Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Cult Of Celebrity-- This Is No Apologia For Qadaffi


My friend Cynthia is a very fit great-grandmother. Yesterday she told me she has more sympathy for John Kasich's dead Bengal tigers than for Qadaffi, whose corpse was then on display for tourists in a meat freezer at a suburban Misrata shopping mall. I'm afraid Cynthia-- and myself-- are in a minority. "Let them eat cake," notwithstanding, Marie Antoinette, is largely viewed as a sympathetic victim these days, at least in America. And even Tsar Nicholas II has been partially rehabilitated in the public consciousness-- even more successfully than the Bush Regime (with more than a little help from Los Tres Nosy Amigos, McCain, Graham and Lieberman). Me and Cynthia... no tears for the creatures of the night.

Every day thousands of impoverished parents around the world lose a child so someone from Jamie Johnson's film can buy another new handbag or Porsche. If I think about the indignity of Qadaffi's lynching, it'll be far down that list of millions of people who have suffered at the hands of powermad tyrants and avarice-driven billionaires like him.
The grisly spectacle of Muammar Gaddafi's death and posthumous career as Misrata's most popular body art exhibit may not have been very edifying, and news that the deposed dictator of Libya has been quietly buried at a secret desert location has to be welcome. Let's hope the disposal of his decaying remains does bring an end to the surreal story that started with ambiguous video images-- was he dead or alive?-- and culminated with shots... of celebratory people eager to view the bodies of Gaddafi and his son Mutassim in a cold storage unit, surrounding the corpse to photograph it on their phones.

But nothing in the photographs of Gaddafi wounded, dead, dragged through the streets, and finally on display, rotting in public, has been anything like as disgusting as the thoroughly hypocritical and self-deceiving international reaction to these pictures. Libyans did what they probably had to do. Their western supporters have moaned and groaned at the realities of war with no apparent understanding that through Nato we are participants in this conflict and so share its inevitable moral complexities.

First our media rushed the confusing visual evidence of Gaddafi's capture on to websites and into print. Then, as the reality that he was dead became clear, it worried about the ethics of so openly displaying photographs and video of a corpse.

Meanwhile global agencies expressed concern over the mystery of Gaddafi's killing. Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC) came under pressure to hold a proper inquiry, and evidence of more executions in the last days of fighting was sternly announced. By the time Gaddafi's body was said to be finally heading for desert burial, the manner and imagery of his death threatened to absorb the larger story of Libya's liberation.

The Arab spring became The Autumn of the Patriarch, as his dead body haunted the new era. No wonder a Libyan was quoted as saying he has given more trouble dead than alive. Yet the main trouble dead Gaddafi has given is to expose the fundamental shallowness and sentimentality of the western democracies' support for Arab revolution and in particular our military intervention in Libya.

To get upset by photographs of the dead Gaddafi is to pretend we did not know we went to war at all. It is to fantasise that our own role is so just and proper and decent that it is not bloody at all.

Why is the modern western world so obsessed with the idea of a "just war," which goes back to the medieval theology of Thomas Aquinas? In the 21st century we keep trying to re-enact some fantasy of a war that is utterly righteous, and from which we emerge with no guilt on our hands-- not even the killing of a brutal dictator. Gaddafi should have gone on trial at The Hague, we wail. He should have been decorously imprisoned and politely handed over to international war crimes judges. It's complete nonsense. We totally forget the fact that Nato planes blasted his Tripoli control centres with every chance of killing him. If a French or British raid just happened to have blown him to bits, would we be wringing our hands?

The stench of doublethink is more noxious than any vapour emerging from the meat store in Misrata. When I look at this photograph what do I see? War. War and nothing else. How many times do we need to be told that war is hell? The phrase has lost all meaning for us. Think about what hell is. Hell, in paintings by Bosch, is chaos. It is meaningless, monstrous, and lacks any place of safety or redemption. This picture of Gaddafi dead is a day in the life of hell, also known as war: a corpse photographed for souvenirs, displayed to satisfy the oppressed, in a moment of violent gratification. When Nato intervened in Libya what we see in this picture was probably the best-- not the worst-- outcome on offer. And we should be grimly glad of it. What fantasy makes us long for some impossibly dignified and humane end to a bloody conflict?

...[F]or once, with the death of Gaddafi, we have seen the face of war, washed in blood, bathed in cruelty. The horrible and haunting pictures of his last moments and his public exhibition simply show us, for once, what the wars of our time and all times look like. If we don't like what we see we must stop this foolish pretense that war, however "just", can ever be anything but a brutal mess.

A couple years ago Roland and I rented a jeep and drove through the wilds of Mali. It seemed like the two most popular names we found were Barack Obama, the just-elected president of the United States and Muammar Qadaffi, the de facto ruler of Libya who was showering sub-Saharan Africa with some of his country's oil wealth. I took the photo on the right in Timbuktu. It's Roland, at one of the main sites of the fabled town (which is now being engulfed by the Sahara), pointing to a street sign: rue Guide Mouamar El Kaddafi. I'm not sure how well Obama has fared in Mali public opinion-wise, but in Qadaffi's case... it's a decidedly mixed bag.
Muammar Gaddafi once declared Timbuktu his favourite Malian town, but as the Libyan leader is besieged by Nato forces at home, his property and projects in the ancient city are crumbling.

In 2006, the Libyan leader made himself an Imam of Timbuktu during Mouloud, the celebration of the Prophet Mohammed's birthday which draws thousands of pilgrims to a famed mosque in the northwestern desert city.

He then paid for hundreds of Africans, including heads of state, to come to Timbuktu on Libyan aircraft and pray with him in a stadium of the town he publically declared his favourite.

This Gaddafi-esque ostentation is a thing of the past as the embattled leader is bombarded daily by Nato forces in Tripoli, mandated to enforce a no-fly zone and protect civilians in a four-month popular uprising against his regime.

Gaddafi’s residence stretches over several hectares in the north of the desert town, once a renowned intellectual and religious centre during the 15th and 16th centuries, helping to spread Islam throughout Africa.

A small rubbish dump has built up outside the main entrance of his estate.

"We will remove the rubbish tomorrow. Since Gaddafi’s problems, three Libyans who kept watch over his property have left," explains a guard who quickly scuttles off when he learns he is speaking to a journalist.

Through a screen, the dusty interior is visible as hundreds of date palms, flown in specially from Libya, and eucalyptus trees wilt in the heat. A large motor-pump in the middle of the poorly-maintained lawn obviously long out of commission.

Before disappearing the menacing guard orders AFP to see "the Libyan boss" for any information about Gaddafi’s regime in Timbuktu. He is staying in a Libyan-owned hotel which has cost millions of euros and is still not complete.

An envoy sent by Gaddafi to oversee the construction disappeared as soon as he heard his leader was in trouble, several sources said.

"The Libyan people will win. I am part of the team which watches over Libyan interests in Timbuktu," says the mustachioed "boss" at the half-built hotel.

A major retailer in the city, speaking on condition of anonymity, is not a fan of the Libyan leader.

"Gaddafi is a megalomaniac. When his corrupt entourage come here you always have to give them false invoices."

Another one of Gaddafi’s projects, a water canal completed in 2007 and meant to divert water from the Niger river to Timbuktu, is dry and silted up.

"Now that Gaddafi’s has problems, the canal risks having problems too," says a concerned Mohamed Iddi, member of the Timbuktu Association of Young Muslims.

He says he feels the absence of the Libyan leader in his wallet.

"Here in Timbuktu, there are dozens of schools and Koranic masters who earn a monthly subsidy from Libya. In the new situation we don't know where this money will come from.

"Do not think it is because Gaddafi supports us financially that he is supported in his stand-off against the West. It is because he is a Muslim like us, and he is a victim of an unfair attack," says Iddi.

Timbuktu, like other towns in Mali including the capital Bamako, has held marches in support of Gaddafi.

Nor is Mali the only African country with fond-- if mixed-- memories of Qadaffi. Many see him as a benefactor who was martyred by the West.
Moammar Gadhafi's regime poured tens of billions of dollars into some of Africa's poorest countries. Even when he came to visit, the eccentric Libyan leader won admiration for handing out money to beggars on the streets.

"Other heads of state just drive past here in their limousines. Gadhafi stopped, pushed away his bodyguards and shook our hands," said Cherno Diallo, standing Monday beside hundreds of caged birds he sells near a Libyan-funded hotel. "Gadhafi's death has touched every Malian, every single one of us. We're all upset."

While Western powers heralded Gadhafi's demise, many Africans were gathering at mosques built with Gadhafi's money to mourn the man they consider an anti-imperialist martyr and benefactor.

Critics, though, note this image is at odds with Gadhafi's history of backing some of Africa's most brutal rebel leaders and dictators. Gadhafi sent 600 troops to support Uganda's much-hated Idi Amin in the final throes of his dictatorship.

And Gadhafi-funded rebels supported by former Liberian leader Charles Taylor forcibly recruited children and chopped off limbs of their victims during Sierra Leone's civil war.

"Is Gadhafi's life more important than many thousands of people that have been killed during the war in these two countries?" asked one shopkeeper in the tiny West African country of Gambia, who spoke on condition of anonymity fearing recrimination.

Some analysts estimate that the Gadhafi regime invested more than $150 billion in foreign countries, most of it into impoverished African nations.

"Gadhafi was a true revolutionary who focused on improving the lives of the underdeveloped countries," said Sheik Muthal Bin-Muslim, from the Gadhafi mosque in Sierra Leone's capital that was built with Libyan funds. Muslim worshippers were planning an all-night vigil in honor of the slain Libyan leader.

...Gadhafi's influence even extended to Africa's largest economy: The Libyan leader supported the African National Congress when it was fighting racist white rule, and remained close to Nelson Mandela after the anti-apartheid icon became South Africa's first black president.

Current President Jacob Zuma also was one of the most outspoken critics of the NATO airstrikes in Libya, and he told reporters he thought Gadhafi should have been captured and tried, not executed.

The ANC Youth League described Gadhafi as an "anti-imperialist martyr" and a "brave soldier and fighter against the recolonization of the African continent."

For many of Gadhafi's supporters, the military operation to oust him was another example of the Western interference and neocolonialism that he railed against.

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At 10:44 PM, Blogger Dameocrat said...

How do we know the majority of libyans want Qadaffi dead. Our oligarchs are billionares too, and they dont share any oil wealth with us. How do we know the crowds the killed him werent rump procolonial elites, that will profit along with out oil barrons. I could picture teabagger racists doing that to Obamas body. Our government has never supported a regime that was good for ordinary people of that country. Look at how they demonize Chavez.

At 4:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good points Dameocrat. What you mentioned reg Obama - I was asking my friends too.


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