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On Tuesday night, Ali Suleiman Aujali, the former Libyan government ambassador to the United States, spoke at the Institute of Politics in favor of his side in the Libyan revolution. Aujali resigned on Feb. 22 in the wake of Muammar Gaddafi’s brutal crackdown on protesters against his regime. He has subsequently joined the forces opposing Gaddafi and begun speaking and negotiating on their behalf. Aujali appeared on a panel along with academics and other diplomats, and appealed to both the United States and the international community to recognize the Interim Transitional National Council, which is headquartered in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.
Aujali furthermore made clear his expectation that as long as coalition support continues for the rebel forces, then Gaddafi’s military will eventually lose the war. Today, as the rebels are once more pushed back by Gaddafi’s forces from key oil towns in eastern Libya, Aujali’s hope for increased, unified international support comes as the United States seeks to scale back its military role in the intervention. Still, both the coalition and anti-Gaddafi rebels will no doubt be emboldened by the news that Moussa Koussa, the Libyan foreign minister, defected from the Gaddafi regime yesterday. As Gaddafi’s government continues to perpetrate human rights violations and deny legitimate demands for political reform, we endorse the international community’s support of the Libyan rebels. They are rightfully protesting for the end of an oppressive dictatorship and for a chance at democratic self-determination.
In a larger sense, given the response the Libyan revolution has elicited from the world as well as the United States’ prominent role in the uprising, the conspicuous absence of substantive campus-wide discussion on Libya is surprising. This is thrown into sharp relief when we consider Harvard’s response to the earthquake in Japan, which included large-scale, last-minute efforts that raised both awareness and funds for disaster relief.
Harvard’s student body deserves commendation for the scale of its response after the earthquake in Japan, which evidences that it does have the capacity to react to events happening across the globe. But why has there not been similar attention paid to Libya, albeit in the form of discussion and opining? Of course, it is much easier to react decisively in the wake of natural disasters. The situation in Libya is not so clear cut; indeed, a poll by the Pew Research Center found that 46 percent of Americans want the military action in Libya to include Gaddafi’s removal and 43 percent indicate it should only include protecting Libyan civilians. It is easy to glance at the headlines and come to the conclusion that Japan needs our support, but it requires serious thought before endorsing a specific course of action in the middle of a faraway revolution. (For this reason, we appreciate President Obama’s deliberation before committing to the intervention.) At Harvard, we prize intellectual ability and substantive debate, but we should not confine these efforts to the hermetically-sealed world of courses.
This call to greater engagement with controversial world affairs is not confined to us. Indeed, all young Americans should try to take the time to become informed and to take a stand on difficult issues, before apathetically declaring that “I don’t know enough about this.” As long as we continue to live in a world that becomes more connected and more open, and as long as the United States continues to take an active interest in the world’s affairs, we ought to be well informed about a region whose future will have serious repercussions for us all. We can start with the situation in Libya.
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