In March of this year Jean-Luc Nancy published an article entitled “What the Arab Peoples Signify to Us” in the Libération newspaper. The article supported the NATO lead military intervention in Libya. Alain Badiou penned an acerbic response, claiming that Nancy had misread the situation in Libya entirely. The uprising in Libya was not at all like the events we saw weeks earlier in Egypt and Tunisia: there were no mass protests or prolonged occupations; very few women were involved and hardly any banners or flags of protest at the rallies; suddenly weapons were circulated amongst the civilian population; and very quickly a “rebel council” had emerged that claimed to represent the anti-Gaddafi movement. For Badiou, Nancy’s support of the “Western” intervention put him in bed with ‘riff-raff like Sarkozy and Cameron’ whose only goal in Libya was oil and hegemony.
As Stewart Motha has rightly pointed out, the background to Nancy’s support for intervention in Libya needs some unpacking, especially with regard to his understanding of sovereignty. And I’ll briefly discuss this background in a moment. But, because I’m interested in Derrida’s work, I couldn’t help but think what he would have to say in this situation: what might Derrida’s work tell us about the nature of our responsibility to the situation that emerged earlier this year in Libya?
As Badiou points out, one of the key differences between the Libyan uprising and events in Tunisia and Egypt has been the emergence of the NTC. The founding statement of the NTC on March 5th claimed it was the sole legitimate representative of Libya and called for the international community to recognize it as such. It also called for military assistance short of the deployment of troops on Libyan soil. It nominated representatives, formed a cabinet and held state-like press conferences. Nothing like this was seen in any of the other uprisings of the so-called “Arab Spring”. Our first task then should be to understand the significance of this founding statement and to do so we must return to some of Derrida’s earlier work on performativity. There are two aspects to the Derridian performative that are particularly instructive in this context: firstly, the inscription of the