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Bond, Patrick (2011) When civil societyism fronts for barbarism
Eye on Civil Society column : -.

If Muammar Gaddafi’s wicked son Saif is to be believed, we will soon be witnessing massacres in Benghazi, Libya to shame even the Middle East’s prolifically murderous tyrants, even worse than Israel’s killing of 1400 Gaza residents two years ago (though probably shy of the US army’s depopulation of Iraq by what The Lancet medical journal estimated were a million dead civilians courtesy of Washington’s illegal 2003 invasion).

The Libyan regime’s attacks on its citizenry, Saif warned on Sunday, will now intensify: “This is our country, we will never, ever give up and we will never, ever surrender. This is our country. We fight here in Libya, we die here in Libya.”

Many hundreds of Libyans are dying on Gaddafi’s orders already, and some of his army’s weaponry is Proudly South African. For several years, Pretoria’s state-owned Denel corporation flogged weapons of mass civilian destruction to Libya, with a friendly seal of approval from National Conventional Arms Control Committee chair Jeff Radebe.

Denel’s June 2009 official newsletter, Insights, bragged, “As a result of the display of our infantry weapons, like 40mm AGL, NTW-20 anti-materiel rifle, SS77 and Mini SS machineguns, as well as artillery capability, missiles, aircraft maintenance and mine action services, Denel is already negotiating contracts in Libya.”

Dust storms ordinarily make it difficult to target protesters scurrying to safety, so Gaddafi’s army will happily deploy Denel’s Rooivalk attack helicopters, alongside other regional dictators disturbed by the dangerous democrats. For as Denel Aviation CE Ismail Dockrat told just before his 2009 sales trip to Tripoli, “We have identified North Africa and the Middle East as key markets in which Denel Aviation can leverage its brand.”

So too did singers Mariah Carey, Beyonce Knowles and Nelly Furtado leverage their brands for millions of dollars of Gaddafi oil money, resulting in irretrievable brand contamination once WikiLeaks revealed their deeds last month.

And in Sandton, the five-star Michaelangelo and Radisson Blu hotels are partially owned by the Libyan Investment Authority, an agency set up in 2006 by Saif. According to brand-conscious Michealangelo manager Bart Dorrestein, the Libyan connection was “hugely damaging to our organisation and the morale in our company.”

The same is true for the Libyan School of Economics, formerly known as the London School of Economics, now the truth is out about Saif’s purchased, plagiarized, ghost-written, and obviously unsupervised, unexamined doctoral thesis. The plagiarized material, according to Robert Sparling of McGill Universty, “seems to be giving unwarranted comfort since it makes the LSE appear to be the victim of a fraud, rather than accomplice to moral corruption.”

Many institutions are guilty of selling favours to the rich and powerful, or in the case of my own institution, the University of KwaZulu-Natal, of being conveniently asleep at the academic wheel. Recall that in 2003, our Mechanical Engineering Department awarded a doctorate to SA’s top arms dealer, Chippy Shaik, who was responsible for the R65 billion Arms Deal procurement and hence a great deal of the country’s political rot, including a R21 million bribe to the Shaik family from German firm Thyssen, revealed last September.

After allegations that Shaik’s PhD was “fraudulent and littered with errors, including incorrect formulations and poor spelling and referencing” – according to the Mail & Guardian, which with the help of disgruntled arms dealer Richard Young, broke the story – the doctoral degree was revoked in 2008 because it was “substantially plagiarized.”

The LSE’s ethical collapse occurred in part through a £2.2m contract to train Gaddafi’s civil servants, and also within its Center for the Study of Global Governance, which in July 2009 was granted £1.5 million by Saif’s Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation (GICDF). Coincidentally, Centre director David Held sat on the GICDF board in June 2009, and soon thereafter remarked, “I’ve come to know Saif as someone who looks to democracy, civil society and deep liberal values as the core of his inspiration.”

“Held has a history of ignoring academic standards in order to come close to people in power,” according to Erik Ringmar, who is now based Shanghai Jiaotong University but who worked with him from 2001 to 2007. “Undue pressure was put on me to do things I regarded as unethical. Incidents such as these have repeatedly gone on at the LSE.”

London’s Independent on Sunday has just reported, “Leading figures at the LSE openly joked about getting a donation from Saif Gaddafi before he had even been examined for his PhD… Professors just one rung below the former director Sir Howard Davies, who resigned last month over the scandal prompted by the university's links to Libya, were ‘anticipating the solicitation of a donation’.”

In Saif’s thesis, entitled, “The Role of Civil Society in the Democratisation of Global Governance Institutions,” he declares his bias: “liberal individualism as a political ideal within which liberty is an inalienable right of individuals and a just government must protect individual liberties in its constitution and laws.”

Recalling that tired old line: A conservative is a liberal who got mugged and a liberal is a conservative who got arrested.”

The Gaddafi family’s mugging by democratic Libyans should be joined by all anti-racists, for as Muammar bluntly told Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi just six months ago, Libya was willing (for a price) to play the role of gendarme for Euro-xenophobes, by ensuring no Africans reached Italian shores: “We don't know what will be the reaction of the white and Christian Europeans faced with this influx of starving and ignorant Africans. We don't know if Europe will remain an advanced and united continent or if it will be destroyed, as happened with the barbarian invasions.”

This aspirant ‘King of Africa’ is obviously a tyrant with little confidence in bottom-up globalization, yet his son Saif’s PhD thesis makes the case for “a tripartite system that includes civil society and the business sector formally as voting members in inter-governmental decision-making structures in the United Nations system, the Bretton Woods institutions, the World Trade Organisation and other global governing institutions.”

In reality, many of these institutions are, it can easily be argued, just as destructive as the Gaddafi family, when it comes to democratic ideals, civil society and social justice. Yet Saif’s thesis sought out “prospects for civil society to evolve from its current expert and advisory role in global governing institutions to a more formal role in new collective decision-making structures” which will in turn provide “fair, mutually beneficial arrangements on a global level.”

Given the global balance of power now and in the near future, this is a ridiculously naïve thesis.

The late LSE professor Fred Halliday strenuously objected to Held’s Libya programme, writing in an October 2009 letter to the school’s governing Council, “I have repeatedly expressed reservations about formal educational and funding links with that country.” One reason was that Saif’s GICDF was recycling dirty monies which “come from foreign businesses wishing to do business, i.e. receive contracts, for work in Libya, most evidently in the oil and gas industries.”

Concluded Halliday, “Libya has made no significant progress in protecting the rights of citizens, or migrant workers and refugees, and remains a country run by a secretive, erratic and corrupt elite.”

As for Saif, said Halliday, “in Libya, as in such states as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran the primary function of such liberal elements is not to produce change, but to reach compromises with internal hard-liners that serve to lessen external pressure.”

This is how Saif’s use and abuse of doctoral-thesis civil societyism can best be understood: as a momentary compromise with Libyan barbarism that, now scratched by an emancipatory potential, has quickly shed both liberal skin and London dupes.

(Patrick Bond is based at the UKZN Centre for Civil Society.)

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