Western intellectuals and politicians bring their cultural bias in favor of cosmopolitanism to bear on a region that has always lived in another way altogether: Vandewalle enthuses over the idea that Libya may some day see the emergence of “a true state” and enter a state of grace by achieving “a shared national identity” – but why should Libyans want any such thing?
After all, their experience with the unitary state – from the idiocies of the Green Book, to the decrees of colonial administrators – has been entirely negative. The only periods of relative peace, prosperity, and stability have been when the peoples of the region are allowed to revert to local “tribal” allegiances.
A fine network of social and religious associations and loyalties – inextricably linked to the two pillars of society in the region, which are family and faith – has always existed beneath the thin veneer of Gadhafi’s state apparatus. As the façade falls away, the underlying structures stand revealed.
The Benghazi rebellion is essentially a secessionist movement, which seeks to break Cyrenaica away from what used to be the entirely separate and distinct state of Tripolitania – now the seat of the central government and Gadhafi’s chief stronghold. Cyrenaica has a long history as an independent and quasi-independent entity, which goes back to the time of the ancient Greeks, and continued into modern times. That history is now reasserting itself. Cyrenaica was the center of resistance to the Italians. It is also the center of the Sanussi sect’s influence – a version of Islam, founded in 1837. The Sanussi, based in the Bedouin tribes of the East, have always been the most troublesome for would-be colonizers and empire-builders: they resisted the rule of the Italians just as they fought the Ottomans – and are now fighting Gadhafi.