Christians Serious About Justice Cannot Pretend History Began Yesterday
Readers of The Gospel Coalition could hardly be blamed for thinking the present-day Libyan slave trade was spontaneously created from a vacuum. According to TGC’s The FAQ’s: What You Should Know About the Libyan Slave Trade, “Two main factors have contributed to the Libyan slave trade: an abundance of vulnerable migrants and a fractured, failing government.” The only reason cited for Libya’s failed government is the country’s civil war which has left “many areas of the country out of reach of government influence” and under control of “Islamist and militia groups” who “allow or endorse the slave trade.”
Christians engaged in the political process and serious about injustice and the sanctity of life cannot afford to continue to ignore foreign policy issues. If we care enough to be shocked and outraged over the existence of real-life, present-day, open-market slave auctions, we ought to care enough to understand how it came to exist so we can, if possible, prevent such circumstances from happening again.
WE CAME; WE SAW; HE DIED
While the TGC piece found space to reflect on a tweet from President Trump, nowhere does the article mention Muammar Gaddafi, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, or TGC-favorite Marco Rubio. The article cites 2014 as the start of the Libyan civil war, but the North African country’s chaos began much earlier.
In 2011, the Obama Administration used the alleged fact of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s massacre of rebels and civilians in Benghazi as a pretense for international military intervention (this information was later proven to be exaggerated if not false). Although the administration claimed the goal in Libya was not regime change, White House ally Sen. John Kerry, among others, openly called for regime change. NATO documentation later revealed that regime change was always the goal. When Gaddafi was later brutally murdered (after being sodomized with a knife), officials were thrilled and rushed to take credit. The most infamous instance was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s disturbingly gleeful declaration: “We came; we saw; he died!”
ARMING AND FINANCING REBELS/TERRORISTS
One of the more alarming aspects of the military intervention in Libya was the U.S. and U.K.’s arming and financing of Islamic militants aka “rebels” in Libya. According to the New York Times:
“The Obama administration secretly gave its blessing to arms shipments to Libyan rebels from Qatar last year , but American officials later grew alarmed as evidence grew that Qatar was turning some of the weapons over to Islamic militants, according to United States officials and foreign diplomats.”
“The weapons and money from Qatar strengthened militant groups in Libya, allowing them to become a destabilizing force since the fall of the Qaddafi government.”
Arming terrorists was always bound to happen as it is impossible to truly vet “rebel” groups whose ranks are always changing and almost always include terrorists elements. Today’s “terrorist” is tomorrow’s “rebel” and vice versa. Among the militant groups receiving support was the designated terrorist organization, Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG). This “rebel” organization was affiliated with Al-Qaeda and included Al-Qaeda members in its ranks. Abdel-Hakim al-Hasidi, the Libyan rebel leader, admitted jihadists who fought against allied troops in Iraq were on the front lines of the battle against Muammar Gaddafi’s regime.
The U.S.-backed rebels in Libya were also notoriously racist and committed ethnic genocide. Rebels arrested, tortured, and executed African migrant workers and black Libyans calling them “mercenaries.” “Black Libyans were commonly branded as ‘foreign mercenaries’ by the rebel opposition for their perceived general loyalty to Gaddafi as a community and subjected to torture, executions, and their towns ‘liberated’ by ethnic cleansing. This is demonstrated in the most well-documented example of Tawergha, an entire town of 30,000 black and ‘dark-skinned’ Libyans which vanished by August 2011 after its takeover by NATO-backed NTC Misratan brigades.” Meanwhile, the U.S. government had knowledge of these atrocities as the Secretary of State was personally briefed on these events.
EVANGELICAL WAR HAWKS
During the 2016 presidential election, TGC contributors Albert Mohler, Wayne Grudem, and Thomas Kidd openly supported candidate Marco Rubio. Mohler served on Rubio’s pro-life advisory board while Grudem and Kidd joined Rubio’s religious liberty advisory board. While Rubio possessed some credentials impressive to many evangelicals, his foreign policy record was either ignored or excused as necessary for national defense.
In 2011, Rubio publicly expressed his frustration with the Obama administration for not being hawkish enough in Libya. While Obama was hesitant to openly call for regime change in Libya, Rubio wanted to make the goal of regime change explicit. He also ridiculed the idea of working through a multi-national organization such as NATO. Rubio declared that the message in Libya should be:
“If you’re an enemy of the United States and we have a chance to take a shot at you in a way that doesn’t hurt us, and has a chance of being successful, we’re probably going to take it. There’s a price to pay for being an enemy of the United States. It’s not a good idea to be on our bad side. And that’s an important message to send.”
At no time did any of Rubio’s evangelical supporters condemn his blatantly anti-Christian nationalism or his policies of aggression toward Libya, Syria, or elsewhere even though his proposals were clearly contrary to the Just War principles evangelicals purport to uphold.
FROM REGIME CHANGE TO REFUGEES, ISIS, CHRISTIAN PERSECUTION, AND SLAVE TRADE
The U.S.-led military intervention in Libya led to the overthrow of Gaddafi which broke the state’s control of the country when then led to civil war, the surge of migration through Libya to Europe, the rise of ISIS, a dramatic increase in Christian persecution, and the support and enablement of an open-market slave trade.
Refugee Crisis: “To tell the story of Libya’s escalating migration crisis, one must weave together the threads of instability left behind by a toppled dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, and the power vacuum filled by rivaling factions vying to take his place. The chaos allowed smuggling networks to thrive, suddenly opening up a lucrative market designed to profit off trading humans like other goods and commodities.”
“The country’s 1,100-mile coastline has effectively become an open border without government forces to monitor who comes and who goes. Smugglers have filled the void, willing to tightly pack hundreds of migrants at a time into flimsy vessels and shuttle them to Italy.”
ISIS: “For months, ISIS has been trumpeting its abduction and execution of African Christians in Libya. In February, a slick, ghoulish video showed twenty-one Egyptian hostages in orange jumpsuits being led along a beach by black-masked executioners, who forced them to kneel and then cut off their heads. In April, another video appeared, showing the execution of twenty-nine Ethiopians in Libya. Gunmen who trained with ISIS in Libya were involved in the murder of twenty foreign tourists, at a Tunis museum in March, and thirty-eight more tourists, most of them British, at a seaside resort in Tunisia in June. These attacks focused attention on the fact that Libya, a vast, oil-rich, underpopulated country with a long southern-Mediterranean coastline, has become part of the self-proclaimed ISIS caliphate.”
“In a parallel phenomenon, armed trafficking gangs in Libya are driving most of Africa’s illegal immigration across the Mediterranean to Europe. As many as a hundred and seventy thousand are thought to have made the crossing last year, with thousands dying en route. Unprecedented numbers are continuing to cross this year, taking advantage of the chaos in Libya.”
“Not long before the first NATO air strikes, in 2011, Qaddafi warned that Al Qaeda and other Islamic extremists would capitalize on the uprising against him. Libya, he warned, would be dismembered. In light of what has happened since, it seems safe to say that Qaddafi was right.”
Christian Persecution: “Even before the onset of the civil war and the fall of Gaddafi, Christians in Libya did not fully enjoy freedom of religion and belief. However, each Christian denomination was allowed one place of worship in each city and Christians were legally allowed to worship in public.”
“The potential for such societal or horizontal persecution was partly restrained because the state repressed militant and radical Islamic views.”
“The tight control that the state exercised on all groups and society accorded Christians in Libya a degree of protection from societal persecution and the threat from radical Islamic groups that would have been intense. Therefore, the unintended consequence of a strong autocratic control under the dictatorship of Gaddafi provided security and a degree of freedom of worship for Christians in Libya.”
“In this melee of armed groups and jihadi outfits, the situation for Christians in Libya has become difficult beyond imagination. Christians in Libya have been subjected to the most violent and horrendous forms of persecution.”
“Christian migrants and refugees in Libya are at particular risk of abuse from armed groups aiming to impose their own interpretation of Islamic law. People from Nigeria, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Egypt have been abducted, tortured, unlawfully killed and harassed because of their religion. Most recently a total of at least 49 Christians, mostly from Egypt and Ethiopia were beheaded and shot in three mass summary killings claimed by the group calling itself the Islamic State (IS).”
Slave Trade: “Libya has been in chaos since the 2011 U.S.-led NATO bombing campaign overthrew Muammar Qaddafi’s regime, opening the door for human rights abuses like refugee slavery.”
“This Libyan open-market slave trade did not exist under Qaddafi, and likely would not have, given his political might and advocacy of black and African liberation.”
[emphasis mine in above quotes]
WHAT EVANGELICALS SHOULD REALLY KNOW AND DO
The TGC piece gives only a partial accounting of why there is a slave trade in Libya almost to the point of being misleading. Yes, there is “an abundance of vulnerable migrants.” Yes, “Libya is a key transit point for migrants and refugees in Africa.” But, why? Libyan borders under the Gaddafi regime were heavily manned which made border crossings very difficult. The destruction of the Libyan state in 2011 is what changed all of that leading to mass migration from neighboring African nations.
The failure of TGC to acknowledge the key role the U.S. and NATO played in regime change and the destruction of the Libyan state in 2011, while reflecting the pattern of corporate media as a whole, denies its readers the information needed to work to prevent similar atrocities in the future. There is no Libyan open-market slave trade without the U.S./NATO-led military intervention in Libya and the subsequent overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi. This preemptive, Just War-violating military intervention was strongly supported by evangelical favorites such as Marco Rubio, but never once did evangelical leaders call him to account as they supported him for President.
As TGC is rightfully celebrating amazing new church plants in difficult areas of the Middle East it would be helpful to also demonstrate how the destructive, counter-productive, hate-inducing interventionist policies of evangelical politicians make life much more difficult for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are actually trying to proclaim the Gospel and train disciples in these same areas. It is difficult enough for churches to thrive in Muslim-majority countries. The policies of preemptive war and regime change have made things worse. Perhaps we should think twice before endorsing candidates who are good on abortion but make life hell for Christians in the Middle East.
Here is what evangelicals can do in response to the revelations of the slave trade in Libya.
Connect the dots. As the information above hopefully demonstrated, the conditions that allowed the slave trade were created long before a 2014 civil war. U.S. foreign policy called for preemptive war in Libya to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Libya/overthrow the Gaddafi regime. The murder of Muammar Gaddafi is the major event that led to the chaotic conditions that allowed horrific human rights abuses including an open-market slave trade. There is a direct correlation between the interventionist policies of the politicians in Washington, D.C. and the widespread death, disease, and destruction throughout the Middle East including Libya, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and more. Military interventions have made things worse. If we care about the refugees and the slaves of Libya, and we should, then we should also care about the political actions taken by elected officials that caused the conditions that allowed these humanitarian crises to exist.
Take the blinders off. There is more to public policy than abortion and the culture war. There is more to the morality or immorality of politicians than marital fidelity and sexual harassment. To once again use Marco Rubio as an example, Rubio had a strong pro-life record, said the right things about religious liberty, appeared to be a good father and husband, and even presented the Gospel at a campaign event. However, his stridently nationalist ideology of aggression was contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ: “If you’re an enemy of the United States and we have a chance to take a shot at you in a way that doesn’t hurt us, and has a chance of being successful, we’re probably going to take it. There’s a price to pay for being an enemy of the United States.” For Rubio, this translated into calling for a preemptive, illegal war of aggression against Libya. There is nothing Gospel-centered, shaped, or oriented about this immoral ideology. All of the warnings that were recently issued about evangelicals voting for Roy Moore applied to voting for Rubio: selling their souls, committing idolatry, lusting for power, and putting politics above the kingdom of God. Does that sound shocking? Apply this test: would the implementation of Marco Rubio’s foreign policy actively make you disobedient to Jesus? Yes, it would. Take the blinders off. Begin to evaluate a politician’s foreign policy with the same stringent moral standards we apply to other aspects of their platform.
We can prevent the creation of open-market slave trades before they begin by rejecting the sinful ideology that led to the creation of the slave trade. Followers of Christ should immediately reject wars of aggression and preemption, even when they are presented in the name of humanitarian aid. The disastrous consequences of Libya alone should be enough to put such pretensions to rest. It is good to be disturbed into action over the discovery of a real-life, present-day, open-market slave trade. It is even better to prophetically resist the powers that caused it to happen in the first place.