Libya and the London School of Economics: When civil-societyism fronts for barbarism

Gaddafi's son Saif addressing the London School of Economics in 2010.

By Patrick Bond

March 14, 2011 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- If Muammar Gaddafi’s wicked son Saif is to be believed, we will soon be witnessing “rivers of blood” in Benghazi to shame even the Middle East’s most murderous tyrants, worse even than Israel’s massacre of 1400 Gaza residents two years ago and its 2006 invasion of Lebanon (although probably shy of the US army’s depopulation of Iraq by what The Lancet medical journal estimated to be a million dead civilians courtesy of oil-crazed Washington’s 2003 invasion).

The regime’s attacks on its citizenry, Saif warned the BBC and Sky News on March 13, will intensify in coming days: “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.”

Looking at the Libyan carnage from South Africa, we see both grubby local fingerprints and soaring global “cosmopolitan democracy” rhetoric that together need exposure to the light, so that neither are ever used again to bolster a dictatorship.

Hundreds are dying on Gaddafi’s orders already. In addition to British- and US-made guns and tanks, some of his army’s weaponry is of South African origin. Pretoria’s state-owned Denel corporation has flogged weapons of mass civilian destruction to Libya, with a seal of approval from National Conventional Arms Control Committee chair Jeff Radebe, who doubles as South Africa’s minister of justice.

In Denel’s June 2009 official newsletter, Insights, we learn, “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 pesky protesters scurrying to safety, so Gaddafi’s army will happily deploy Denel’s notorious Rooivalk attack helicopters, alongside other regional dictators disturbed by 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.”

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

That’s good: there’s some justice then.

London School of Economics

Similar damage was caused at the London School of Economics (LSE), now considered just as much of a supermarket school for Libyan brats, as Oxford and Cambridge are for other Middle Eastern tyrants’ kids, especially with new revelations about Saif’s purchased, plagiarised, ghost-written and obviously unsupervised, unexamined doctoral thesis.

The plagiarised material, according to Robert Sparling of McGill University, “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, Durban’s University of KwaZulu-Natal, of being conveniently asleep at the academic wheel. In 2003, our mechanical engineering department awarded a doctorate to South Africa’s top arms dealer, Shamim Chippy Shaik, responsible a decade ago for US$9 billion of arms deal procurements and hence a great deal of the country’s subsequent political rot, including a $3 million bribe to the Shaik family from German firm Thyssen, as was 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 on grounds it was “substantially plagiarized”. Shaik’s supervisors, professors Viktor Verijenko and Sarp Adali, were disgraced, the former resigning his post via email and gapping it to Australia.

The LSE’s ethical collapse is special, not only because of a £2.2m contract to train Gaddafi’s civil servants, but because of the hubris within its Centre for the Study of Global Governance, which in July 2009 was granted £1.5 million by the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation, on whose board centre director David Held sat in June 2009.

“I came to know a young man who was caught between loyalties to his family and a desire to reform his country”, said Held of Saif after the latter’s commitment last month to use the bullet not the ballot: “He tragically, but fatefully, made the wrong judgment.”

Oh come off it. The wrong judgements were Saif’s and Held’s use of the LSE name, a ridiculous version of global reformism during worsening global apartheid, and Held’s cosmopolitan-democracy rhetoric to disguise their central roles in the West’s re-engagement of a rogue North African dictatorship, and in the process, all the arms and oil contracts that British elites could sign up.

(Confession: in 2004 I had a heated debate on the website with Held about the topic of Saif’s PhD, where I claimed Held’s visions of reforming global governance were a distracting fantasy.)

In a typical LSE ruse, here’s Held introducing the man chosen to give the 2009 Ralph Miliband Memorial Lecture: “I’ve come to know Saif as someone who looks to democracy, civil society and deep liberal values as the core of his inspiration.”

Especially sickening, this, since Ralph Miliband was one of the greatest-ever socialist theorists and the stain on his name through Saif is matched only by the stain on his centrist son Ed’s reputation as leader of the Labour Party, now that Held is reportedly ghostwriting the Miliband lad’s forthcoming statement of political philosophy.

“Held has a history of ignoring academic standards in order to come close to people in power”, according to Erik Ringmar, now based at Shanghai Jiaotong University but who worked with him from 2001 to 2007 and who was compelled by Held and the then LSE director, Anthony Giddens, to admit an under-qualified student simply because she was related to former Bill Clinton aide Sidney Blumenthal.

“Undue pressure was put on me to do things I regarded as unethical”, says Ringmar. “Incidents such as these have repeatedly gone on at the LSE. Their recent troubles are no surprise to me.”

What an academic cesspool: “Leading figures at the LSE openly joked about getting a donation from Saif Gaddafi before he had even been examined for his PhD”, London’s Independent on Sunday has just reported. “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’.”

Butcher Saif’s views on ‘civil society’

In Saif’s thesis, “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.”

Saif thus recalls 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 across the continent, for as Muammar bluntly told Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi just six months ago, Libya was willing (for a high price) to play 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 employer of $1000/day African mercenaries, who on several occasions attempted to recruit Zulu King Goodwill Zwelethini to his campaign for recognition as “King of Africa” (as he did many other dubious monarchs), is obviously a tyrant with little confidence in bottom-up globalisation.

Yet son Saif’s PhD thesis makes the case for a global “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, the bulk of these institutions are just as destructive as the Gaddafis when it comes to democratic ideals, civil society and social justice, with no hope of change given G8 imperialist and now G20 partner-subimperialist power dynamics.

Yet without conceding that international NGOs typically get sucked into eco-social destruction in league with the multilaterals, Saif’s thesis sought “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.”

In short, Saif’s is a ridiculously naïve thesis. The reality is that NGO reform proposals for multilateral institutions have universally failed. Saif’s backing evidence comes only from self-interested NGO officials: “88 percent believe that NGO participation in International Governmental Organisations (IGOs) can lead to better IGO decision-making, citing as key reasons that they can democratise IGOs by expressing the views of marginal and vulnerable populations and by asking difficult questions” (sic).

Saif’s banal, content-less dissertation is a perfect continuation of Held’s cosmopolitan democracy advocacy, void of any realpolitik, simply vacuous. The main external doctoral examiner of this junk, Lord Meghnad Desai – former chairperson of the British Labour Party (as it drifted rightwards in the early 1990s), founder of the LSE Global Governance Centre and promoter of the World Trade Organisation as allegedly pro-Third World – first reacted to the charges of plagiarism with characteristic hubris: “I don’t think there’s any reason to think he didn’t do it himself... This is over-egging the pudding. The man [Saif] is evil enough, you don’t have to add that he’s a plagiarist as well!”

Yes you do, it turns out, after rudimentary checks showed vast sections were copyied and pasted, not to mention that Boston’s Harvard-associated Monitor Group – hired also by the South African government for neoliberal economic policymaking – did the primary research of chatting to the NGO and IGO elites.

Partially repenting a few days later, Desai wrote in The Guardian, “It was only after bullets started flying in Libya that his thesis was subjected to an online investigation for plagiarism, and Gaddafi was found to have cheated. Nor had anyone until then objected to the LSE receiving a donation from Gaddafi’s foundation.”

Again, not true, the late LSE professor Fred Halliday had strenuously objected to Held’s Libya program, 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 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, after much debate with Held, “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, “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. So it has been, since 2002, with the various Libyan initiatives affecting LSE and the UK/US foreign policy establishment in general.”

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

[Patrick Bond is based at the Centre for Civil Society.]