From California to Cairo, none of the films that featured my country, Libya, could step out of an Orientalist vision of camels, belly dancers, an endless desert and, of course, our iconic “Brother Leader.”
In the final years of Moammar Gadhafi’s rule, tensions between the autocrat’s two most prominent sons embodied the key ideological question of how — and if — governance ought to be reformed. The ferocious rivalry contributed to the regime’s disjointed response to the 2011 uprisings — and helped bring about its end.
Nineteen men, driven by the manufactured rage of a whole generation of preachers of violence and armed with a budget of less than half a million dollars, shattered the thin veneer of our civilization and the brittle foundations of our democracy. We flailed violently.
After the rise of the Islamic State, I was part of this race for cash, working on CVE projects from media messaging to radicalization research, and it slowly dawned on me how flawed the industry is. Not only has expertise been invented to snag funding, but existing development work has been molded into the shape of “CVE,” stigmatizing entire communities as terrorist-producing.
Contrary to how some understand the U.S. withdrawal in Afghanistan, the lesson extremists are taking from the Taliban’s success is not simply that jihad works, but that diplomacy and engagement are a necessary part of the process, which includes reassuring the West about external threats emerging from their areas.
If the evacuation of Afghanistan tested U.S. partnerships in ways that revealed something short of solidarity, building and sustaining an allied strategy for political transition in Syria can provide the corrective.
Afghanistan itself was a sideshow in which money and careers could be made and repatriated. In the meantime, an artificial economy was created there to service birds of passage, from diplomats and aid workers to military officials and outside contractors.