Islamic experts assure me there is no prohibition of warfare during Ramadan. On the contrary, many of Islam’s great conquests occurred during this holy month, including the first clash between Muslims and infidels, which occurred in 624 when Muhammad led his troops to victory in the battle of Badr. War for the furtherance of Islam and against non-believers is considered ethically acceptable by scholars, even during the month of fasting and prayer.
But this is not the situation in Libya. David Cameron, the foreign secretary, William Hague, and Nicolas Sarkozy are not the prophet Muhammad and his companions. Even if Nato’s intervention in Libya were entirely without self-interest (and not about oil and lucrative commercial opportunities) Islamic clerics concur that it is absolutely prohibited for Muslims to seek the help of non-believers against fellow Muslims.
Muslims fast during Ramadan, which begins on Monday, to understand the suffering of the hungry, to empathise with the weak, and to concentrate on God. It is not the time to increase the death toll and perpetuate the misery already caused in the course of Libya’s civil war by continuing the bombardment.
Nato’s intervention is, in any case, proving disastrous. It could have secured Benghazi and left, as most nations who passed security council resolution 1973 intended. Now, however, the objective is clearly regime change and Britain and France find themselves mired in a battle that is proving a great deal more difficult to win than they could ever have anticipated.
So far Muammar Gaddafi has survived, against all the odds, not only physically but politically. Several attempts to assassinate him have failed, early hopes for a “palace coup” have faded, and defections from his camp seem to be at an end. While Nato has almost obliterated the Libyan airforce, troops loyal to Gaddafi have regained around 20% of the territory lost in the immediate aftermath of the uprising in the east. Militarily the rebels have not been impressive, and now they risk being torn apart politically by widening factional rifts within the Transitional National Council (TNC).
Last Thursday an Islamist element within the putative new Libyan government murdered its military commander, General Abdel Fattah Younis, formerly Gaddafi’s minister of the interior. Gaddafi would certainly have made much of this propaganda opportunity – questioning the TNC’s democratic credentials and its ability to maintain law and order – had not Nato bombed Libyan state television’s transmitters.
The TNC faced further PR problems as US Republican Senator John McCain castigated it for “documented” human rights abuses. In the absence of a straightforward “good guys, bad guys” formula, this was the moment chosen by Hague to declare UK recognition of the TNC as Libya’s official government.
Abdel Fatah Younis was a member of the powerful Obeida tribe and his assassination could well ignite tribal divisions within the opposition, weakening it further. Even more ominously, during Younis’s funeral one of his sons shouted, ‘We want Ghadaffi back. We want the Green flag’.Much of the Libyan population is already weary of the conflict and fearful for the future. Sources in the country say 1,100 civilians have already lost their lives as a result of Nato bombing, and with few military targets left, the month of Ramadan may prove even bloodier if the campaign continues.
Popular support for the Nato effort is waning not only in the Arab world but also in the west. Many in Britain are questioning how ethical it is for the government to be pursuing two wars as budget cuts bite deep. The war in Afghanistan has so far cost the UK £18 billion and costs in Libya are already nearing £1 billion.
Ramadan could afford Nato the opportunity to cease its bombardment in recognition of this pillar of Islam and seek instead to broker a peaceful, negotiated settlement to a conflict that threatens to tear Libya apart.
Abdel al-Bari Atwan, the editor-in chief of the London-based pan-Arab newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi.