Skip to content

The Death of Muammar Gaddafi: The Tyrant is Dead. Long Live the People

These remarks are from a blogger on Crikey.com.

Posted by Jean, October 21, 2011 at 8:12 am | Permalink

Gaddafi shoots someone without trial = murderous dictator.
Someone shoots Gaddafi without trial = noble freedom fighter.

See it all at http://blogs.crikey.com.au/this-blog-harms/

So let’s fire our guns in the air, shout something about Allah, put the women in bin-liners, and onward to democracy!!!

Dear Jean,

Thank you for encapsulating in so few words so many of the attitudes that grieve me.  Sadly, I’m sure there are many people who think as you do.

I have lived in Libya during two periods of my life.  In 1980 I travelled to Benghazi with my family and worked there for two years, as an English teacher at Garyounis University.  More recently, in March of 2009, I returned to Libya, where I taught for six months at the Police Academy in Tripoli and for a short stint at the Police Academy in Benghazi.  (The Academy complex in Benghazi  was reportedly destroyed in the early days of the uprising.)  There followed a 2-month stretch in Kuwait, then home for a few months followed by six months in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen.

As you might imagine, I have been watching the unfolding of The Arab Spring with my heart in my throat.

When I got up yesterday morning on the gorgeous north coast of Tasmania and turned on the radio, I heard that Muammar Gaddafi  had been killed.

I am neither ashamed nor embarrassed to say that I was overcome with a sensation of joy.

Almost immediately, of course, I began to wonder if this could be another ‘mistake’ in the media-reporting of the conflict in Libya, like the death and/or capture of the various Gaddafi sons and henchmen who, as it transpired, hadn’t been killed or captured at all, or perhaps  had  later been freed by Gaddafi loyalists lurking among the freedom fighters.

For the next few enthralling hours I listened to the radio and surfed the internet.  The photos of the dead person purporting to be Gaddafi were not very clear, but it sure looked like him.  I began to relax into a quieter, more moderate joy,  and a hope tinged with sadness at all the lives that had been lost or spoiled during the 42 years of tyranny and these last 8 months of defiance.

And I am affected, not just by the lives of the innocent and courageous, and the grief of their families, but also by all those other lives that had been seduced and corrupted by the sheer personal power of the man, the stranglehold  of the regime, and the privilege it could, and did confer on those who were loyal to it.  The grief of their families, too.

How could we really blame or pass judgement on those who had hitched their wagons to the Gaddafi juggernaut, when  opposition seemed, and indeed was,  pointless and deadly, and when there was no other way out of the pit of poverty and hopelessness?    For 42 years,  the doubters had been hanged, or  lined up and shot, sometimes even ‘live’ on national television.   Even during the years that Gaddafi was being courted by ‘the west’, when the average Libyan was living on the equivalent of $2 a day and the billions flowed freely into Gaddafi’s pockets, dissent was being murdered.  And we knew.

How profound was the courage of those who rose up against it?

Which of us could truly  say what we would have done in a similar situation?  Not me anyway, unchallenged and untried as I  have always been – enjoying the freedom and peace, opportunity and privilege that  my parents’ generation fought for, killed and died for, during the Second World War.

Well, not exactly untried.  Tried, and found wanting, I think.

There were times during my life  in Libya when I might have shown some courage,  and there were times when I did show a little bit.  But when it came, in 1982,  to being followed around by the secret police everywhere I went,  because I was trying to help a Polish woman and her daughter escape to Australia, I became so frightened that I had to hand the whole mess over to my more courageous then-husband and flee.  At that time, Poland was behind the Iron Curtain, and Polish doctors, nurses and technicians were being put onto  non-stop flights back  to Warsaw at the end of their contracts in Libya.  I heard later that my friend,  Sofia and her daughter had settled in Perth, WA.  I hope they are still happy and well.

So when I returned to Libya in 2009,  I looked and listened, of course, and noticed things, but said nothing, and nobody said anything to me.  Not once in 6 months did I hear the word ‘Gaddafi’ from the lips of any Libyan person.  That’s how it was, and how it had to be.   Fear rules, or so it seemed.  I  was relieved when my contract came to an end.

If you had asked me then if Gaddafi could be overthrown, I would have said ‘no’.  I could not have imagined it.

Now, I think about my students and wonder.  Who is still alive and who is dead?  There is only one student, because of his presence on Facebook, that I know to be alive.

I think about the classroom full of students who were bussed in every day from Al Zowia.  How many of their eager faces are smiling today?  How many of them are shooting their rifles at the sky in jubilation, wantonly wasting their ammunition for the sheer joy of it?  And why not?  I have no way of knowing, but the fighting was so fierce and so prolonged in and around their hometown that I can only accept that some, and maybe many of them are gone now– men and women, girls and boys.

Libya has been in a state of  war during these last 8 months.  The rules of war apply, and a little  understanding about the 42 years that went before wouldn’t go amiss.  How many of us would have quibbled if someone had shot Hitler?  Gaddafi was a combatant, self-declared.  He had vowed to fight to the death, to flush out the ‘rats’ and kill them all.  (The wonderful irony of his having been found like a rat hiding in a sewer has not been overlooked by the media, and will go down in history.)  He was the leader of a rotten regime.  It has been reported that up until just a few hours before he died, Gaddafi was busy recruiting yet more sub-Saharan African mercenaries  to come to his support so that he could be reinstated to his ‘rightful’ position.

If he had been captured alive and put on trial, would the fighting have stopped?  Or would his followers have continued to hope and just kept on with the war?  And of course there is the possibility that he might have escaped, as others have quite mysteriously escaped , including at least one and probably two of his sons during the battle for Tripoli.  As the saying goes – where there’s life, there’s hope.

In war, Jean, we do kill the fighters on the other side.  And if the leader of the enemy troops  comes into our sights, we shoot  him if we can.  We’ll probably never know all the fascinating details about just what happened, and we don’t need to.  Was it murder or was it an act of war?  Is it really an either/or proposition?  Whatever else it was, it certainly was a legitimate act of war.  Yes, atrocities have been committed, probably on both sides of the conflict, and the perpetrators of those acts must be made accontable.  But the killing of Gaddafi was no atrocity.

As I write this, Libya’s interim leaders continue the debate about where to bury Gaddafi.  They know how powerful he is, even in
death.  How and where can he be buried without his grave becoming a mini-Mecca for those who believe as he did?

We are all going to be disappointed, one way or another, by the way things work out in Libya.  The future might look rosy now, but it won’t be rosy.  Not all of the rebels are angels or saints.  Some of them are thugs and some are simply misguided, just like we are.  Many of those who defected from the Gaddafi camp during these last few months were genuine.  But there must be some, at least, who thought they were backing a new winner.

Self-interest is human. It did not die with Gaddafi, and it will never go away.  It will fly into Tripoli and Benghazi  on corporate jets.  It is already there, on the ground, has always been there,  the incomers greeted with handshakes and great big smiles, just like we do it down here in beautiful Tasmania.  And, of course, the oil will flow again, and with it, wealth.  We can only hope that a goodly proportion of that wealth will  now flow to its rightful owners.

Reconstruction is in almost everyone’s interest, and will happen.  But reconciliation might not.

So let’s get down off our smug little high-horses and consider.  There will still be skirmishes, of course  –  tragically,  more lives will be  lost before order is established in Libya, if it ever is or ever can be.  But let’s think for a quiet moment about all those lives that will not have to be lost, now that Gaddafi is dead.

The shot that killed Gaddafi was the shot that ended this particular war.  It will resound throughout the region – Yemen, Bahrain, and Syria in particular.  Dictators will not take heart from it, but the people will.

And by the way, Jean.  The ‘something’ that is shouted about Allah translates as ‘God is Great.’  And Libyan women don’t wear garbage bags, bin-liners or even pillar boxes, although Muslim/Arab women do cover themselves top to bottom except for their eyes in some other countries.  In Yemen, for instance, most of the women wear the ‘pillar box’.  In Libya, though,  the married women used to wear the birka – a kind of white sheet thing that wrapped the whole body and was held by the hand or in the teeth so that you looked at one eye, and one eye looked back at you,  sometimes friendly, sometimes not.  Always curious.  Now, nearly all Libyan women wear the headscarf, and look you in the face.  And, modesty permitting, they wear whatever else they want to wear, or can afford, within reason, under the circumstances.