Gaddafi died on a flatbed truck encircled by men filled with violence and victory. Omnipotence was revealed as a sham, nothing but an old man with quivering lips, terrified by oncoming death. The grey roots of the dyed black hair of the dying man showed through the shiny coating of blood.
‘Do you know what is right and wrong?’ he begs covered in his own blood. ‘Shut up you dog’ a man replies. A group surrounds him pushing and shouting and shooting skywards and kicking and praising God. Grainy shots of the chaos are recorded by mobile phones for posterity. Rounds deafen all, burning into the sky.
His body is laid out topless on a mattress in a meat storage room in Misrata at the time of writing. The nose is newly broken and his hair is matted, blood red. People shuffle in to see the old man in the flesh. Angry men try to violate the stiffening corpse screaming about God’s justice. There is little doubt that he deserved it.
The man was a dinosaur. His language of popular revolution, committees and anti-imperialism was as obsolete as his Soviet backers. He was a disturbed and vicious old man, blinded by decades of cultish sycophancy from his inner circle. Blood preserved his state. Oil’s blood money. Generation after generation of Libyan dissidents. The odd foreign ‘Zionist conspirator’ killed by ruthless terrorists.
Gaddafi’s violence extended to history long passed. In 1978, back when Jimmy Carter was in the White House and the Iranian Shah was in power, Gaddafi welcomed Musa Sadr into his palace. Sadr was a moderate but exalted Shia cleric who led the impoverished community in Lebanon. He was never seen again. Some accounts say that Gaddafi ordered his murder on a whim following a theological argument.
Like the Libyan rebels recording a little gory snippet of history on their iPhones, we humans relish the visceral act of vengeance. There is a sadistic satisfaction at the ending of a tyrant. The sight of Mubarak whinging from his caged bed during his trial. Ceausescu shot by a squad of enthusiastic soldiers. Hitler’s burnt corpse with a bullet self-fired into the skull.
Ours is a time when the world is becoming a less violent place for the majority of us. However increasingly rare instances of violence are amplified straight away by unceasing media and instant communication. Gaddafi did not understand this century. He was unable to fight the media battle that the Syrian regime, among others, is a skilled participant in.
His departure means that the world’s supply of Bond villain-evil leaders is running alarmingly thin. Gaddafi himself failed to heed the fate of the other bearers of golden weaponry from Idi Amin and Saddam Hussein to Francisco Scaramanga. What greater symbol of testosterone, greed and hubris is there than a golden gun? Gaddafi’s was ornate and beautiful. It is a symbol of his passing era and should be put in a national museum, not the hands of some private collector.
There is a wider question for the rest of us, the self-righteous West in particular. Who will we define ourselves in opposition to now? Saddam, Osama, Muammar: all dead. Besides Kim Jong-Il, Robert Mugabe and Silvio Berlusconi, who will next arise to entertain or dismay us liberals in the tragicomedy of international relations? The Republican party will have to suffice for now.
Alternatively, we may realise that men are less important than the systems they create, even if this truth is far less entertaining and accessible. Thus it is not Bashar al-Assad’s personality that preserves his corrupt power, but his network of international backers and self-interested loyalists (Feeda Kardous, for example, who appeared last week on Newsnight).
The focus on personality is more entertaining but it does not capture reality. For decades foreigners ignored the Libyan people while focusing obsessively on Gaddafi or his tent or his women soldiers or his terrorism or whatever public relations stunt he used to distract us from his suffering and angry people. Perhaps, after the Mad Dog’s death, we can learn to combine the temptation of sensationalism with the grit of reality’s grey moral zones.
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