Sunday, 11 December 2011

Looking in the Mirror (Part Two)

My intention is not to condemn an individual when it is the institutional culture that is the problem.  Would we expect BP not work in Libya, because of its human rights record?[i]   Why expect the LSE to behave differently…[ii]   To dissect David Held’s apologia is not put him in the stocks but to better understand our liberal establishment; their ideas and motivations; their blind spots and their naiveties.

What immediately strikes the reader is the concentration on a single personality, and the confusions this can cause.  Is it really a paradox that a tyrant’s son can both reform and repress his own people?  Was it a paradox when Khrushchev started the Russian thaw at the XXth Congress, but crushed the Hungarian uprising six months later?  These are the expected tensions inherent in authoritarian regimes when, as they grow older, they try to liberalise; although not too much, in case things fall apart.  It seems likely that Saif Gaddafi’s strategy was similar to that of Khrushchev’s: limited reform to strength the regime, in order to keep its essential character; while removing some of its more irrational and paranoiac elements.[iii]  He talked the same language as professor Held, and used the same concepts, while sharing some of the objectives; but, ultimately, he had an entirely different purpose in mind; as did the British government.  But how easy it is, when we like a person, to project our own values onto him.  And be shocked when you discover he has different ones.  The natural reaction is to believe he must have changed.[iv] 

The academic who leaves his university for the outside world has a special problem; for he is carrying his culture, or perhaps we should say his language game,[v]  into one that is significantly different; and where words take on a new meaning.  This may not be adequately recognised.  The problem is particularly acute when outsiders enter our community: we expect all its participants to share its norms and (general) worldview.  But this is not the case!  Professor Held talks of Rousseau and Locke while Saif Gaddafi thinks of commercial contracts[vi]  and a secure civil service.[vii] 

It is hard to step outside an institutional culture.[viii]  Not only because its norms and rituals are self-reinforcing, but that culture is intimately linked to a wider society that shares its values and ideology; and thus confirms them.  In the case of our prestigious universities that society is made up mostly of the British establishment;[ix] whose members you’d expect to have a natural bias towards figures from other ruling elites, however awful the state, providing they themselves are civilised and intelligent.  It is a relatively easy task to then convince oneself that they are detached from the regime - thus we have the argument about Saif Gaddafi holding no official position, a view not only believed by Held.[x]   Intelligent and civilised he must be different from his father, because people like us don’t do that kind of thing; so the argument goes.  For how easy it is to project one’s self onto the people we like; easier, perhaps, in the relatively closed and comfortable world of a British university; where few people are killed and tortured.  In his biography of Ernest Gellner John A. Hall writes of how he consciously maintained a difficult relationship with the LSE; purposely to keep his independence.  This attitude may be reflected in my earlier quotation: he is rightly sceptical of authority, and the subservience of much of its officialdom.  However, this is the exception, not the rule; and is hard to do – for you must be aware that such a problem exists.

Professor Held himself confirms this in his article.  He cites Britain’s former Libyan Ambassador to support his claim that human rights were improving under the GDF’s work.  But isn’t this a suspect source?

Nobody doubted that Libya wanted BP and BP was confident its commitment would go through,” said Sir Richard Dalton, a former British ambassador to Libya and a director of the Libyan British Business Council. “But the timing of the final authority to spend real money on the ground was dependent on politics.”  (The Times)

The reference is to the al-Megrahi case.  The politics here is the narrowly instrumental one of creating a legal framework between the two countries, which would facilitate his release.  For the ambassador politics is simply a technical problem: how to ensure a positive business climate in Libya while managing the controversy back home. 

Sir Richard himself is a symbol of our new state.  After leaving government service he became a patron of the Libyan British Business Council whose aims, as you would expect, are concerned solely with commerce.  Here is how it describes the country:

Since 1999, when the UN Security Council suspended more than a decade of sanctions, Libya’s image has changed dramatically. And as it pursues a policy of diversifying its income away from oil and gas, it is attracting more foreign interest than ever before… (my emphasis)

There is a problem though:

Of course, doing business in Libya presents significant challenges to foreign investors: decision-making is often slow and the lack of transparency and frequent changes in legislation can be frustrating. But with the advice and support of the LBBC, these difficulties can be anticipated and overcome.  (Why Libya?)

A good business climate requires a number of conditions: a stable regime, a commercial environment where legal norms and social trust can be established, and the confidence that the Western powers will underwrite it.  Human rights abuses are a problem only if they threaten these conditions, by causing public embarrassment.  Thus that opening sentence: the country’s image has improved dramatically.  For in the glossy brochures of the PR industry Libya’s image had changed beyond recognition; a change encouraged by the Labour government; keen to do business in an opening market.  Although according to Amnesty International the main areas of concern on human rights had not changed since 1998.  There had been some improvements, albeit limited and uncertain; helping, perhaps, to push the other abuses into the background.  But this doesn’t concern BP or the LBBC; for them what matters is that the Western public’s perception of Libya accords with their needs.

David Held writes about politics, and talks of participatory democracy.  But isn’t this a very different politics from that practised by Sir Richard?  They may speak the same language; but actually it is two different dialects; where the same words mean different things.  The evidence suggests that Saif Gaddafi is an excellent speaker of both.  Outside the academy,

Saif… was also courting influential figures and financiers in Russia, America and the UK to improve his country’s image and forge new business links…

It is perhaps inevitable that the high-powered and wealthy figures who mix with Saif Gadaffi also pass through Mandelson’s orbit. Mutual associates include Lord Rothschild, his son Nat, and the Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska, whose company Rusal has interests in Libya.

To Deripaska and Nat Rothschild, Saif Gadaffi is an invaluable business contact. They were invited to his 37th birthday party in Montenegro, where they are both investors in a new marina development. (The Times)

Inside the academy life is more abstract:

In this section, I show how cosmopolitanism is fully consistent with the first two pillars of liberal individualism and global justice, and how it provides additional philosophical support for the concept of Collective Management. Held’s first three principles are fully consistent with the moral world-view of liberal individualism and liberal democratic values. He writes: ‘in the first instance, cosmopolitanism refers to those basic values that set down standards or boundaries which no agent, whether a representative of a global body, state or civil association, should be able to violate’. Held’s principle ‘affirms that all human beings must be able to enjoy the pursuit of activity without the risk of arbitrary or unjust interference while recognising that this liberty applies to everyone’. This embodies the concept of human rights that each person can enjoy and must respect in each other person: ‘each person has an equal interest in active agency or self-determination’. Thus cosmopolitanism, according to Held, can be taken as the moral and political outlook which builds on the strength of the liberal multilateral order, particularly its commitment to universal standards, human rights and democratic values.  (from Saif Gaddafi’s PHD thesis)

An invaluable study would have determined the exact nature of “arbitrary or unjust interference” using the experience of Saif Gaddafi himself: surely his many insights into a society undergoing a major transformation, of which he himself is part, would have been revelatory.  Why arrange for the Monitor Group to interview NGOs in Britain and America when a careful and honest description of his own state, and his role within it, would have given us an extraordinary insight into the nature of power and its influence; especially at a time when a closed society is opening up to the global economy.  Did Held and his colleagues ever suggest this as a possibility?  Stop a moment and think about that.  Now search the thesis.  Can you do better than me, and find a single reference to Libya?[xi]   (This is the real scandal: intellectual vacuity.)

When he returns to the political world we again hear the language of reform.  But, remembering the LBBC’s concerns, which dialect is he using now?

"Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi most recently repeated his public calls on the need for a constitution in May 2010, arguing that “it is impossible to govern a country without a constitution and without essential laws"”. (Amnesty International)

In the same report Amnesty International comments on how the EU “turns a blind eye” to human rights abuses; supporting Libya to turn back African immigrants, with no concern for the treatment they receive.  They mention different opinions about GDF, for some it represents a genuine struggle between hardliners and reformers; while for others it is simply a mechanism to legitimise the regime.[xii]   Vested interests are everywhere, there is some idealism, and there is much uncertainty; while the country’s recent history is not pleasant or particularly encouraging, with cycles of harsh repression followed by some relaxation.  In light of all these factors shouldn’t we be wary of working with the supreme leader’s son?  Ernest Gellner would only join the struggle

when decency and oppression have joined in battle under reasonably well-defined banners.

Gellner was writing about the universities; and so left out the trickier question of dealing with the ruling tyrant, and his servants.  It is clear from the recent history that politics, business, human rights and academia have become all mixed up; and with few “well-defined banners” it has been easy for people to go astray.  Professor Held concentrates on his academic work and his involvement with the GDF, which he links to improvements in human rights in the country.  This may be true, although these changes may have other causes; previously mentioned.  But would a different person, more sceptical of the British establishment, and the powerful generally, have been more cautious both about their own impact and their contact with the regime?  Held quotes the Carnegie Endowment for Peace to support his activities.[xiii]  Yet in a 2008 report one of its analysts stressed the need to develop organisations that were truly independent.[xiv]    Another report by the same organisation agrees that the GDF was "the country’s only address for complaints about torture, arbitrary detention, and disappearances”, but believes it achieved little; either on human rights, or on political or media reform.

That December the organisation publicly stated that it would no longer promote human rights and political reform in Libya; probably because of resistance from Colonel Gaddafi and other hardliners, the analyst believes.  The GDF may have been the only organisation that could fulfil such a role, but it was too closely tied to the ruling family; and thus very vulnerable to personal realignments within it.  Its dissolution seems be bear our Michele Dunn’s recommendation for the need to create independent civil institutions.  This is surely the weakness of professor Held and the LSE  – too much reliance on Saif Gaddafi and the GDF.  It would have been extremely hard, no doubt, to achieve such independence, especially given Saif Gaddafi’s reformist reputation.[xv]   But one wonders: could the LSE have done its work by being a little more aggressive about human rights and more distant from the Gaddafi family?  Could not this have been the basis on which any contracts were agreed?[xvi]   After all, Colonel Gaddafi was determined to enter the world economy, and secure its rich benefits.  This is the central question; which David Held ignores.  Instead he sets up a straw man: you are either for or against engaging with authoritarian regimes; a position that few hold[xvii] 

He likes Saif so much!  He is intelligent, and talks about democracy.  So different from the other Libyan leaders;[xviii]  thus his unwillingness to take an official position. Yet earlier in his article he writes:

The regime was a peculiar and frightening combination of the rigidly hierarchical and a highly-personalised, informal system of power relationships.

All the evidence suggests that Saif Gaddafi was an active player in this regime;[xix] but Held wants to downplay his involvement.  This is not naivety or complicity, which the professor sees as the two main charges against him, but confusion and poor judgement.  He is creating Saif Gaddafi in his own image; while ignoring the complexities of power politics: because the leader’s son speaks like a Western intellectual he must be one, he assumes.  May be he is.  He is also a cruel and manipulative politician, who shares the “preferences and prejudices” of his harsh and erratic father.[xx] 

The regime is described as decaying and violent, and Held regrets his involvement and would, with hindsight, not have “countenanced this funding option.”[xxi]  But as the US ambassador and Amnesty International describe so well, this was always a “thuggish” regime; though offering some possibilities of change; albeit limited and weak ones.  This highlights Held’s confusion: he cannot separate out his feelings for Saif Gaddafi from his own politics.  If Colonel Gaddafi had successfully repressed the popular uprising, and his son had been silent (a possible sign of disapproval), would he have still changed his mind about accepting Libyan funds?  Mightn’t the space he gave to reformers have helped, albeit in a small way, to bring about this people’s revolt?  If it did, why regret the “funding option”?  His reaction suggests that his ideas are too closely tied to a vision of the establishment; the success of reform predicated on its liberalization. It is not about fostering a reforming spirit, which could be the catalyst for serious opposition, and civil disobedience.  Thus when the establishment fails, in this case the family dynasty, the whole enterprise is seen to have failed.  It is an insider’s view, of reform from within.

History has shown there are different paths to overthrowing regimes, which build up from pressures within as well as from the outside. It is usually the interaction of national and international conditions and processes which create revolutionary situations… In Libya, the fighting has been intensive. Tribe, faction, and fragmentation intersect with the old Gaddafi regime in complex webs of stakeholders, competition and opposition. One can only hope that the Gaddafi regime comes to a swift end, but one fears it may not.

It is difficult to disagree; but why does he want the regime to end swiftly now?  Why not two years ago?  What Held appears to have done is to mistake his hopes for the reality, and which he illustrates quite nicely elsewhere:

…we both hoped that the autocratic rulers of the Middle East would rapidly be replaced by popular and democratic alternatives.

Few would disagree.  But surely our task is to find out why this is not likely to happen sometime soon, by looking at the history of our own governments, which has consistently tried to prevent “popular and democratic alternatives” from arising in the Middle East.  Michele Dunn, with her experience of the American executive, has a much more realistic assessment of Libya’s trajectory following its rapprochement with Britain and the United States: the latter strengthens repressive regimes when it normalises relationships with them.[xxii]  One expectation, if we were more critically aware, would be that America and the EU would make the regime stronger and more stable; and that it would use a number of approaches to do so: military aid, improved business links, greater opportunities for corruption; while fostering a new ideological legitimacy (both inside and outside the country); using our intellectual class and its institutions.  These issues are not mentioned in David Held’s letter at all.  They are the most difficult ones both to see and to accept – that we are merely tools of government, and the corporate community it supports.  Changing our angle of vision, being more sceptical about our institutions, would alter our judgements; and our tactics and strategy may change accordingly.[xxiii]  But how easy to believe that our hopes will come true!  Especially when we have illusions about our own countries and the institutions in which we work.[xiv] 

An establishment academic is also likely to exaggerate the role of ideas, which may in turn lead to him to overrate the prospects of improvement – concepts can be changed more easily than the facts on the ground.  There may also be a tendency to concentrate on ideas for their own sake; while missing how others, such as prime ministers or CEOs, use them for quite instrumental purposes.  A recent example is the use of the idea of democracy promotion to justify the invasion of Iraq; carried out, of course, for quite different reasons.  Held follows the usual pattern:

The aim ultimately was to create a Virtual Democracy Centre for North Africa, which would have brought together academic and policy resources on the building of democracies, in English and Arabic. We also planned to run a series of civil society training workshops in Libya as well as host a major international conference on political reform in North Africa.[xxv] 

Would this really have the desired effect?  Do people talking about democracy and freedom actually create free and democratic institutions?  It could be a way of preventing them – action is replaced by dialogue, which becomes a means to itself; an industry all of its own.[xxvi]    Held writes of the increased numbers of students that would come to the LSE, as a result of these and similar activities.[xxvii]   Is this education or business?  How many return to Libya as committed democrats?  Isn’t this to overvalue the content of these courses: do most students study for knowledge alone?[xviii]    It certainly overvalues their lasting effects – few would retain their academic enthusiasm once secure in their ministries.[xxix]   Professor Held believes the ideas he teaches are very important, but Blair and Bush would surely have a more sophisticated view of their purpose: to embed the Libyan elite within the institutions and culture of Western state capitalism.  A few would escape this conditioning; but most would not; on their return sorting out the technical details which prevent Libya from fully integrating into the international economy.

A certain optimism, together with a naivety about how ideas operate in the real world, produces a natural tendency to give our allies the benefit of the doubt.[xxx] We believe they can be changed from within, by the diffusion of democratic ideas amongst the educated.  This reinforces the tendency to gravitate to the establishment, especially when encouraged by our own government.  With fewer illusions about our society, and some distance from it, those hard tactical judgements would change.  There would be more wariness of leading individuals, harder attempts to isolate one’s work from their influence, and stricter conditions on what we expect from our hosts.  Permeation can work both ways: we can soften them, but they can weaken us; especially when we convince ourselves that they share our ideals.   But this is not to criticise David Held, only the culture to which he belongs.  As to his actual involvement only he can know if he got the balance right, for as Gellner wrote:

There is no simple or reliable answer, perhaps no answer at all.  I cannot feel at home either with the holier-than-thou puritans (who never compromise at all) or the blasé practitioners of realpolitik (always willing to go). Yet one must also try not to be complacent…  There really is no clear answer, and I leave the question with you.

[i] When I checked their website there was not a single mention of the current crisis.  In the aforementioned puff piece, called Libya Rising, the company writes out the ugly history:
         “In actual fact, it’s probably one of the safest places I’ve been to with BP,” says BP Libya’s business support manager, Ian McGregor.”
         Safe for western businessmen, but not, we know, for its more dissenting population. The writer is a novelist, which may give a surprising insight into the requirements of the modern day corporation.
[ii] Its current head is a former director of the CBI; the Chairman a former CEO of BP.  Are these not symbols of what George Monbiot has called the corporate takeover of the British state?  And which has created its own particular culture with its own quite specific interests. Peter Sutherland was the Chairman of BP at the time Blair was negotiating with Gaddafi.  How much was the business model of the LSE designed to further those and similar interests?  It is not so much about individual contracts, I believe the chairman declared a interest over the Libyan funding, but about a culture that creates a natural bias towards commercial expansion; downplaying other values and considerations.  (Anthony Barnett for more comment on this).
Recently Monbiot has even gone so far as to call it a corporate coup d’etat, referring to changes in the tax policy that allows our large corporations to pay even lower taxes; the City of London effectively becoming a large offshore island; our very own tax haven.  This at a time when the government is cutting public sector jobs to reduce the deficit.  It is the same strategy as governor Scott Walker’s in Wisconsin, for almost certainly for the same reasons: self interest and ideology.  Robert Skidelsky comes to a similar conclusion:
            “In my view, the fear of becoming “another Greece” was used as an excuse for a programme of cuts that had been decided on other grounds.”
Although he gives wider, more diffuse reasons for these actions – instinct, bureaucratic inertia, conventional wisdom, and a climate of opinion.
Having a rest from the London March (in March) I watched BBC News for about ten minutes.  The coverage was shocking.  However, there was one interesting moment: Francis Maude justified the public sectors cuts by saying that they were only returning the deficit to its 2007 levels.  He was not questioned about this.  And given the rest of the comments one would have thought that it was the marchers who were responsible for the public debt, with their wages and pensions – there was an extended commentary from the director of the Tax Payers Alliance who concentrated just on these.  However, what the former chairman of the Conservative Party was telling us is that this government is massively redistributing wealth to their supporters in the City and in the multi-national board rooms: all the money paid to bailout out the banks during the financial crash is come from the man in the street.
What surprised me was that there was no opposition to any of these claims.  At any moment I was expecting some other politician or “independent” advocate to argue the other side of the case.  There was no one.   This is a cultural hegemony (as well as political manoeuvring behind the scenes – did the BBC cut a deal to ensure its own funding?); and it is affecting all of our public institutions.  See Adam Curtis’ The Trap for a brilliant overview of these ideological developments; going back to at least the fifties.
[iii] See Dwight Macdonald’s perceptive comments about the Soviet Union, quoted in my The Original.  In Libya’s case isn’t there a similar problem: emasculate an erratic dictator in order to create a more predictable and safe regime – for the establishment?
[iv] Eamon McCann has the same view of Gaddafi and his regime: at some point it was OK, and then it decayed; and Gaddafi himself became a delusional tyrant.  The facts seem to be somewhat different: there are periods of harsh repression, particularly at the beginning, followed by shorter periods of slight reform; with the last decade perhaps the most “liberal” of all.
[v] Or “forms of life”.  Ernest Gellner’s Words and Things whilst an attack on the Oxford Linguistic Philosophy is also an excellent description of an ideology, and an analysis of how it works.   While this school was wrong philosophically its cult of ordinary usage is a good description of how sub-cultures operate in practice.
[vi] See footnote lxvii below.
[vii] Colin Talbott notes the ambiguous nature of some of these courses:
“Masters in Public Administration (MPA) programs have become increasingly popular in recent years…  Students from many countries flock to the US and other democratic countries to study it.  But it's not entirely clear to me that we teach them democratic public administration.”
[viii] It can be done.  Gellner’s Words and Things is a wonderful example
[ix] Look at Howard Davies’ CV: CBI, Bank of England, the FCO, The Royal Academy of Music…
[x] Halliday exposes this argument in his memo.  Not that you would need someone with expert knowledge to tell you so.  In a Wikileaks cable of 2009 Saif Gaddafi is described as “presumed heir apparent”; which demolishes the contention completely; unless you believe a formal position is more important than informal power (if so it illustrates a curious, but not uncommon, mindset).  (See also lvi below for more information, which further discredits the claim, repeated by Nabila Ramdani in her profile).
[xi] The commentators are concentrating on the plagiarism charges, which to me seem not that important; given the wider context.  It is the potentially vacuous nature of the thesis that is far more interesting - it tells us so much about our intellectual culture.
[xii] Some political commentators on Libya have identified a struggle between reformist elements, exemplified by Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, and reactionary forces resisting change. Others, more cynical, believe that the struggle has been fabricated to gain popularity for Saif al-Islam al- Gaddafi at home and legitimacy abroad.” (Amnesty International)
            This discussion is too widely framed: “reform” can mean improved human rights, with more freedom and democracy; or it could mean a more modern, ”globalized” economy, open to international capital, but less responsive to popular needs.  The two can be quite different; though no doubt there will be some overlap between them.
[xiii] But one wonders how strong this supporting evidence is; mightn’t the CEfP be speaking a different dialect too?  On their website there is an assessment of Libya, dated 2010.  It is by the then US ambassador Gene A. Cretz; and it is taken at face value.  In private he had described the regime as “thuggish” when dealing with “domestic equities”.  In public he is much more polite. 
            “…[There will be] an open and frank human rights dialogue…  Cretz acknowledged that democracy promotion is a delicate issue that must be approached carefully. He expressed approval of the work of Saif el-Islam Qaddhafi, the son of the Libyan president, who is, according to Cretz, engaged in promoting human rights issues.”
            The discussion is framed around how Libya is changing, now that it is an ally of the United States.  The assumption seems to be that this new relationship will lead to improvements in human rights – just let our guys talk to their guys and I’m sure we’ll make it better, seems the approach.  However, there is a correlation between US aid and human rights: the higher the former the worse the latter (Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman, The Political Economy of Human Rights; and much work since).  Thus the diplomat’s response is actually rather worrying.  Especially as we know morality plays an insignificant role when it comes to Cretz’s decision-making; thanks to Wikileaks (see footnote xxvii above).  How then should we interpret his “[there will be] an open and frank human rights dialogue”?  If we were in the room when the ambassador and colonel met mightn’t we hear something like this: “don’t worry too much about Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and all the rest of them; but just don’t do anything too outrageous.  Let it look like you’re reforming.”  Could this be the reason the ambassador praises Saif Gaddafi – he is a safer pair of hands? 
Because Cretz’s answer is so abstract, and with hardly any detail, it allows everyone to interpret it in their own way.  His listeners can fill this vacuum of facts with their own meanings.  In this case, human rights are going to improve in Libya (even though we must be very careful about democracy – the ambassador is much more cautious than Held). 
In an earlier policy document for the CEfP Michele Dunn, a former official in the State Department, writes of “The danger… that Washington will think about U.S.–Libyan relations too much along traditional normalization-of-relations lines, and end up strengthening and perpetuating the status quo in Libya.”          The report notes the regime’s repression and suggests some options:
         “The United States should be persistent in raising human rights cases, particularly when it comes to detention, abuse, and harassment of peaceful dissidents. But it also needs to think about investing in woefully underdeveloped areas such as the ability to form truly independent civil society organizations and media, in order to help Libyans increase their ability to raise such concerns on their own.”  (The United States and Libya; Where Do We Go From Here?)
         Isn’t the danger the reality, and the hopes the illusion?  What force is there to resolve the tension between the normal operating practices of the United States (and Britain, for that matter) and the desire to improve human rights in this single country?  Is it inside the governments themselves?  Cretz’s reply surely confirms that it isn’t.
[xiv] See the above footnote for quote and comment.
[xv] This article actually contradicts Held on Saif’s Gaddafi’s position within the regime.  According to it he was elected the coordinator of the organizing committee of the Libyan Socialist Popular Leadership; making him the second most powerful man in Libya.
[xvi] But if the LSE was operating like the British government or the LBBC the key concern would be promoting business; and thus an eagerness to make money would come before a principled stance on human rights.  I would imagine there was tremendous pressure, from both within the organisation (its institutional demands to expand and get private finance together with its new commercial culture), and from the British government, for the administration to agree to get into Libya.  Once the management had set the terms how easy for a single academic to justify his involvement.
[xvii] Thus he follows the conventional pattern of listing the Soviet Union, Communist China and apartheid South Africa.  Others, closer to home, spring to mind: Saudi Arabia, present day China, Suharto’s Indonesia…  Thatcher was a keen admirer of General Pinochet, as we know.  Whether or not we work with authoritarian regimes depends on their political alignment, not on their internal nature.
[xviii] Though this overlooks his other side:
“Yet, despite his radicalism, Saif al-Islam always deferred to his father’s prejudices and preferences, moderating his tone in tune with the prevailing political wind, which itself bent to the colonel’s wishes.”  (George Joffe)
Compare with is Nabila Ramdani’s description in the Guardian.  Like Giddens this is a puff piece; this time of Gaddafi’s son.  In this case notice the attraction of his sophisticated demeanor: he really is one of us.  Though note, not a liberal academic, but a corporate executive.  Shouldn’t that have given the game away?
Joffe notes the good work Saif Gaddafi has done.  But commenting on the award of an official position writes:
“Yet it is also a mechanism by which Saif al-Islam has been domesticated within the current Libyan political system, despite all his ambitions to reform it profoundly.  It remains to be seen how compromised his reform agenda might be in consequence.”
Alaa al-Meri, like David Held, believed he was a genuine reformer; no doubt quite sincerely.  But other analysts, a little more independent, and perhaps less influenced by idealistic hopes of future liberalization, could see the problems more clearly; and their judgements were in consequence somewhat more reserved.  Isn’t this the lessen for us all: we cannot depend on the goodwill and democratic talk of our politicians and businessmen?  Those who do, believing it will lead to a liberal future, risk be manipulated nearly all the time.
[xix] Why else was he in London, meeting with its commercial elite?  Unless you believe politics is separate from economics; something clearly Blair and Mandelson did not believe. In his memo Fred Halliday makes this very point about the country:
            “In Arab states many of the most important positions have no official title, and kinship, and informal links, are more important than state function – and this, above all, in Libya.”
[xx] See lix above.  The main attraction of Saif Gaddafi to Western governments and businesses was that he appeared to offer a more stable and predictable future than his unstable father; who is too tainted with past atrocities.
[xxi] Anthony Barnett gives more details in his lengthy criticism of Held, published in Open Democracy.  He also quite rightly concentrates on the question of judgement, and raises the wider role of the British government; and the new business culture within which the universities exist.
[xxii] See footnote liv.  Apart from being a former State Department and White House official she has also been a US government negotiator with Libya.  Her report reflects this experience.
            Anthony Barnett quotes from a leaked agreement between Blair and Gaddafi in 2007:
            “It claimed that it was designed ‘to contribute to the strengthening of security and stability in their two countries and the enhancement of peace and security in the Mediterranean region’.”
            Britain, as one would expect, has both the same worldview and operating practices as the United States: a strong, stable regime is the first priority.
[xxiii]One example: trying to create a popular democracy within an authoritarian regime backed by the West may not be the best way of helping the populace.  America and the EU want to open up Libya, enabling it to follow the neo-liberal policies that they espouse; even though the consequences may be painful for the ordinary Libyan.  But why not suggest another model?  Like East Asian capitalism?  This may be more in tune with the nature of the state, may improve the economic circumstances of the majority of the population; and may in the long run bring about democracy (eg. in South Korea and Taiwan). 
Eman Whaby’s article suggests what professor Held might regard as another paradox: the economic reforms, which are in part designed to buttress these repressive states, by creating tensions inside the country, as the elite becomes more kleptocratic, can actually produce democratic rebellions.  It is the unintended consequences of this brand of Western fanaticism and self-interest, and which we see elsewhere – for example, across South America.  If Held’s ideas are part of the mix of “Globalization”, as preached by Giddens, and enacted by Blair, we can see the popular uprisings in Libya and elsewhere as local opposition to the consequences of his theories…
Alex de Waal has an excellent analysis of these issues. See footnote xxix above.
[xxiv] What is the main concern of British university administrators today – business or knowledge?
A few years ago I had a conversation with a student from Austria who said that our universities were only interested in the money she paid for her fees.  In the UK education=business, she said. This needn’t affect individual academics, of course.  However, it does change the culture in which they operate, and which over time will exert its pressures.
[xxv] Do conferences, workshops, and all that talk, talk, talk, actually generate reform?  How much can ideas do by themselves?  Very little is probably the answer.  This was one of Gellner’s criticisms of the intellectual class – a tendency towards solipsism.
            “One unusual feature of Mr Gaddafi’s thesis is that he commissioned Monitor Group, the strategy consultancy, to conduct surveys of the views of heads of non-governmental and inter-governmental organisations on his behalf.”  (Financial Times)
            The discussion of this is framed around the plagiarism charges of Saif Gaddafi’s PHD thesis, as you would expect.  But shouldn’t we look at this a little more widely: perhaps the real purpose of employing the Monitor Group wasn’t to help with his academic work at all, rather is was an opportunity to advertise Libya: to both non-governmental organisations and the Fortune 500, where this group gets most of its revenue.  In a separate report the Financial Times notes how Saif Gaddafi was a regular on the business circuit; clearly a priority for the regime and Britain’s own commercial interests:
“The second attraction was the operation of Libyan Investment Authority, a sovereign wealth fund worth $60bn-$80bn, according to analysts. The fund, which opened a London office in 2009, has invested in Britain to a lesser degree than rivals in Qatar and Dubai. But it has recently disclosed a 3.01 per cent stake in Pearson, the educational publisher and owner of the Financial Times. It also owns considerable London commercial property assets. Mohamed Layas, LIA’s head, told US diplomats last year that he preferred operating in the British capital to the US because of the “ease of doing business” and the “relatively uncomplicated tax system”.
[xxvi] How much of academia itself is just an industry?  How many of those conferences and academic seminars are only ends in themselves, with no wider purpose?
[xxvii] The CEfP mentions similar initiatives on behalf of the United States.
[xxviii] The assumption behind the Browne Review is students go to universities to in order to improve their earning potential.  One assumes it was the Labour government’s view too.
[xxix] Held writes of the benefits of educating Libya’s students.  But on the whole they would have been trained to become future civil servants.  Is our history resplendent with democratic reforms that have originated from our civil service?  Isn’t this the Webb and Shaw approach, institutionalised now deep within the LSE; and part of its cultural unconscious?
[xxx] The LSE hasn’t changed that much of the years, one suspects.  John A. Hall, writing of an earlier time in the late 40s and early 50s, paraphrases Gellner’s view:
            “Uncritical evolutionary optimism of this sort could only deal with the horrors of the twentieth century by ignoring them; it reified its own values rather than investigating the world.” (Ernest Gellner)
            The last phrase is so true – many intellectuals simply do not pay attention to the world outside their study windows; preferring to live comfortably ensconced in their conceptual armchairs.  For more discussion see my Russian Climate.  For a particular case, treated at length, see Dropout Boogie.

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