By Rachel Marsden
Earlier this week, a field researcher in Africa sent me a video text message showing young African men in a cage with their hands tied behind their backs and cloth gags in their mouths as someone yelled at them in Arabic. According to my source, the video was secretly taken inside a camp in Libya, where migrants from all over Africa hoping to reach Europe are being blocked from doing so. Taken at face value, this video shows how Western humanitarianism has gone awry to the detriment of the very people it’s supposed to help.
Europe recently began putting its foot down and stopping the uncontrolled invasion of its continent. But then a CNN report last week showed migrants in Libya being auctioned off as slaves. After the report was picked up by the French media, protests erupted in Paris.
On Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted (in French): “A [French and United Nations mission] has just traveled to Niger after Chad to protect refugees including those evacuated from Libya. I call our partners to join France in this mobilization to avoid the horrible abuses suffered on the migratory routes.”
The French media has reported that many of the migrants will be coming to France.
If the citizens of Europe were growing weary of the massive influx of migrants, images depicting the deplorable treatment of these migrants will no doubt help shift public opinion. The ferrying of migrants across the Mediterranean to Europe by charity groups had all but stopped as Europe increased pressure on the Libyan coast guard to intercept the boats. That may now change, but public policy based on emotional heartstring-tugging is dangerous and absolutely not the answer. We’ve already seen one such example, and it’s directly related to the current crisis in Libya.
In 2011, when former French President Nicolas Sarkozy led the bombing of Libya with the blessing of NATO, his most prominent support for the intervention didn’t come from the right but rather from the humanitarian left, which believed that removing Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi from power would allow Libya to flourish as a land of sunshine and rainbows.
We learned that Gaddafi was killed by opposition rebels, but who exactly was responsible for his death? Libya’s former transitional government prime minister, Mahmoud Jibril, told Egypt’s Dream TV in 2012 that “a foreign agent infiltrated into the revolutionary brigades killed Gaddafi.” Corriere della Sera, a major newspaper in Italy — the European country with the longest and deepest ties to Libya — reported that diplomats in Tripoli had pointed the finger at the French secret services.
While the people of France may have been cheering the elimination of a dictator (possibly at the hands of their own country’s agents), they failed to foresee how the rest of this chess match would play out. African sources have told me that Gaddafi gave many Africans work and ensured a basic level of stability and security in the region.
With the French still being driven by emotion, we’re once again being dragged by the heartstrings into bad policy — this time by acquiescing to a more open immigration policy because of some admittedly disturbing images.
There are better solutions. First off, how about taking a break from spreading democracy throughout the world via bombing campaigns? I supported the Iraq War back in 2003, but that was before realizing that these freedom-spreading and democracy-building projects sound great in theory but are total failures in reality. It feels like we’re playing a money-sucking casino slot machine and waiting for a jackpot that never comes, yet we’re still reluctant to walk away and cut our losses.
And let’s stop all the nonsense of development aid that’s supposed to support these people in their home countries when it seems to be doing everything but. Why does assistance always have to be funneled through dodgy schemes like “climate change projects” that focus on abstract goals like “fighting” against carbon in the atmosphere rather than remedying actual poverty? And why does so much of the aid have to be entrusted to bloated bureaucracies like the United Nations?
We allow our leaders to sell us on humanitarianism that doesn’t pass the smell test, and then we’re surprised when it’s ineffective or even detrimental. The answer isn’t to empower these leaders to enact more such policies.
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter picked up a hammer and built houses for people with Habitat for Humanity International. Humanitarianism really shouldn’t be any more complicated than that.