“We don’t know who the opposition is!”
Fainéant pundits and politicians are once again reviving this trope, now as an excuse for removing America entirely from any influence in the direction of Syria’s revolution. In the spring of 2011, it was the standard plaint about the Libyan rebels. In both cases, this demand for knowledge shows a lack of understanding about how Muslim societies under dictatorship have evolved.
This “knowing” is often meant both in the sense of personal acquaintance and of factual knowledge that can be verified online. (I am leaving aside what, if anything more, American intelligence agencies know but are keeping to themselves.) And in truth, more than a year later, while we know a lot more about the top members of the National Transition Council and some of the candidates for the newly elected National Assembly, we still don’t have the kind of information in digital form that accumulates around even, say, a candidate for a congressional seat in the US. Some of the NTC members have never said much to the press, either Arabic- or English-language. But Libya has not become a failed state or a breeding ground for extremists, and in fact it rejected the Muslim Brotherhood in the July 7th elections for the National Assembly. Somehow, Libya has survived despite American pundits’ lack of full information.
The demand for facts deserves some discussion. Generally, it is hard to get beyond basic biographical information for people living under Arab dictatorships. Only their friends or schoolmates will know much, for a number of reasons.