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Compassion for Poor Old Gaddafi

October 25, 2011

…‘The regime was odious, while the man undoubtedly suffered from some form of mental illness that had unspeakably tragic consequences for the people of Libya.’ … ‘What is worrying is the jubilation of Libyans themselves. It is understandable, but it leaves no room for compassion for the man, whose state of mental torture caused so much pain.’…

Michael Mullins, Even Gaddafi Deserves Compassion,
Editorial, Eureka Street, 24/10/11

Dear oh dear.  Michael Mullins produced a strange piece of writing in yesterday’s issue of Eureka Street.

Yep, most of us reckoned Gaddafi was mad.   But did he do the dreadful things he did, live the horrible life he lived because he was mad or because he was nasty? Did the illness cause the evil-doing, or was he ill and coincidentally evil – just another horrible person who happened to be mentally ill? (If, indeed he actually was mentally ill.  But most of us are not qualified psychiatrists, so we can’t be sure.  No ‘undoubtedly’ about it!)  And what kind of illness? Psychopathy? Narcissus complex? Depression? Well, probably not depression.   Or maybe all the horrible things he did made him sick?

And what evidence is there that Gaddafi suffered from mental torture? None. At least, not that I’m aware of.  Not a shred. On the contrary, in all those millions of images of Gaddafi during all those years right up until the moment when he was fished out of the drainpipe in Sirte, was there even one that portrayed a tortured soul?  Give me strength.

The word ‘deserved’ is often misused.  (Has it been redefined while I wasn’t looking?)  Bearing in mind that there is so much that we can never really know about the inner life of another person, surely Gaddafi got what he ‘deserved’, in the sense that he reaped as he sowed, lived by the sword and died by it, got his comeuppance, and so on.   He may be entitled to our compassion, but does he deserve it?  And his death was merciful, really. Imagine how horrible, how humiliating it would have been for him to have had to face up to incarceration and trial, and eventually, if the trial had taken place in Libya, imagine the genuine mental torture of waiting, day after day, for the firing squad?

Of course we must practise  compassion for all our fellow creatures, but it may not be appropriate to express that compassion in every situation. Sometimes other considerations are more important.  Sometimes a particular context dictates that it would be irrelevant, unhelpful or even damaging to express compassion.  Sometimes there are others who ‘deserve’ our compassion more – in the case of Libya, the millions who have suffered all these years, and especially the thousands, maybe even tens of thousands who gave their lives to free their people from poor old Muammar, more mad than bad and sadly misunderstood.

Sometimes it helps to consider a parallel situation.  Take the case of Aunt Bagatha – a nasty piece of work  if ever there was one.  Let’s pretend that most of the time, when Aunt Bagatha  says something particularly cruel and cutting, it is best just to grin and bear it, and it helps to remember that poor Aunt Bag didn’t have a very happy childhood.  This is a technique that helps us through many a situation where  forbearance  is required.  But sometimes she does something especially vile.  Perhaps she spits her vitriol on some poor soul who will be badly hurt by it.  Perhaps she takes to somebody with her umbrella and leaves them bleeding on the floor.  When something like this happens, compassion for Aunt Bag may not be 100% appropriate – much more  appropriate in this situation would be to recognise the fact that she is a rotten old horror, and that something has to be done about her.  And a little compassion for the poor bleeding victim on the floor would be nice.

So really, within days of the death of one of the most monstrous human beings on earth, this call for compassion for Gaddafi seemed quite bizarre, and yes, inappropriate, no matter how obnoxious and distasteful some of the events surrounding his death might have been.

But having said all that, I can’t help applauding Michael Mullins for what I am guessing he was trying to do.  Yes, we really do need to foster goodwill between all the different elements of Libyan society that have been involved in this conflict.  Those who have been pro-Gaddafi during all these dreadful months must now be brought into the fold and made to feel at home in their own country.  If  all the various interest groups are going to pull together into a better future, the victors must embrace the vanquished, and vice versa.  Reconciliation will require big hearts all round and tremendous feats of goodwill and  understanding

From → Gaddafi, Libya

  1. Hallo Kate, I think we should understand that there is no justification for the way in which Gaddafi’s body and that of his son has been publicly displayed by the Libyan authorities. The corpse of a human being is regarded as sacred by the main religions of the world. And just because Gaddafi may have been a heavy-handed ruler himself is no justification to violate his lifeless body. So much for the Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war if you ask me.

  2. Hi, Twinkle. It’s good to hear from you. I agree with the sentiments you have expressed, although not necessarily in every nuance. I would be slow to make a statement like ‘ …there is no justification…’ I can probably think of several ‘justifications’, including the very natural feelings of revulsion and anger that must have been felt by the freedom fighters in Sirte. As one of the Interim leaders said after Gaddafi’s death, he thought it would be a good idea to put him in the freezer for a few days so that people could come to believe that he was really dead. There might be an ounce of common sense behind that remark. (I can’t remember who actually said it, but I can look it up for you if you like. Just let me know if you want the exact quote.)
    Nevertheless, I was terribly disappointed that this was done, not because of the religiions of the world, perhaps, but because I hated to see the brave people who freed Libya behaving barbarically – both for the sake of their own dignity and for the impact this kind of behaviour might have on the future of the new Libya. In any case, far worse than either the circumstances of Gaddafi’s death or the subsequent treatment of his body, is the fact that evidence has come to light of a massacre in the grounds of a Sirte hotel. This atrocity casts a nasty black cloud across the future, and will have to be answered for.

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