Narratives and the romantic genre in IR: dominant and marginalized stories of Arab Rebellion in Libya

Abstract

The article shows how the rebellion against Gaddafi in Libya in 2011 was romanticized in the British newspaper media and among the political elite. Combining insights from literary studies and employing a method of narrative analysis which focuses on the elements of setting, characterization and emplotment, it illustrates the process of narrative romanticization by emphasizing story elements which constitute the rebellion in an emotional setting in which the rebel is characterized as a young and brave underdog fighting against a brutal and oppressive regime for an ideal such as democracy, freedom and a better future. While romantic narratives were dominant in the discourse on Libya at the time, other less positive narratives which for example emphasize human right violations by rebels were marginalized through a strategy of silencing, denial, ridicule and justification. While the dominance of romantic narratives of rebellion aided the legitimation of British military intervention, the marginalization of negative counter-narratives contributed to the ignorance of extremism and set a bad precedent for the role of human rights in post-conflict Libya.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The research in this article is based on Spencer (2016).

  2. 2.

    The article uses the Nexis (formerly Lexis Nexis) news database to search for the concepts of ‘Libya’ and ‘rebel’. The newspapers were selected as they cover both the left and the right of the political spectrum as well as a more popular tabloid story about rebellion in Libya. Analysis beyond the 90 articles did not yield any new or alternative narrative elements.

  3. 3.

    However, it is important to note that by creating a collage of a vast number of quotes, this article is itself a narrative. This narrative is inherently subjective. Yet through transparency, verifiability and showing the extensiveness of the narrative elements, it aims at making the subjective story intersubjectively verisimilar. Due to limited space, each footnote will only include one example article where this phrase or word can be found.

  4. 4.

    William Hague, Statement in the House of Commons, London (7 March 2011), available at: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmhansrd/cm110307/debtext/110307-0001.htm#11030711000002 [04.03.2014].

  5. 5.

    David Cameron, Speech at the London Conference on Libya, London (29. March 2011), available at: http://www.newstatesman.com/2011/03/libya-help-humanitarian [04.03.2014].

  6. 6.

    Guardian, ‘Front: A few steps forward, many back on the long road west to Tripoli’ (22. March 2011), p. 1.

  7. 7.

    Times, ‘Just 30 miles from Tripoli, the defiant town that dares to humiliate Gaddafi’ (7. March 2011), pp. 6–7.

  8. 8.

    Sun, ‘Why 1941 Desert Rats are the key to defeating Mad Dog today’ (2. April 2011), pp. 42–43.

  9. 9.

    Guardian ‘Libya: The rebels gather their sparse forces for the battles ahead’ (1. March 2011), p. 14.

  10. 10.

    Luciana Berger, Statement in the House of Commons, 28.02.2011, available at: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmhansrd/cm110228/debtext/110228-0001.htm#11022819000002 [05.03.2014].

  11. 11.

    David Cameron, Speech to the UN General Assembly, New York, 22.09.2011, available at: http://www.newstatesman.com/global-issues/2011/09/arab-world-region-libya-act [04.03.2014].

  12. 12.

    The Guardian, ‘Libya: “The fear barrier is broken”: volunteers flock to join the rebels’ drive-in war’ (9. March 2011), p. 16.

  13. 13.

    Guardian, ‘Front: The graveyards are filling up in Misrata’s unexpected war’ (22. April 2011), p. 1.

  14. 14.

    Guardian, ‘Libya: “The fear barrier is broken”’.

  15. 15.

    Cameron, Speech to the UN General Assembly, 22.09.2011.

  16. 16.

    Sun, ‘Gaddafi, you are History’ (24. August 2011), pp. 8–9.

  17. 17.

    Sun, ‘Don’t you know right from wrong?’ (22. October 2011), pp. 6–7.

  18. 18.

    Sun, ‘He’s Buggied Off’ (26. August 2011), pp. 6–7

  19. 19.

    Sun, ‘We beg the West for a no-fly zone before Gaddafi’s jets destroy us all’ (15. March 2011), p. 14.

  20. 20.

    Peter Bone, Statement in the House of Commons, 19.06.2011, available at: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmhansrd/cm110719/debtext/110719-0001.htm [04.03.2014].

  21. 21.

    Times, ‘Rebels struggling to flip the power switch’ (25. August 2011), pp. 6–7.

  22. 22.

    Guardian, ‘Front: Libya: „They are professional soldiers. And they are guarding someone”’ (26. August 2011), p. 4.

  23. 23.

    Sun, ‘Gaddafi, you are History’.

  24. 24.

    Guardian, ‘Front: The graveyards are filling up’.

  25. 25.

    Sun, ‘We beg the West’.

  26. 26.

    Times, ‘Expats return from UK for rebel assault on Tripoli’ (2. July 2011), p. 45.

  27. 27.

    Guardian, ‘Front: Libya: “It is a symbolic victory. Gaddafi is still free”’, (24. August 2011), p. 2.

  28. 28.

    Times, ‘The battle of Qasr al-Haj’ (11. June 2011), p. 39.

  29. 29.

    Times, ‘Apache strikes aim to break deadlock’ (6. June 2011), p. 6.

  30. 30.

    Times, ‘Expats return from UK’.

  31. 31.

    Times, ‘Apache strikes aim to break deadlock’.

  32. 32.

    Times, ‘Expats return from UK’.

  33. 33.

    Times, ‘Rebels close in on Gaddafi’ (15. August 2011), p. 1, 8, 9.

  34. 34.

    Sun, ‘Its a buzz fighting Gaddafi’ (10. March 2011), pp. 10–11.

  35. 35.

    Guardian, ‘Front: Blow to Gaddafi as Libyan foreign minister defects’, (31. March 2011), p. 1.

  36. 36.

    Guardian, ‘Front: Britain urges Arab countries to train rebels’ (7. August 2011), p. 1.

  37. 37.

    Times, ‘Expats return from UK’.

  38. 38.

    Times, ‘Rebels close in on Gaddafi’.

  39. 39.

    Guardian, ‘Front: Blow to Gaddafi’.

  40. 40.

    Guardian, ‘Road to Benghazi beckons for Gaddafi’ (14. March 2011), p. 17.

  41. 41.

    Times, ‘Britain and France “using Qatar to arm Libyan rebels”’ (25. June 2011), pp. 16–17.

  42. 42.

    Guardian, ‘Front: Blow to Gaddafi’.

  43. 43.

    Ibid.

  44. 44.

    Guardian, ‘Libya: Rebels: Faltering military campaign puts pressure on leadership’, (4. April 2011), p. 7.

  45. 45.

    Guardian, ‘Libya: “The fear barrier is broken”’ (9. March 2011), p. 16.

  46. 46.

    David Cameron, Statement in the House of Commons, 21.03.2011, available at: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmhansrd/cm110321/debtext/110321-0001.htm#1103219000002 [05.03.2014].

  47. 47.

    Cameron, Speech to the UN General Assembly, New York, 22.09.2011.

  48. 48.

    Sun, ‘We beg the West’.

  49. 49.

    Ibid.

  50. 50.

    Times, ‘Rebels close in on Gaddafi’.

  51. 51.

    Sun, ‘Gaddafi, you are History’.

  52. 52.

    Nicholas Soames, Statement in the House of Commons, 05.09.2011, available at: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmhansrd/cm110905/debtext/110905-0001.htm#1109054000001 [04.03.2014].

  53. 53.

    Ann Clwyd, Statement in the House of Commons, 28.02.2011, available at: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmhansrd/cm110228/debtext/110228-0001.htm#11022819000002 [05.03.2014].

  54. 54.

    David Cameron, Statement in the House of Commons, 28.02.2011, available at: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmhansrd/cm110228/debtext/110228-0001.htm#11022819000002 [05.03.2014].

  55. 55.

    Times, ‘Beware. Libya could easily tip over the edge’ (30. August 2011), p. 20.

  56. 56.

    Cameron, Statement in the House of Commons, 05.09.2011.

  57. 57.

    Edward Miliband, Statement in the House of Commons, 05.09.2011, available at: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmhansrd/cm110905/debtext/110905-0001.htm#1109054000001 [04.03.2014].

  58. 58.

    Jo Swinson, Statement in the House of Commons, 05.09.2011, available at: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmhansrd/cm110905/debtext/110905-0001.htm#1109054000001 [04.03.2014].

  59. 59.

    David Cameron, Speech on the action we are taking will protect the Libyan people, 18.03.2011, available at: http://www.conservatives.com/News/Speeches/2011/03/David_Cameron_Speech_to_Scottish_Conservative_Conference.aspx [04.03.2014].

  60. 60.

    Times, ‘The battle of Qasr al-Haj’ (11. June 2011), p. 39.

  61. 61.

    Guardian, ‘Libya: The rebels gather their sparse forces for the battles ahead’ (1. March 2011), p. 14.

  62. 62.

    Times, ‘Women and children killed in the bloody battle for Zawiya’ (10. March 2011), pp. 6–7.

  63. 63.

    Cameron, Speech at the London Conference on Libya, London, 29.03.2011.

  64. 64.

    Times, ‘Muammar Gaddafi; Brutal and unpredictable’.

  65. 65.

    Sun, ‘Hit by a Tornado’.

  66. 66.

    Guardian, ‘Libya: Rebel push reveals devastating impact of allied air strikes’ (28. March 2011), p. 4.

  67. 67.

    Tom Brake, Statement in the House of Commons, 18.03.2011, available at: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmhansrd/cm110318/debtext/110318-0001.htm#11031850000007 [05.03.2014].

  68. 68.

    Sun, ‘Blast Days of Gaddafi’, (29. March 2011), pp. 12–13.

  69. 69.

    Cameron, Statement in the House of Commons, 21.03.2011.

  70. 70.

    William Hague, Statement in the House of Commons, 30.03.2011, available at: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmhansrd/cm110330/debtext/110330-0001.htm#11033062000003 [05.03.2014].

  71. 71.

    Cameron, Speech on the action we are taking will protect the Libyan people, 18.03.2011.

  72. 72.

    Cameron, Statement in the House of Commons, 18.03.2011.

  73. 73.

    Guardian, ‘Libya: “The fear barrier is broken”’ (9. March 2011), p. 16.

  74. 74.

    Hague, Statement in the House of Commons, 30.03.2011.

  75. 75.

    John McDonnell, Statement in the House of Commons, 18.03.2011, available at: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmhansrd/cm110318/debtext/110318-0001.htm#11031850000007 [05.03.2014].

  76. 76.

    Hague, Statement in the House of Commons, 30.03.2011.

  77. 77.

    Sun, ‘Its a buzz fighting Gaddafi’.

  78. 78.

    Sun, ‘Mad Max v Mad Dog’.

  79. 79.

    Cameron, Statement in the House of Commons, 28.02.2011.

  80. 80.

    Amnesty International, The Battle for Libya. Killings, Disappearances and Torture, 13.09.2011, available at: http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/MDE19/025/2011/en [19.08.2014].

  81. 81.

    Human Rights Watch, World Report 2012, Country summary on Libya, p. 598, available at: http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/wr2012.pdf [07.03.2014].

  82. 82.

    Times, ‘A Squalid Death’ (26. March 20119, p. 2.

  83. 83.

    Guardian, ‘Arab Spring: Gaddafi’s death: Decaying bodies normally repel’ (24. October 2011), p. 3.

  84. 84.

    Sun, ‘What’s now for Libya?’ (24. October 2011), p. 43.

  85. 85.

    For exception see: Times, ‘Rebels tightening grip on Tripoli but the tyrant still eludes them’ (26. August 2011, p. 8.

  86. 86.

    Hague, Statement in the House of Commons, 30.03.2011.

  87. 87.

    Sun, ‘No need to find Gaddafi killer’.

  88. 88.

    Times, ‘The fall of Tripoli’ (24. August 2011), p. 1, 3.

  89. 89.

    Ibid.

  90. 90.

    Sun, ‘Rot in hell with Hitler’ (21. October 2011), p. 8, 9.

  91. 91.

    Sun, ‘Stench of death, flies on blood’ (22. October 2011), p. 8–9.

  92. 92.

    Both quotes from Sun, ‘Rot in hell with Hitler’.

  93. 93.

    Guardian, ‘National: Death of Gaddafi: Path ahead’ (21. October 2011), p. 2.

  94. 94.

    Guardian, ‘Front: Death of a dictator’ (21. October 2011), p. 1.

  95. 95.

    Times, ‘Gaddafi’s killer: “You can have him now”’ (22. October 2011), p. 1, 5.

  96. 96.

    Times, ‘A hundred legends are in the making’ (21. October 2011), pp. 4–5.

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Spencer, A. Narratives and the romantic genre in IR: dominant and marginalized stories of Arab Rebellion in Libya. Int Polit 56, 123–140 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41311-018-0171-z

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Keywords

  • Narrative
  • Romance
  • Discourse
  • Constructivism
  • Britain
  • Libya