Libya: The Propaganda War



by Hanan Habibzai



(25.07.2011)-Gaddafi attracts no sympathy within either the Islamic or the western world because during decades of power he appeared to be a rude and selfish leader; therefore, the majority of global news coverage remains pro-rebels, focusing just on how weapons are used, regardless of the consequences for the future of Libya.

There is increasing concern that as a result of the destruction created by the bullets, Libya could be marginalised, a fact that disrupts the fair passage of information. There have been many questions recently raised by scholars over the coverage of the Libyan conflict. Who was the intended target of those bullets? Who suffered the most? The wide-ranging info-propaganda presents a biased account of events and consequently innocent people come under pressure.

The information coming out of Libya focuses on positive aspects of western engagement and military offences, the negative aspects of the war seem to be ignored. The destructive impact of this will shake Libyan society when the conflict affects relationships between families and causes strife between them. This is a war which could affect personal relations within Libyans— killing each other and causing ridiculous, meaningless bloodshed.  The costs will easily outweigh any benefits and will impact severely on the future of the country.

There are human rights concerns over the increasing numbers of migrants flooding to Europe or elsewhere. The uncertain future means struggle for life.

My knowledge of Afghan misery suggests that such a conflict can easily destroy not only the institutions within a country, but the public mind set. The process of rebuilding a country and getting back to normal may take decades. This paper will consider the consequences of war and information propaganda on the future of Libya. I will draw on my experiences as an Afghan to inform my discussions in this piece of work

The conception of information propaganda

In November 2006 Professor Philip Taylor gave a lecture on information warfare in Oslo. In his talks the professor of communication pointed out the art of war manufactured by Sun Tzu. He referred to the early military history of human battleground.  In ancient era the warriors had had to face the enemy with a sword and so called shield, only the individual courage was everything. To promote courage in the battle field Sun Tzu offered exciting skilful recommendations for warriors to gain victory without combat.  Sun Tzu proposed a philosophy of war that was intended to be victorious without the need to fight. According to Tzu, one hundred victories in one hundred wars are not the skill, but managing to overthrow rivals without hostility is genuine aptitude (1). Along with physical battle, his objective was to use information or communication to demoralise the enemy. In the modern world, powerful people are trying to use the press for this purpose.

Today, we live with technology and we computerise martial machinery. War in the information age is very different.  The question which arises here is about the nature of war in the present-day world. Modern warfare still concentrates on how to use power and authority against the enemy, but the real focus is a propaganda battle that could overthrow enemy’s moral and psychological courage. Before they go to the frontline to combat the enemy, they begin a communication war and information battle.

Foreign and defence authorities appear in front of the media from time to time and threaten the enemy by releasing certain information. Significant efforts are made to occupy the majority of news programmes and step-by-step these types of conferences and press statements dominate the news agenda settings. If we look at the Libya war, one could easily identify the clues that make up an information battle along with military one.

The truth is traditional causality of war

A professional military (Gaddafi force) and newly trained military (rebels) are not comparable. Those with inadequate training could shoot the wrong target and ordinary people might become the victims of war. The pro Gaddafi army is somehow recognised as a professional one and they understand structured warfare tactics better than the rebels.

In the meantime, along with using military options, the anti Gaddafi groups need to make use of information in order to shift public opinion towards the rebels. Therefore, alongside the bullets, you need to make use of information or propaganda to get ordinary people on side. You need these things to silence opposition voices which could perhaps shake the public against military activities or the military activities may face a possible resistance. To undermine or to ignore public anger, one needs to pass false information about something never happened.

Look at the rebels’ publicity in the mainstream global media; it portrays Libya as a violent place to the news consumers, a different place from five months ago when these rebels had comparatively quiet and contented lives. Therefore, sometimes it is difficult to change public views. They may trust you for a while; if promises are broken then you may face challenges.

Many journalists travel with rebels in order to make their stories colourful. There are many images drawn from the frontline of the war; for example, artilleries, small firings, rebels posing in front of the cameras making victory signs, their fingers up in the air whilst holding machine gun in their other hand. Audiences only watch how the weapons are being used and how the rebels get majority of the coverage.

The rebels and Libyans do not understand the consequences of the war against their own people, as well as the consequences of posing in front of cameras, fingers up to suggest victory, and use of weaponry in front of the cameras.  It would be too difficult for rebels either to force Gaddafi to step down or to establish a desired democratic government. This seems to me to be impossible because of the use of weaponry, frontlines of war will destroy not only the infrastructures, but also the public psychology and mind set.

Imagine what would happen if they did force Gaddafi to step down and to establish a government with significant help from the international community? The answer is simple, immediately several groups and factions would arise and they would propose different styles of governing and, they would come up with unlike demands. It would set up a division of power and would create different conflicts Then, Libya would need a unity government to make possible a so-called fair election. As a result none of engaged groups would fulfil the goals which led them to pick up guns in the first place. Or either all estimated parties will appear with some demands which could characterise a starting point of a new war for gaining power in post Gaddafi Libya. The conflict will force international community to say that Libya needs a unity government.

In this case by their extensive coverage global media may raise some facts behind the close doors, such as human rights issues and war crimes, but the information could transmit in the favour of international community.

That would lead to a situation in which the media would compete to cover the discrepancies of the situation and they would transmit information leaked by various groups and factions. This is exactly what is going on now in the current military situation of country: global journalists wish to present to the world the rebel angle of the conflict. Media contents are more dominated by rebel’s perspective rather than neutralism.

The information that rebels are manufacturing through their activities —- provides enough broadcasting materials to the global media, and also western engagement offer massive similar outfits. Since most information is presented according to anti-Gaddafi point of views, some parts of the story are simply never told, thus news consumers may possibly receive incomplete information. The majority reporting characterised by the scholars more selective rather than fair representation in consequence truth may become main causality of war.

Foreign Interest: Keep the public quiet

The rest of Arab world is either silent or it wants to see Gaddafi leaving power because it has not been happy with Gaddafi in the past. Qatar and Saudi Arabia are helping the rebels and now Turkey has also joined them. Western powers have their own individual interests in Libya, but they have a common interest in removing Gaddafi from power.

They are competing over the future of Libya for having particular agenda and interests. The role involves warfare economy and information warfare that may provide jobs and financial support to many, including rebels and some Libyans in exile. They need to empower small groups to work for foreign interests, marginalise the majority of the people who might find themselves outside the political process.

Something similar happened to Afghanistan, in 2003 -2005. New York based organisation ‘Human Rights Watch’, listed a number of ethnic militia commanders who had violated human rights, and who had committed war crimes. They had not faced justice and the international community brought them to power.  Steps taken by the international community disappointed many Afghans, and pushed them to join anti-government militancy or to express sympathy, because the killers of their sweethearts had power which damaged the trust of many.

The war could affect the sovereignty of a country by allowing many foreign intelligence sources to create networks across the country. These cells could be used by them for certain interests that could threaten the unity and safekeeping of the country; this is something that happened in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan model

In the 1990s immediately after the collapse of Soviet-made government under President Dr Najibullah, Iran, Russia, India, Pakistan and some centre Asian countries came forward to play their competition game in Afghanistan. These particular countries hired old friends and proxies in Afghanistan (they made during Soviet invasion in 1980s) and provided them military and financial equipment to secure their interests.

Since that post-Soviet situation, Afghanistan ‘‘has suffered over two decades of war. This is the typical opening of most reports, articles, and speeches written about Afghanistan today. The statement, usually used to help explain the country’s post-Taliban challenges, is repeated so frequently. Yet few efforts have been made to study the history itself and its significance for Afghanistan’s current situation. More remarkable, despite the fact the two-decade period was marked by widespread human rights abuses, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, the statement is rarely followed by suggestions that perpetrators of past crimes, most of whom are still alive, should be brought to justice’’(2).

The devastating attack of 9/11 was an example of one of the worst inhuman massacres that Americans ever suffered. It was something similar to Afghan slaughters committed against the people of Afghanistan after US-led invasion of the country. Here I referred you to the investigative reports by Human Rights Watch featuring atrocities and war crimes in the north of the country against ordinary public in late 2001 and at the beginning of 2002.  In this case Professor Noam Chomsky‘s viewpoint is fairly close to an Afghan perception of the fact.

The warnings made by US and its allies against Afghanistan immediately after 9/11, Chomsky characterised them ‘textbook terrorism. ‘‘George Bush had informed the Afghans, the people of Afghanistan that the attack will go on until they hand over wanted suspects. Remember that overthrow of the Taliban regime was a sort of afterthought brought in a couple of weeks after the bombing, basically for the benefit of intellectuals so they could write about how just the war is’’(3).

Media coverage was additionally based around US and its Afghan allies activities, focused has been done only across US slogans of women rights , capture  leaders of Al -Qaida and the collapse of Taliban regime. The negative aspects of military intervention, the use of heavy weaponry including the deliberated crimes against humanity have marginalized.

The arrest of Bin Laden could be easily happened, if diplomatic communication was encouraged. Current allies of the United States such as Qatar, Saudi, Oman, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates could offer a solution, but US ignored political options.

Therefore, the invasion of Afghanistan happened which took tens of thousands of lives.  Professor Chomsky also mentioned the reality, and outlined the narrative in his book called Media Control [2002]. ‘‘The Taliban regime did ask for evidence, but the US contemptuously dismissed that request. The US at the very same time ,also flatly refused to even consider offers of extradition , which may have been serious ,may not have been ; we don’t know because they were rejected’’(4).

The coverage of media was very rare to these issues; press was more interested to give value to the US military and its Afghan allies, namely war criminals listed by Human Rights Watch. Tens of thousands of Taliban armed men have been killed in the result of US airstrikes and thousands other captured as war prisoners, but in the end of the day limited number of them returned to their families, many of them have been brutally massacred and buried in Dashty Lily area in the north of Afghanistan, since that the term Dashty Lily incorporated to the Afghan literature.

After ten years of suffering and struggles, finally Bin Laden, the number one enemy found and killed in a different country, his killing was the top priority of US invasion of Afghanistan, but US military is still emphasising on war against Afghan people.

Many Afghans complained what US military say is potentially newsworthy than civilian causality. Media is still focus single aspect of the situation ,the re-emerged Taliban are not characterised as a source of news, because US recognise them as a ‘terrorist’ group while none of Afghan Taliban ever attacked a foreign country.

Few people give access to the media tribune talking in the favour of Afghan government and its allies, but ignoring those who criticize the corruption and on-going atrocities.  According to US Department of State ‘‘Members of the media reported that they did not interview Taliban commanders or leaders due to government pressure; police in Helmand Province jailed journalists for speaking to the Taliban. Some media observers considered it more difficult for journalists to operate in the areas of the country that the government controlled than in Taliban-controlled areas’’ (5).


In the case of Libya, Gaddafi needs to deeply think about the future of his country and the future of Libyans. Staying in power at a time when all other countries are against you is not work of wise politician. The rebels who enjoy the support of western and Arab world need to communicate with Gaddafi. The diplomatic solution will prevent Libya to turn into a second Afghanistan.

Traditionally, the hatred and disgust from guns and pistols are widespread in any battle field; ordinary people are the main victims at the end of the day. The consequences of war far outweigh its benefits.

We Afghans can understand this; we had similar experiences and we lost the honoured life we gained over centuries, but the world is not pleased with us and our human rights are never considered to be equal to an American’s human rights. Many Afghans think that they are victims of widespread racism; I can’t really confirm this claim, but I have seen members of one single tribe dying in Afghanistan.

A single pistol bullet may be worth two dollars in the market, but in order to use it one needs to employ someone else to shoot it.  If the target is a human being, you can never buy the second life for him/her; if it is a city then you need to invest 100 thousand times more on psychological and physical direction at the end of the day.

It is not the gun and weaponry itself destroying human nature, but human being himself uses it against his or her counterparts to gain power and wealth. At this point to explain it more passionately I will end with renowned Afghan poet Abdul Ghafoor Liwal’s latest writing:

‘‘ Don’t purchase pistols and guns

To your wholesome kids


They shoot the dolls’’ (6).



(1). Taylor, P [2006], Informational warfare [online], Available [19.07.2011].

(2). Human Rights Watch Report [2005], Blood Sustained hands [online], Available, [18.07.2011].

(3). Chomsky, N [2002], Media Control, textbook terrorism, New York: Seven Stories Press.

(4). Chomsky,N [2002], Media Control, textbook terrorism ,New York : Seven Stories Press.

(5). US Deportment of State, 2010 Human Rights report, Afghanistan, Washington: USDS.

(6). Ghafoor, A, L [2011], The Kind Feeling, poem translation

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