Tuesday, April 23, 2024

ON REFLECTION: Flight to Armageddon?


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I HAVE BECOME concerned that in the last two months North Africa and the Mediterranean have, in the twinkling of an eye, become a battlefield.
The political landscape there has changed at breakneck speed as leaders and ideologies fall like ninepins; and now that the United States-led Western superpowers have joined the fray, one cannot help but wonder whether this is a prelude to the biblical Armageddon.
It is the tip of something; and this will unfold over the next few days as one wonders how Israel – the United States’ chief ally in the Middle East – will react. But it is noteworthy that the Western leaders are being very careful as to how they are seen after having launched 100 plus air and missile strikes over Libya on the weekend.
They know their strike was legal, as it was based on the breach of a United Nations-sanctioned no-fly zone over Libya; and they are also acutely aware that once they attacked, it would have had to be decisive and thorough to halt a rambling dictator who prefers to plunge his country into brutal war rather than step down after 41 years.
Saturday’s missile strikes by the American European forces were therefore described as legal, necessary and right by Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron, while United States’ President Barack Obama seemed at pains to state that the hand of the coalition’s military might was forced by a mercilessly stubborn Muammar Gaddafi.
While I nearly always take information from the established Western media with a pinch of salt, it seemed like tyrannical madness for pro-Gaddafi forces to step up attacks on Benghazi a day after he declared a ceasefire in keeping with the no-fly-zone sanction. According to the Libyan government, however, it was the rebels who broke the ceasefire, causing Gaddafi’s forces to retaliate in self-defence.
Who knows? But as far as Obama is concerned, the coalition’s operation, dubbed Odyssey Dawn, wasn’t meant to wipe out so many people – most of whom seem to be civilians, including children.
“This is not an outcome the US or any of our partners sought,” the president said from Brazil on his five-day visit to Latin America. One wonders, therefore, whether the coalition’s deadly entry in the form of Tomahawk missiles, warships and submarines won’t be seen by Libya’s Middle East brothers as extreme and a form of interference – a charge often thrown at the United States whenever it has to go into a territory with the aim of “restoring democracy”.
Gaddafi actually said in reply that he would arm civilians to defend Libya from “colonial, crusader aggression”, and has called on fellow Arab and Islamic nations, and notably Latin America where anti-American sentiment is still strong, as well as Asia and Africa – all repressed by common colonial enemies at some point – to stand by the Libyan government.
Freedom for the Libyan people would be welcomed by most observers; but it will be a prolonged process and one will always wonder what was the real agenda of the coalition.
It is my humble belief, however, that if freedom can be achieved in Libya, then it can be achieved almost anywhere in the world. For unlike its neighbours Egypt and Tunisia where there are formal alternative government systems, Libya is controlled by one man, is rooted in tribalism, and lacks a professional army that could serve as a mediating force during the limbo period of transition.
So even if the protesters, now helped by United States-led forces, manage to get rid of Gadaffi, what happens afterwards?
The bigger point is, though, that if the coalition expectedly crushes Gaddafi’s forces, it will be the writing on the wall for lifelong tyrannical rule, not only in the Middle East but among our Latin American neighbours and African family who must be watching with bated breath.
Building bridges
On the local scene, I saw the Chamberlain Bridge open last Friday afternoon and I wondered.
Has this state-of-the-art lift bridge, built at a cost of about $14 million in 2006, been used much since then.
I call it a “phenomenon” not only because it was quite a sight for me last Friday, but numerous tourists and others also watched in awe, flashing digital cameras, others pointing uniquitous Blackberrys, and very young ones staring in wide-eyed fascination.
Then I wondered why such a phenomenon is not used to attract more visitors, and why, as far as I know, it has hardly lived up to its name as a “lift” bridge since being opened five years ago.
The bridge has in fact lifted a few times for major events, including musical superstar Rihanna’s homecoming in February 2008 to be honoured as Cultural Ambassador in Independence Square; at the end of Andrew Burke’s fund-raising A Sail From The Heart, also in 2008 for the Barbados Cancer Society; and for the entrance of two Coast Guard vessels into the Inner Basin as part of the Barbados Defence Force’s 30th anniversary celebrations in 2009.
Maybe I missed something, but I don’t recall any other major events since; but I do recall hearing in 2009 of an engineers’ assessment being done to address a problem with the bridge. Clearly, it was fixed, thereby giving many a memorable view last week.
So, why isn’t the Chamberlain Bridge lifted more often? Does one lift incur such massive cost in manpower, hydraulics and electricity that it could be a waste if used on weekends to give the MV Harbour Master a trip in and out of the inner basin? Would it not be a boost for tourism marketing to have the lift bridge as a timed attraction to add to the buzz of City shopping and business?  
Having replaced the 1872 swing bridge with a $14 million lift bridge in 2006, we can’t just use it only for “special” events or leave it unused altogether. What a waste!


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