Sylvia Seidel from Dresden writes messages on her picture at the Avaaz “Wall of Love” reading “with you – wall of boundless friendship” in front of the famous Church of Our Lady, on Saturday, Jan. 10, 2015 in Dresden, Saxony, eastern Germany. Avaaz has been raising eyebrows in political circles by pushing policies that some say jeopardize civilians’ lives in the name of humanitarian intervention
Avaaz’s petitions have by now become a worldwide phenomenon. The organization calls itself “a global web movement to bring people-powered politics to decision-making everywhere” and claims “a simple democratic mission.” Recent history indicates that Avaaz’s alleged democratic mission has more to do with U.S. policy of conquest and exploitation of the Middle East’s natural resources, rather than freedom for the people it claims to support.
Claiming that its “priorities and power come from members,” Avaaz insists that it prioritizes causes which indicate a strong response from random samples sent to its members. According to the organization, there is no agenda in which the staff influences members’ decisions. Additionally, Avaaz claims that it is completely member funded and “No corporate sponsor or government backer can insist that Avaaz shift its priorities to suit some external agenda.”
News reports, however, indicate the contrary. In 2011, as the Arab Spring fervor became an internationally-discussed topic with widespread support for the fall of existing regimes (in particular that of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi), Avaaz was a strong supporter of a no-fly zone in Libya, despite knowledge, earlier on, that many of the rebels had ties to al-Qaida.
As early as 2011, Libyan rebels were already infiltrating Syria to join forces with fighters opposing Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. Following the murder of Gadhafi and Libya’s collapse, weapons from Libya were being transferred into Syria for use by the Free Syrian Army.
According to British-Libyan arms dealer Abdul Basit Haroun, “The authorities know we are sending guns to Syria. Everyone knows.”
The so-called humanitarian intervention in Libya, according to Wikileaks documents, was a covert orchestration on behalf of the U.S. to enforce its domination upon Libya’s vast oil resources.
A look at Avaaz’s co-founders Ricken Patel and Tom Periello reveals an organization that has, at its helm, individuals who have been associated with groups directly linked to U.S. imperialism.
Avaaz Executive Director Ricken Patel delivers a petition to UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon at the People’s Climate March in New York City on Sept. 21, 2014.
In 2007, Perriello stated, “most of us have policy or diplomacy backgrounds, as well as activist, so the hope is that we will be doing these things at key diplomatic moments.”
Perriello, also a former U.S. Representative, had links to Human Rights Watch and the IGC. Additionally Perriello also voted in favor of on-going war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Patel has, in the past, worked for the United Nations, the International Crisis Group (ICG) and The Gates Foundation. On Feb 22, 2011, only days after the revolts in Libya started, the ICG issued a press release advocating for a no-fly zone, upon allegations that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi had ordered air attacks against civilians. The press release also called for “individual nations, particularly those with close ties to Libya, and international actors — such as the African Union, the Arab League, and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference — should support these and other similar measures.”
It is clear that, within the context of the Arab Spring, Avaaz had clearly aligned itself with U.S. interests, relying upon sensational rhetoric and dubious claims to garner support for NATO intervention in Libya and influence public opinion on Syria.
At the start of the Libyan revolt against Gadhafi, Avaaz quickly started a petition to the U.N. Security Council, the EU High Representative Catherine Ashton and European Foreign Ministers that called for a no-fly zone over Libya. The philosophy behind the petition was “hundreds have already been killed and, without immediate international action, the situation could spiral into a national bloodbath.”
Closer to the U.N. Security Council debate on the no-fly zone, Avaaz launched another petition that called for “ a massive outcry for a no-fly zone.”
Avaaz’s eagerness to advocate for the no-fly zone was criticized by John Hilary in the Guardian — calling into question the organization’s willingness to jeopardize civilians’ lives in the name of humanitarian intervention carried out by NATO’s bombing. Within the context of Libya, Avaaz clearly collaborated with the mainstream media to carefully orchestrate public support in favor of Western intervention. As evident in the violence that has gripped Libya, Avaaz’s actions have clearly not constituted a humanitarian approach but, rather, acted as the means through which to garner public support for war based upon unverified propaganda.
Hilary’s article, in which he stated that “Libyans are unlikely to be grateful to be bombed by those same Western governments attempting to enforce a no-fly zone,” elicited a lengthy comment by Ben Wikler, one of Avaaz’s campaign directors.
According to Wikler, polls conducted by the organization were enough to prompt the petition’s commencement. While claiming that support for a no-fly zone originated among Libyans, Wikler takes great pains to emphasise that a no-fly zone does not have the same consequences as a military invasion on Libyan territory.
Further, Wikler admits that Avaaz “believes” that Gadhafi was bombing Libyan civilians, based upon “reports from our partners on the ground, from the Red Cross, and from a variety of local and international news reports.”
Also, according to Wikler, Avaaz’s decision to advocate for the no-fly zone was based upon the fact that only 9% of the Avaaz community opposed the measure. In conclusion, Wikler states that petitioning in favour of a no-fly zone was based upon “expert opinion, popular support, and most of all, the rights and clearly expressed desire of the Libyan people.”
Considering mainstream media hype about NATO’s intervention in Libya, as well as its portrayal of the Libyan rebels as alleged freedom fighters, it is difficult to gauge Libyan civilians’ support for NATO’s bombing of Libya, which paved the way for additional violence and, within the current context, the spread of ISIS in Libya.
However, as always, Avaaz’s concern is capitalizing upon the immense amount of signatures it is capable of garnering for many of their petitions. Libya’s aftermath, as is clearly evident, was of no concern to the organization which clearly aligned itself with U.S. interests. As long as Gadhafi was prohibited from murdering his own people — a phrase repeated incessantly during the NATO war — victims of imperialism including those targeted by NATO, collateral damage, the massacres of the people of Tawergha committed by the Misrata militias, factional violence, terrorism and ISIS, do not feature within Avaaz’s, and indeed, the U.S.’s concept of protecting civilians.
Patel was also criticized for Avaaz’s role in Syria, which the founder ignored by stating “I spent four years right up close to this stuff, this isn’t new for me,” with reference to his years spent in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Sudan and Afghanistan while working for the U.S. State Department and Amnesty International.
Whereas, in the case of Libya, Avaaz clearly opted for the no-fly zone, in Syria the organization pushed for “a diplomatic path forward that brings all parties to the table to negotiate a ceasefire and peace.” However, the organization also involved itself in aiding the opposition to Bashar al Assad: Avaaz sent satellite phones, provided internet equipment and “smuggled in 34 international journalists into the trouble zones.”
The Arab Spring and its aftermath have served as a blueprint for the consequences of the pro-democracy agenda and how it fuels support for Western imperialism. Avaaz has carved out a niche for itself in this regard — each signature adds to the global phenomenon of signing petitions without understanding their ramifications. For Avaaz, however, each so-called success should evoke questions of responsibility and accountability with regard to the organization’s role in fomenting the cycle of violence.