What happens when we listen to Libyans 

A friend, I’ll call him Mohamed, has been keeping in close touch with people inside Libya, and he’s been kind enough to send me updates. In a note last week, he quoted one of his brothers who told him that Moammar Gadhafi “is savagely waging a war against an entire nation. Years ago, a suicide bomber struck in a pizzeria and the entire West was up in arms. Libyans are being killed by the thousands with heavy and deadly weapons and the West is silent.”

Mohamed then added that “to Libyans” it has “become obvious” why the U.S. is not intervening: “It is about oil, paranoia and racism against Arabs and Muslims.”

I was chagrined, and I expressed that to my friend. Americans have paid a high price in blood and treasure attempting to rescue Arabs and Muslims from tyrants — in Kuwait, Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan, to cite a few examples. These efforts have brought more vilification than praise, more resentment than gratitude. And now the reason we’re not intervening in Libya is because we are paranoiac racists coveting Libya’s oil?

As for the “pizzeria,” that’s obviously a reference to the Palestinian suicide bombing at a restaurant in Jerusalem in 2001, one month before al-Qaida’s attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Fifteen people were killed, seven of them children. The West was hardly “up in arms.” When has the West ever been “up in arms” over an attack against Israelis? A few days ago, Palestinians entered an Israeli home and murdered a mother, father and three children — one of them a baby girl. She was decapitated. The West has shrugged it off.

My friend responded apologetically. These were not his opinions. He was only reporting what Libyans are thinking and perceiving. I understand. He’s a great guy who embraces American values no less than I do. He’s listening to Libyans in Libya who are feeling desperate — justifiably so.

But I can’t help growing frustrated about much of the “thinking and perceiving” taking place in Libya and the wider “Muslim world” — from those who condone the assassination of opponents of “blasphemy laws” in Pakistan to those who protest congressional hearings examining how jihadis recruit in America.

Meanwhile, in Libya and in Yemen, Bahrain and other Arab countries Arabs are killing Arabs. Why does no one ever look to the Arab League to take responsibility? Over the weekend, the Arab League called on the UN Security Council to organize a no-fly zone in Libya.

How did it evolve that the Arab League’s wish becomes America and Europe’s command? Why is that no one even considers the possibility that the U.S. and Europe “could significantly raise pressure” on the 22 members of the Arab League — actually, 21 since Libya was suspended last month — to impose a no-fly zone of their own? If they need assistance to get the job done properly, perhaps they could ask for it (and pay for it).

Why is it, too, that when Muslims kill Muslims — as has been the case for decades in Iran and many countries — the Organization of the Islamic Conference feels no obligation even to try to put a stop to the violence? More than 50 states belong to the OIC. Turkey is a member and it has a formidable military. Perhaps Turkey might at least consider organizing a flotilla to bring aid to Libya? Are Libyans in less need of aid than Gazans?

Despite all that, as I told Mohamed, I do believe it will be a tragedy if Gadhafi remains in power. Too many Arabs and Muslims already believe that one is either a strong horse — meaning a despot and a mass murderer like Gadhafi, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Osama bin Laden — or a weak horse, which means the abattoir awaits.

Arab and Muslim societies are very likely reaching a hinge in history. Freedom is one possibility. Theocratic tyranny at home and increased support for jihad abroad is another. Americans are willing to help those who want the former and reject the latter. But the Arab League, the OIC and even Mohamed’s friends and relatives are not making it easier.

Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

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