[Originally published in Hurriyet Daily News, with readers' comments]
I spent a couple of hours writing and reading messages on Twitter last Sunday night. And it turned out to be one of the most educating discussions that I recently had.
The topic was Libya and the air strikes on Gadhafi forces. Right after this operation began, under the auspices of the United Nations Security Council, I received an email in Turkish that denounced “this latest imperialist war against Libya.” With a few dozen signatories, the manifesto-like text condemned the NATO, and the West in general, for its “new Crusade” on the North African nation.
“But wait a minute,” I said to myself. Was not the Arab League among the supporters of a no-fly zone over Libya? And have many Arab commentators not called on the “international community” to do something to stop Col. Gadhafi, who had already killed some 8,000 rebels and was preparing for a greater massacre in Benghazi?
With those questions in mind, I opened my Twitter app, and typed: “We should not see what is happening in Libya through the lens of imperialism.”
And, oh mine, hell broke loose. I received dozens of angry replies which blamed me for being either too naïve, or too evil. On the latter side, I was accused of being a “mouthpiece of imperialism” and a “CIA agent.” More lenient critics reminded of the American invasion of Iraq, and how it all turned out to be “a big lie to steal Iraq’s oil.” I simply had to understand, or admit, that “the West” was bombing Gadhafi only for some sinister and wicked plan.
“Well, I agree with you that the invasion of Iraq was illegal and damn wrong,” I tweeted back to one of the critics. “But the Americans did not do a bad job by preventing an ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, right?” My intention was to show that the West can do helpful things as well, along with the “imperialist” ones we keep talking about.
But that did not work either. Less then a minute later, someone tweeted back, and refuted my best argument: “The U.S. is in Kosovo only because there are rich uranium sources there!” Why else would Uncle Sam bother to prevent the Serbian onslaught on Balkan Muslims?
The Muslim theme here should not misguide you. The Turks who bombarded me with all those “anti-imperialist” tweets were not only the Muslim pious. They were rather from almost every political camp in the country. “Finally the secular and the Islamic Turks have found a common theme,” I wrote back on Twitter. “They all believe in the same international conspiracy.”
Now, allow me to put all that in perspective. Like everybody else, I have been following the events in Libya with concern. I was hoping that the rebels would be able to take Gadhafi down, and establish at least a proto-democracy, but that did not turn out to be the case. The mad colonel proved to be resilient – and merciless – enough to wage war against his own people.
So, I was happy to see the United Nations Security Council take the decision for a no-fly zone in Libya. I knew there were serious risks, and the civilian casualties of the very first days made me cautious as well, not to mention my distaste for Mr. Sarkozy’s arrogant enthusiasm. But I know that Gadhafi would probably have destroyed thousands of innocent lives in eastern Libya had the NATO allies not acted. I also know that the West was working quite happily with Gadhafi since the early 2000s, so I can’t convince myself that the whole affair is a pre-planned “Western plot” to occupy Libya and exploit its sources.
Yet such arguments do not sell well in Turkey. Most people here rather want to see something evil in whatever the West does. And they find that evil no matter what happens. When NATO allies stand aside while Gadhafi kills his own people, this shows that the West is hypocritical about human rights and does not give a damn about Muslim lives. If the same allies act against Gadhafi, then they become “crusaders” and “oil-sucking imperialists.” As Karl Popper rightly pointed out, there is simply no way to beat such an “unfalsifiable” scheme.
Now, none of this means that the West is innocent when it comes to the rest of the world, and especially the Middle East. Quite the contrary: Western powers do have a very nasty history here – one filled with colonialism, support for dictators, and all sorts of double standards. It is thus understandable that the peoples of the region are suspicious of Western motives. Had the George W. Bush Administration not invaded Iraq in 2003 without false pretexts, for example, the U.S. would probably not be this much distrusted.
But most peoples of the Middle East, including the Turks, take this distrust to extremes, and indulge in conspiracy theories which leave no room for rational discussion. For worse, those who try to question these theories can easily be accused to be a part of the conspiracy – an accusation that is impossible to falsify.
How can you prove, really, that you are actually not paid by the CIA?