"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." This children's rhyme rings particularly true as we watch Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi massacre his people en masse in the dusty streets of his North African country.
Over the last few days, the international community witnessed an outpour of words against the news of foreign mercenaries shooting and raping the Libyan populace, the wholesale bombing of civilian neighborhoods, and Gaddafi's outright threats to burn the whole country down. As the Libyan government's violence against its people escalates, it is clear that these words have not ended Gaddafi's massacres or pushed him out of power. The power of words against Gaddafi has faded. Recognizing this, the international community must now move from words to action.
Although the U.S. finally stated today that it will impose some form of sanctions on the current Libyan government (even though what these sanctions will actually mean is unclear), most of the international community is hesitating to take similar or stronger stances. Sadly, this is because of one major reason: Libya is the first major oil-producing country to be swept by the last two months' waves of Arab pro-democracy protests. Since Libya sends 85% of its oil to Europe, unrest threatens European countries' current access to this fossil fuel.
But as Libya represents only 2% of world production, Western nations with oil interests in the region are more afraid of the domino affect Libya could start in Arab oil-producing nations. Unrest in the Middle East has pushed oil prices to two-and-a-half year highs, and oil-consuming nations fear further unrest could send those prices even higher.
But is international paralysis towards Libya warranted? The winds of change are blowing in the Middle East, whether the region's dictators or their interest-driven supporters like it or not. Eighties-style dictatorship is simply not sustainable anymore, and the Arab people will push to set up democracy in this outdated political system's place.
The international community can either help speed up this process so that political and economic relations with the region improve sooner than later, or it can stall the process through inaction. If it chooses the latter, it will ensure that instability will fester longer than necessary in the region. And it will have Arab democracies run by populaces furious with the international community's backing of brutal dictatorships that deprived them of their most basic rights for decades. Try having good political and economic relations with these states then.
International leaders must recognize the above reality. That recognition, coupled with their own admissions of horror at the atrocities taking place in Libya, must lead them to act against Gaddafi.
Over the past few days, the UN's high commissioner for human rights declared that widespread and systematic attacks against civilians "may amount to crimes against humanity." German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that Gaddafi's speech was "very, very appalling" and "amounted to him declaring war on his own people." And finally, the UN human rights head publicly stated that reports of thousands of people killed in the violence in Libya are highly likely.
What more do we need to know before acting against Colonel Gaddafi? His speeches over the last several days gave the green light for more massacres to occur, and rumors say that he is considering blowing up Libya's oil pipelines.
As the classic nursery rhyme tells us, words against this man are useless. The whole international community must take direct action against Gaddafi in the form of sanctions, the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya to end the bombing of civilians, and the severing of all ties with his regime. These are the sticks and stones that can break the bones of one of the Middle East's most notorious dictatorships and establish the beginning of a democracy there, benefiting both Libyans and the world at large.