is the one that NATO warships ignored.

One of the Ethiopians interviewed said the boat ran out of fuel, water and food, then drifted for more than two weeks before reaching a beach back in Libya. Military vessels had twice passed the 12-meter-long boat, crowded to the point there was barely standing room, without stopping, he said. The first boat refused a request to board and the second just took photos, although he could not say where the vessels had come from.

Fleming said that the boat was among many believed to have left Libya without a captain, leaving the migrants to do the navigation themselves. “I have heard accounts that perhaps there has been a captain for the first 100 meters or so and then a small boat will take the captain back to shore. They provide the passengers with a compass and say ‘Lampedusa is in that direction. Best of luck’,” said Fleming, referring to the small southern Italian island where many refugees have headed.

One in 10 migrants fleeing conflict in Libya by sea is likely to drown or die from hunger and exhaustion in appalling conditions during the crossing, the UN refugee agency said Friday. Around 12,000 migrants have arrived at reception centers in Malta and Italy. An estimated 1,200 are missing and presumed dead, adding a further human tragedy to the thousands killed in three months of fighting to topple leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Written by makanaka

May 16, 2011 at 16:11

Mussolini and Ethiopia, Italy and Libya, the mill of history

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Un tunisino appena salvato dalla Guardia costiera ringrazia dio per la sua buona sorte. Photo: Immigrazione a Lampedusa/ Jean-Marc Caimi/ Redux Pictures

This week in 1936 the Mussolini regime’s declaration of an Italian empire in East Africa, upon its formal annexation of Ethiopia, increased tensions among the Great Powers, pushing the world closer toward a global conflagration.

The annexation was an open repudiation, said the World Socialist Web Site, of the norms of international law and the most devastating rebuke yet suffered by the League of Nations, forerunner of the United Nations, which had failed miserably to check Rome’s aggression. Likewise implicated were Britain, which had allowed the Italian war machine to pass through the Suez canal, and France, which was seeking to maintain Italian support for the Locarno Pact against Germany aggression.

A cartoon deriding the League of Nations

In response, Britain sent a diplomatic mission to Hitler seeking Germany’s non-recognition of Mussolini’s conquest, while France remained oriented toward maintaining Italy’s support against Germany. With all of Africa now divided by the Europeans—the exception being small Liberia in the west—no further gains could be made on the continent without war among the European powers.

Today, Italy’s participation in the war stems from the fear that it could lose its influence in Libya to France, Britain and the United States. The Financial Times noted: “The Franco-Italian spat over immigration follows sharp differences over Libya, where Rome has been dragged into a war it would rather avoid, fearing a Paris-Benghazi nexus will freeze out its substantial interests in Libyan oil and gas”.

The Libyan oil and gas reserves are a powerful motive for the Italian bourgeoisie to participate actively in the inter-imperialist struggle over their North African neighbour. Italy draws a quarter of its oil imports and ten percent of its natural gas from Libya. The energy group ENI has invested billions of euros in assets in Libya. Until the outbreak of open hostilities, Italy was the largest foreign trade partner of Libya, the largest buyer of its crude oil, and one of Gaddafi’s largest arms suppliers.

Germany and Iran, a long-running hypocrisy reprised by the blocking of India’s oil payments to Tehran

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The German government has stopped the government from India from paying for oil, bought from Iran, through a German bank. This action has been explained by the German government as halting its dealings with Iran, which America, Germany’s Nato ally, has placed under an economic blockade for allegedly pursuing a nuclear weapons programme.

The extreme but characteristic hypocrisy of Germany with regard to countries of the Middle East has once again come to the fore with this action. Ever since the outbreak, in 1991, of the American invasion of Iraq, Germany’s private sector role in providing engineering and technical know-how to countries of the Middle East – specifically Iran, Iraq (under Saddam Hussein) and Libya – has been exposed. (America’s own complicity in arming, supporting and dealing with all manner of governments is too well-known.) More on the German hypocrisy follows after a brief description of the immediate action.

New media have today reported that India has agreed to stop paying for its Iranian oil imports via Germany. Payments to a Hamburg-based bank handling international trade with Iran had been halted. The Handelsblatt business daily has reported that German chancellor Angela Merkel had intervened by instructing Germany’s central bank, the Bundesbank, to stop clearing payments from India headed to the bank, known as EIH, which is under USA but not EU sanctions.

Reuters has reported that this action will end “a trade conduit that had drawn strong disapproval from the United States and Israel” and that “the decision was a result of consultations between Berlin and New Delhi, and not pressure from Chancellor Angela Merkel at home or abroad to disrupt the payment scheme”. The news bulletin has been picked up by a number of small and regional newspapers in the USA, going under the headline ‘Germany won’t funnel oil money from India to Iran’.

The initial response from India, according to a few early reports, is that India’s finance ministry is now considering routing its payment for Iranian oil through a European bank which is ‘more neutral’ than the European Iranian Trade bank (EIH). The Indian Express has said that so far, India has paid 1.5 billion euros through EIH to the Iranian central bank. The Indian Express quoted a finance ministry official as having said: “EIH can’t be a long-term solution. We are looking at banks in Europe where Iranian central bank has an account. We will also open an account with (that) bank. We will have to look for a neutral bank, which EIH is not.”

India depends on Iran for about 15% of its crude oil imports. Iran is India’s second-biggest oil supplier after Saudi Arabia. India had imported 400,000 barrels per day (bpd) of oil from Iran in 2009-10 and about 178,000 bpd during April-September. India, Asia’s third-largest oil consumer, imports over two-thirds of its oil needs and depends heavily on volumes from the West Asia to power its economy. India and Iran have been negotiating for months on ways to resolve the payment deadlock on a long-term basis and salvage the trade, which is worth around US$12 billion annually.

So much for India’s oil dealings with Iran. What moral standing has Germany in such a matter? Let’s revisit the recent past to see what Germany’s current imperialist ally in Libya – the USA – has itself had to say on German interest in Middle Eastern and North African business opportunities.

Foreign energy in Libya. Map: Stratfor

Remember Rabta? This was reported to be the largest chemical weapons factory in the developing world, and in the 1990s it was estimated that the Rabta factory’s potential output was between 8.5 and 33 tons of mustard gas and nerve agent daily. The Rabta plant, about 65 km south of Tripoli, was seen as having been buit and operated with the assistance of western (i.e. from western Europe) companies. At the time, it was the USA which concluded that a West German company played a central role in the design and construction of the rabta plant. Ronald Reagan was US president then and Helmut Kohl the German chancellor. The company was Imhausen-Chemie, and both the company and the feckless German government of the day claimed that all it was doing at Rabta was making plastic bags.

Let’s turn to Germany and Iran. Germany has been intensely involved in the international effort to thwart Iran’s nuclear weapons development program. Yet, while Chancellor Merkel has vocally stated her opposition to Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon, Germany has continued to be Iran’s largest trading partner in the EU and – whatever shape the coalition government in Berlin has taken – it has been pro-business, favouring commercial ties over the West’s security interests – this is typical, after all, for the country that until last year was the world’s biggest expoert economy, business comes first, never mind who it’s done with and what it’s used for. Germany’s exports to Iran reached about US$426 million in September 2009, while its imports were about US$140 million. This has been reported by The Jerusalem Post (September 29, 2009) and by Tehran Times (December 17, 2009). Which are the major companies that have, with the full knowledge and encouragement of the German government, done business in and with Iran? Some of the best-known are Siemens, ThyssenKrupp, BASF, Bayer, Herrenknecht and MAN Ferrostahl.

It is tiresome to hear sanctimonoius claptrap about Germany’s replacement of the primitive nationalisms of the past with multilateral principles of an integrated Europe, as its lying and double-dealing officials assure the European Parliament and international fora every so often. The “forgetting of power” in the West German peace movements and in the political language of détente used by its over-intellectualised political commentators is plain rubbish, for what Germany does abroad is quite different from what it says at home in Europa.

The West’s Libya campaign has begun

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De la fumée s'élève au-dessus de Benghazi où s'écrase un avion, le 19 mars 2011. Photo: Libération/AFP-Patrick Baz

French military jets have begun enforcing the UN backed no-fly zone over Libya, Russia Today has reported, as international forces prepare to carry out possible air strikes. At an emergency meeting in Paris, attended by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, British Prime Minister David Cameron, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, UN chief Ban Ki-moon and representatives of the Arab League, it was decided to resort to military action to enforce the no-fly zone.

RT quoted news reports as having said that the operation is expected to involve British, Arab, Canadian and Danish jets, as well as French. ­Italy, France and Spain will provide airbases for support in the region. Arab states – Saudi Arabia, Qatar and United Arab Emirates – said they do back the no-fly zone over Libyan airspace. There is a report in the French news site Libération titled ‘Sarkozy annonce le début d’une action militaire en Libye’.

The UN news service has said that the UN Security Council “today effectively authorised the use of force in Libya to protect civilians from attack”, specifically in the eastern city of Benghazi, which Colonel Muammar Al-Qadhafi has reportedly said he will storm tonight to end a revolt against his regime.

Acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which provides for the use of force if needed, the Council adopted a resolution by 10 votes to zero, with five abstentions, authorizing Member States “to take all necessary measures… to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamhariya, including Benghazi, while excluding an occupation force.” The abstentions included China and Russia, which have the power of veto, as well as Brazil, Germany and India.

The full text of the UN Security Council resolution is here.

What is the ‘no fly’ zone about, and why are the Western powers committing fighter jets to maintaining it? Aijaz Ahmad has been interviewed on MR Zine. He said: “A no-fly zone is not about flying aircrafts. It’s about laying the groundwork for occupying at least certain parts of the country and for destroying the garrisons and fighting capacity on the ground. Robert Gates and others in charge of the American defense establishment have said that a no-fly zone really means a ground attack on the country. So that’s what a no-fly zone really is about. It’s not about some great air force that Gaddafi has because he doesn’t. Part of this council that has been set up in Benghazi has called for a no-fly zone.” It is about Libyan oil and gas, after all.