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'Mad Dog' Qaddafi: The Eternal Trickster
by Dr. Binoy Kampmark
2009-09-10 08:05:48
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Colonel Muammar Qaddafi’s rule has matured to a ripe 40 years, sealed by blood and firm revolutionary credentials.  The ‘mad dog’ continues to bark from Tripoli, though noises of aggression are muzzled these days by concessions to the West and a desire to cultivate relations with former enemies.  The economics of tourism and oil play a large role.  That, and perhaps the realisation that, if things are to remain the same, they must, in the old Sicilian wisdom expressed by the author Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, change. 

Does anybody care about these celebrations, featuring vast banquets, bands and hysterical floats?  The short answer is yes, whatever more ‘civil’ members of the international community might think.  There is nothing more exciting that the terrorist turned statesmen (or the reverse), notably one who sits on a reserve of natural wealth and resources.  Democratic states love doing business with rogues, whatever their officials say in official channels.  The sight of Britain’s Prime Minister, Tony Blair, ‘rehabilitating’ Qaddafi before the international press corps was one such gesture. 

The truth is that no rehabilitation was ever required for the self-styled leader of the Arabs, this incongruous monarch of Africa.  Images of Qaddafi are ubiquitous in his state.  Martin Fletcher, The Times correspondent in Tripoli, claims that his personality cult makes those of Mao Zedong, Saddam Hussein or Kim Jong Il look ‘self-effacing’.  The cult of personality is not considered a terrifying sample of ossification in Libya, a case of Big Brother frozen in time and terror.  The Libyan leader adapts, adjusts.  He is the eternal trickster. So enigmatic is he that even his name in the West is spelled in at least 12 different ways.  Qaddafi tricks us at the first turn.  (Is it Qaddhafi? Or perhaps Khadafy?)  The New Yorker, as a case in point, changed its mind between 1985 and 1986 – the Colonel had metamorphosed from Khadafy to Qaddafi for no apparent reason.

When he feels a need to do so, he will crush opposition.  He will silence dissidents, even murder them.  He will trample on rights and humiliate his opponents.  But, given a certain opportunity, he will negotiate with sworn enemies, forge deals as he sees fit, and make amends.  Whether this is the stance of a madman, a poseur, or a corrupt political genius, is hard to say.  In the end, it doesn’t matter.  His position as leader seems assured.

Those of his sparring partners are not quite so certain. They have fallen under the despot’s spell.  The Scots are the latest to bear witness to the acts of the trickster over the Megrahi affair.   Gordon Brown’s officials were not so keen on the warm welcome for the terminally ill Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, the so-called Lockerbie bomber.  As British Foreign Secretary, David Milliband, would say, ‘The sight of a mass-murderer getting a hero’s welcome in Tripoli is deeply upsetting, deeply distressing, above all for the 270 families who grieve every day for the loss of their loved ones 21 years ago.’  It was hard to believe that anything other than a hero’s welcome would have been on offer to the released Lockerbie bomber.  Qaddafi, always aware of theatrical dimension to politics, naturally pointed to Scottish courage in releasing the ailing bomber.  Others were stunned.

Qaddafi was reaping the wind, and mocking opponents and collaborators alike.  Alex Salmond, First Minister of Scotland, was found wanting.  President Barack Obama, concerned about the fall-out of this release, got on the phone to the Libyan government to ‘make sure that, if, in fact, this transfer has taken place, that he’s not welcomed back in some way, but instead should be under house arrest.’ 

The scenes of welcome put pay to that, and the Scots and Americans were found scrapping for morsels of dignity.  An outraged editorial in the Wall Street Journal spoke about the Megrahi release being ‘a reminder of what happens when terrorism is treated as a problem for the criminal justice system.’  The Scotsman took a snipe at ‘American incompetence’ that ‘dragged’ Scotland into the affair, demanding a public inquiry as to whether others were involved in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.

His cultivated eccentricity unnerves those in the West.  Irresistible stereotypes are resorted to.  But he remains elusive, even as these hagiographic celebrations take place.   After forty years, there is only one man doing the laughing and ‘rehabilitating’, the cheering and the celebrating.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He is currently lecturing at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com


   
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Emanuel Paparella2009-09-10 18:35:49
G. came for a visit to Rome and declared that in Libia there are no political refugee, only desperate indigents taking advantage of Libia’s affluence and tolerance. This is a country, mind you, which has no law on political asylums and has never signed the Geneva Convention on refugees. Some tolerance! We know where most of them end up: in Libia’s overcrowded jails treated as common criminals; an outrage to any kind of human rights.

It was that declaration of G. in Rome which in turn powerfully encouraged the fascist mind-set, the Lega party in Italy who would reinstate Mussolini in Italy tomorrow, and all his accompanying myths of the descendance from the Romans, to promote the repatriation of thousands of refugees back to G. jails. (continued below)


Emanuel Paparella2009-09-10 18:36:47
This was made legally possible by the introduction of a law by Roberto Maroni, a minister of Berlusconi, and passed just before the European elections. Maroni of course is a leghista (or neo-fascist seeking separation from Italy and immediate repatriation of all Africans). The law provides that clandestinity be considered a crime, gives the green light to the infamous “ronde” (vigilante groups resembling Hitler’s brown shirts who stop and interrogate any suspect), obliges all public officials to become spies and report all so called “illegals” no matter their reason for being in Italy and provides for their immediate expulsion. In fact in the first half of the year 2009 in Italy the number of refugees is now a mere trickle: less than 8,000. Most are summarily sent back to G. This was so distressing to most Italians and Europeans in general that close to 60% of them went to the beach for the European elections thus strengthening parties like the Lega. Fortress Europe? It would appear so. Indeed, when one has become like one’s enemy, the enemy has already won the most important battle: the ethical and moral battle.


Emanuel Paparella2009-09-10 18:39:42
Errata: G stands for Qadaffi.


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