Tuesday, January 24, 2012

On Libya and "Democracy"

I believed in the optimism of the “Arab Spring” and in our country’s support of “incipient democratic movements” in the Arab nations. Like others, I was appalled by the story of the obviously deluded Libyan dictator who was so corrupt that he distributed his country’s wealth among his family, while his own people went without and then, rebelled.

But when I viewed the videotaped actions of these rebels, I wondered what “incipient democratic movements” we were supporting. It was my feeling at the time that, indeed, the barbaric manner of Col. Muammar el-Qadaffi’s death did not bode well for the future of Libya.

After Libyan rebels found the once-charismatic revolutionary leader turned dictator hiding in a drain tunnel, his convoy struck by NATO warplanes, they descended upon him like a pack of wild animals. They even sodomized him with what looked to be a metal stick, all to the incantations of “God is Great,” while filming his ordeal.

Who was this god they were appealing to, I wondered, while rebels tortured and killed the helpless captive.

The graphic videos that resulted, posted on the Internet for all to see, were chilling:

Bright red blood was pouring down and obscuring the side of Qadaffi’s face, who was screaming out in pain. Then, the camera focused on one moment when the dazed dictator, obviously suffering, lifted up his hand to wipe his face, and stared in disbelief at his bloodied palm..

"Keep him alive! Keep him alive!” jeered his attackers. There was an image of him placed atop a jeep or van. There were the sounds of pistol shots. Next, the camera rested on a photo of his dead body. He had been summarily executed, with a bullet wound to his head.

There was talk of an investigation among Western nations, as killing a prisoner of war is against international law, but it never took place.

The official Libyan explanation -- that Qadaffi had been killed in a cross fire – was obviously contradicted by the posted videos. His tormenters and killer were not identified. Rather, they were hailed as national heroes

We left it at that.

“We came, we saw, he died," said our Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, unseemingly blithe, when she was shown the graphic video that confirmed Qadaffi’s death. Her take on Caesar’s famous dictum -- “Veni. Vidi, Vici,” or “I came. I saw. I conquered.” -- seemed somewhat flip and arrogant, in view of this flagrant violation of the laws of the Geneva Convention.

Next the rebels posted a videotape that showed the dictator’s decomposing body, displayed in a glass-covered meat freezer, while an endless line of jubilant Libyan citizens, entire families of men, women and children, paraded past it taking photos – celebrating, I suppose, some sort of gruesome Libyan family day

Who were these people who behaved this way? I began to wonder. In a civilized country, a man who committed the crimes against humanity that Qadaffi did would have been called to account in  an orderly legal proceeding.

I waited for a response of outrage at this scene of desecration but it never came.

The days after Qadaffi’s death were not marked by the proclamation of “freedom” as we had been giddily expecting, but by the proclamation of Shariah law and the revival of bigamy. Shariah law -- the religious law of Islam, abrogates the rights of women, celebrates “vengeance,” and in its extreme, justifies Jihad – or war against non-believers, endorsing killing and even suicide, done in the name of Allah.

Was I the only one left wondering about where this new development, inconsistent with our democratic ideals, not to mention the rights of women, was leading to?

In our press, there was much talk about Libya’s “liberation” and promising future, as television cameras and reports focused on its “freedom-fighters” ravaging what remained of his Qadaffi’s lavish lifestyle. An op-ed in the New York Times actually stated that there was nothing unusual in the manner of Qaddafi’s death, except for the fact that it was filmed. He died, it said, in the manner of all dictators, citing the infamous Caligula. There was even lot of kidding around, as on a late night comedy show, where a little boy was featured on Halloween, walking about encased in a cardboard drainpipe costume and sporting a military-style hat. The official stance was that Qaddadi deserved to die the way he did. See, for example, Charles Krauthammer's "Libyan 'Crossfire'"  in the Washington Post. 

Such a stance seemed all the more troubling, in view of the complicated history our nation has had with the Libyan leader. He was certainly responsible for the bombing of Lockerbie, but he also paid reparations to the families of the victims. He reinstated himself in the eyes of the West, also by agreeing to not to stockpile nuclear weapons and not to harbor terrorists. (In fact, it was his anti-Islam stance that most angered his country’s religious extremists.) Just in the past few years he and members of his family had been formally received as visitors to our nation.

In this day and age, it seemed to me, our country had moved much beyond the days of the treatment of Caligula. Maybe not. As I think of the sickening videos posted on YouTube, in our reaction we seemed no different than the Libyans -- or the ancient Romans who watched gladiators killing each other for sport or enjoyed the spectacle of Christians thrown to the lions -- viewing and celebrating scenes that appeal to humanity’s basest emotions. What kind of nation have we become? And what have we accomplished?

It has become fairly obvious by now that the "incipient democratic movements” we so jubilantly supported have brought into power a bunch of militant Islam factions, who abhor and distrust all things Western, their rage exacerbated by memories of colonialism. In the end all that we left behind as a result of our intervention is a lawless country torn apart by tribal warfare, its fighters no different than the ones who so barbarically killed Qadaffi.



  1. While I would have liked to be optimistic about the so-called Arab Spring, I've been following events in that part of the world too long to hold out any hope that they were true efforts at democracy. Democracy is based on a particular mindset, a mindset with a particular view of man and his place in the universe. It cannot be stitched onto old ways of doing things like a patch. And the real agenda was always there beneath the surface, the spread of Islamic rule. Qaddafi stood in the way of that rule. He was killed as much for that as he was for his endless brutality against his own people.

  2. Well said Olya. I came to some of the same, sad conclusions on my own blog:

    http://bit.ly/zmpmxG and http://bit.ly/oX1HmQ

  3. As excited as events of 2011 were I have no illusions about the flowering of anything like "Democracy." I followed the whole sequence beginning in December, 2010, with the self-immolation of the Tunisian street vendor and was an avid observer and supporter from half a world away for the entire year. Even now I have high hopes for a bright future, but no illusions that it means a sudden flowering of representative government.

    Having said all that, I have to note that we in America are living in a glass house and should be careful about throwing stones. It is clear to me that transnational corporations have long since sailed past national boundaries and whenever profits are in conflict with democratic principles the profits will always trump. Despite and occasional mea culpa from Apple, Nike or the coffee people, the global reach of big money -- notably global banking -- makes conversations such as this more an intellectual exercise than any real movement toward the advancement of democratic ideals.

  4. Thank you for commenting,everyone. It has become very obvious by now, that what I first observed was the right thing to say, and all of you were right, that U.S. efforts were in vain, as right wing extremist Islam movements are not at all interested in democratic institutions.

  5. Well said. I might add that in dropping one billion dollars worth of bombs on Libya, we aided in this fiasco. We, of course, did not call our involvement war, but that is what it was. Obama has followed in Bush's footsteps in using the military to solve problems which then in turn create bigger problems. Fundamentalist, radical Islam is more entrenched than ever in the Middle East and Africa after thousands of people have lost their lives and millions of dollars have been spent that could have been spent better elsewhere.

    1. Interestingly, I wrote this a year ago, when everyone was still talking about The Arab Spring.