Monday, 28 March 2011

Gaddafi: a significant Colonel - 'bye the people'


Gaddafi: A significant Colonel
 - ‘bye the people’

 Shub Atpug

The Libyan restaurant I used to visit at Indianapolis was named ‘Jamahiriya’ -
where the single-leaf menu basked in its calligraphic Arabic transliteration, the table-loin checked with squares of blue and yellow looked black and white as effected by the dim evenings, and had chairs that could swivel for the gentle allowance to glance a lady’s graceful countenance at the next table.
The menu had a lunch item named Muammar Gaddafi - $ 8.67.

Shub Atpug is the pen name of Shubham Gupta, an
author, poet and cartoonist currently based in United States of America. He
is the co-editor of
 Scroll and the author of Conflict and Other Stories

It tasted good, with roasted garlic sprinkled on beef goaded to a reddish hue, one that would mingle well with the beans and chicken pieces driven up to an insouciant heat and cooled with a slither of honey-dews. The owner, Mr. Abu-Bakr was a gentleman from Libya, in his late sixties, bespectacled, from whose corners crept in wrinkled skin that had already begun their onslaught that comes of age. On matters of lesser concern, his Arabian accent had not been bartered for the glimmering dictates of his sanity. He tried to look cool, and be cooler.

The first time I saw him lose his cool was when somebody sneaked in a remark that Gaddafi, in all his years of rule, had made sure Libya was still a democracy. Mr. Bakr had almost instantly upped his ante, losing his temper to a flaring tempest within. ‘Gaddafi is a butcher, a murderer. He should be hanged to death’, he banged. I could slightly fathom the depth of his puerile invectives that were uttered in accompaniment, and a consistent imagery of a pugnacious small-town businessman started to roll out to the fore. As days crawled by, and
as I would peek into his establishment more often, I could sense his ire, forrestraint wasn’t a word on his lips when it came to Muammar Gaddafi.

 To me, the Muammar Gaddafi of $ 8.67 still kept eking out favours, as usual, to my taste-buds. A bachelor, for whom his God died young, with no breakfast those mornings, and an absolute lunch on mind trying to make amends, couldn’t have asked for more. Even as I frequented the place, I could see myself getting involved into Gaddafi-arguments more and more. 

It was soon clear Gaddafi should be a must-read in all lessons of international politics, though all he has achieved for himself is consternation amongst the liberty-mongering milieu. Facts and figures tumble down as skeletons on a closer scrutiny. All his efforts haven’t gone in vain, to ensure Libya is dubbed a rogue nation today, without much credibility or clout in the world’s political scenario.

Gaddafi is known for taking the bull by the horns. In 1995, Gaddafi expelled some 30,000 Palestinians living in Libya, in response to the peace negotiations that had commenced between Israel and the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization). Many years later - In June 2008, Gaddafi strongly criticized US presidential candidate Barack Obama for saying Jerusalem should remain the undivided capital of Israel, "The statements of our Kenyan
brother of American nationality, Obama, on Jerusalem ... show that he either ignores international politics and did not study the Middle East conflict or that it is a campaign lie.

It just seems time has stood still for Muammar Gaddafi.
Years have passed - his ideology has had certain instantaneous vertical shifts, but hardly any notable horizontal budge.

In March, 2006, Gaddafi addressed students at the Columbia University thus: “There is no
state with a democracy except Libya on the whole planet.”
Guess it was at the same venue where he stated in a while: “In the Middle East, the opposition is quite different than the opposition in advanced countries. In our countries, the opposition takes the form of explosions, assassinations, killings.” An effort to derive essence from these two sentences goes haywire, the unbiased granularity is quite contrary to the reports from other researches. Gaddafi probably would have meant to say ‘no state with a democracy like Libya’, for, in a state where blogs and social media are under state scrutiny and censor, such a definition of democracy would have made much more sense - a sign of the epidermal democracy in Libya, practised no more than the word itself. As for the Middle-East phenomenon, there is a rigorous dualism in the statement – for when he says ‘advanced countries’, even by any visceral tokenism of the word ‘advanced’, it somehow implies he appreciates those
countries for their advancement, and that his country (‘our countries’ was perhaps punched in to give a spin to his pan-Arabism and pan-Africanism) has gone just not quite that far. To another extent, it explains his encouragement, in the garb of acceptance, to gain results by violent means even if that translates to loss of lives.

Gaddafi was the chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council and bestowed upon himself the title of Prime Minister in 1970, but gave up this title in 1972. Inspite of being the all-in-all with absolute power, he did not promote himself to the rank of the general, but rather accepted a ceremonial promotion from captain to colonel. 
Gaddafi has since been a Colonel. There have been protocol questions on how a Colonel can serve a country as its head and chief of its military, and the West has not been at ease with this arrangement. But as per Gaddafi, Libya’s society is “ruled by the people” and hence, all apprehensions on his role versus rank profile need not be given much attention. Now, whether being “ruled by the people” has anything to do with democracy or liberty is a different matter. It might actually mean to imply ‘ruled, so, bye people.’ 

Anecdotes on the Colonel are numerous.

Let us travel back and forth his colourful life, examining random episodes, to see the way his leanings and image have swayed from pole to pole while he has remain rooted to North Africa.

In an interview to the New York Sun, he once declared: “We have 50 million Muslims in Europe. There are signs that Allah will grant Islam victory. Europe—without swords, without guns, without conquest—will turn it into a Muslim continent within a few decades.” This religious fanaticism, however seems to have high regards for a victory without bloodshed, and amalgamates well in the Pan-Arab utopia of his making, which however has origins in the conquest of other religions, not just intolerance. 
This again proves, from a secular aspect of a person’s right to practice his own religion, how Gaddafi’s conception about democracy is grossly misplaced. 
His pan-Arabism has no qualms on his neo pan-Africanism, assuming the Arab world for whose unity he thought he fought, ever took him seriously. In a BBC program in 2001, he was quoted as saying: “Africa is closer to me in every way than Iraq or Syria.” In March 2007, he opined: “Libya is an African country. May Allah help the Arabs and keep them away from us. We don't want anything to do with them. They did not fight with us against the Italians, and they did not fight with us against the Americans. They did not lift the sanctions and siege from us....I won't be a party to a conspiracy to mobilize the Arabs against the Persians. Only the forces of colonialism benefit from such a conspiracy. I won't be a party to a conspiracy that splits Islam into two - Shiite Islam and Sunni Islam – mobilizing Sunni Islam against Shiite Islam.”

Born a Sunni Muslim in 1942, two main events in his early childhood probably shaped his life.  The first was the Israeli rout of Arab forces in Palestine in 1948, and subsequently Nasser’s ascent to power in Egypt in 1952. The second was the economic strife in Libya at that time, whose majority of the economically weak populace lived in a make-believe world of rapid mobility in terms of financial power. The sole way to achieve this would be to join the army. It was the only option for social mobility as well.  

Here is a man who has an all-female
bodyguard contingent of 40, the latter’s eligibility criteria for the job being that they must be virgins. They are hand-picked by Gaddafi himself, and christened ‘Amazonian Guard’.

Once, he invited good-looking girls with the lure of ‘surprise gifts’. There were hundreds of women who turned up, the entire exercise being carried out by a modelling agency. Gaddafi reportedly spoke on how “Islam should become the religion of all of Europe”, and presented each of them a copy of the Qur’an.

It is interesting how Gaddafi hates everything western though his close relatives live lavish lives in the West, well-known for showering millions of dollars on charitable institutions. The
London Business School is one of the biggest beneficiaries. He likes calling the International Criminal Court (ICC) as a “new form of world terrorism” that wants to colonize developing countries. In the recent prosecution of the civilians in Libya, the United Nations has referred the massacres of unarmed civilians to the ICC. Like such instances earlier, the world knows Gaddafi would come up with a plan for compensation – a multi-billion dollar plan. In
different forums, he has sometimes given an impression that money can buy everything. Even human rights. 

 Gaddafi is a self-proclaimed revolutionist whose ideologies have changed over time, but at all times, it hasn’t swayed wee bit from being anti-West or anti-libertarian. He relates the West’s propensity to corporate bigotry, whose sole aim is to loot nations. He takes help of the Islamic fundamentalists to put liberty and its many boons to rest.

 In October 1993, there was an assassination attempt on him by elements of the Libyan army. It was foiled and the activists put to death. In the recent uprising of 2011, he hired Serbian and Ukrainian mercenaries to bomb protesting civilians. He had to do so, for there were reports the Libyan army had refused to kill its own people. 
Gaddafi’s influential defence minister had resigned for the same reason, and is reportedly behind bars. Libyan transport planes have been seen diving Belarussian military base that deals in stockpiled weaponry and military equipment.  

Earlier in 2006, there was a website actively seeking his overthrow and listed close to 350 victims of political assassination carried out by Gaddafi’s men worldwide. All dissidents have been either put behind bars or killed. That he has lost control over some parts of Libya still needs validation.

An enemy’s enemy is your friend. Employing this principle the Lybian colonel has defended the Taliban and the Somali Pirates.

In September 2009, he attended the UN General Assembly in New York, his first ever, and spoke for 96 minutes. He criticized UN for not being able to prevent 65 wars and termed the UN Security Council as ‘Terror Council’, ending by throwing away the UN Charter while on
Musa al-Sadr, a Lebanese leader, founded the Amal Movement, a liberal-Shia Lebanese resistance movement. In August 1978, he and his entourage had been to Libya to meet the government officials. Nobody knows their whereabouts till date. Libya has denied responsibility of their going missing, though there are reports that they have been left to rot in jails in the country. This fact is still a bone of contention between Libya and Lebanon.
Gaddafi has been indicted in this case of disappearance. 
Two years prior to the World Twin tower attacks, Libya pledged its commitment to fighting al-Qaeda and offered to open up its weapons programme to international inspection. US didn’t pursue the offer at that time as Libya’s weapons program was not regarded as a threat, and the matter of handing over the Lockerbie bombing suspects took priority. When 9/11 happened,  Gaddafi made one of the first, and firmest, denunciations of the Al-Qaeda bombers by any Muslim leader.

Following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein by US forces in
2003, Gaddafi announced that his nation had an active Weapons of Mass Destruction program, but was willing to allow international inspectors into his country to observe and dismantle them. US President Bush and other supporters
of the Iraq War portrayed Gaddafi's announcement as a direct consequence of the Iraq War by stating that Gaddafi acted out of fear for the future of his own regime if he continued to keep and conceal his weapons. Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, who had supported the Iraq war, was quoted as saying that Gaddafi had privately phoned him, admitting as much. Many foreign policy experts, however, contend that Gaddafi's announcement was merely a continuation of his prior attempts at normalizing relations with the West and getting the sanctions removed. 
To support this, they point to the fact that Libya had already made similar offers starting four years prior to it finally being accepted. International inspectors turned up several tons of chemical weaponry in Libya, as well as an active nuclear weapons program. As the process of destroying these weapons continued, Libya improved its cooperation with international
monitoring regimes to the extent that, by March 2006, France was able to conclude an agreement with the country to develop a significant nuclear power program.

In March 2004, the British Prime Minister Tony Blair became one of the first Western leaders in decades to visit Libya and publicly meet the Colonel. The Englishman praised Gaddafi's recent acts, and stated that he hoped Libya could now become a strong ally in the international War on Terror. In the run-up to Blair's visit, the British ambassador in Tripoli,
Anthony Layden, explained Libya's and Gaddafi's political change thus: "35 years of total state control of the economy has left them in a situation where they're simply not generating enough economic activity to give employment to the young people who are streaming through their successful education system. I think this dilemma goes to the heart of Colonel Gaddafi's decision that he needed a radical change of direction."

Gaddafi also took part in the G8 Summit in L’Aquila in July as Chairman of the African Union. During the summit a handshake between US President Barack Obama and Muammar Gaddafi marked the first time the Libyan leader had been greeted by a serving US president. Next, at the official dinner offered by Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, Berlusconi, the Italian Prime Minister and G8 host, overturned protocol at the last moment by having Gaddafi sit next to him (just two places away from President Obama, seated on Berlusconi's right). 

Following this, in a meeting of the Security Council heads-of-the-state, on 24th September, 2009, which was to pass a resolution for reduction in the number of nuclear weapons,
Gaddafi just failed to turn up.

It is however interesting, Gaddafi has leanings towards the Venezuelan head, Hugo Chavez, and has hailed him for the summits conducted for Africa and South America unity. As a show of his solidarity, he named a stadium after him. The Hugo Chavez stadium is situated at Benina, outside Benghazi, seating 11,000 people. Chavez and Gaddafi have built up a close relationship over the years, based on opposition to what they see as US ‘imperialism’ and interest in reviving the oil exporters’ cartel, OPEC. Lately, after the current Libyan crisis, Chavez offered to set up an international peace mission, which did not receive a favourable response. He has accused US and other NATO countries of exaggerating the Libyan crisis, to
justify an invasion and seize control of Libya’s oil.

To return to the Chavez stadium, as per latest reports, it has been renamed ‘Martyrs of February’, in memory of the people killed fighting to overthrow Gaddafi.

The colonel has also supported the Ethiopian maverick, Mengistu Haile Mariam, considered a Soviet protégé, and who was later convicted of one the biggest genocides in modern history.

Gaddafi has attempted to take the mantle of the ideological leader of Arab nationalism.

He probably followed Nasser’s footsteps  to portray pan-Arabism as a new-world order conjoined in bits and pieces with the ideology of pan-Islamism – an association of countries glued by the Islamic religion.

In 1972, Gaddafi formed the “Federation of Arab Republics” amongst Libya, Egypt and Syria, hoping to create the pan-Arab state. The merger failed owing to differences. A similar step in 1974 with Tunisia failed to materialize, owing to core differences that were to later transform into a point of no-return. 
His penchant for ‘Islamic Legion’ and ‘Tajammu al-Arabi’ (Arab Gathering) are well known. The Islamic legion comprised thousands of immigrants from countries like Pakistan who had gone to Libya with no thought of fighting wars, but were engaged thus, in lure of civilian jobs in the country, with a half-baked training in the articulation of ammunition in war. 

As per the Freedom of the Press index, Libya is the most censored country in the Middle East and North Africa.

In 1981, Egypt’s president, Anwar Sadat was assassinated, and Gaddafi accorded an applaud for this act. Gaddafi is known to have a select team of agents who have been recruited to assassinate his critics and Libyans who had raised their ante against him one point in time. After Libyan diplomats shot at ten anti-Gaddafi protestors and killed a British policewoman, the UK broke off relations with the Gaddafi regime. 

In June 1984, Gaddafi stated that assassinations could be carried out against defectors, even when the dissidents were on pilgrimage in the holy city of Mecca. No surprises then that the same year a Libyan plot was thwarted in Mecca.

There’s a 1 million dollar bounty on the head of Ashur Shamis, a Libyan-British journalist for his role as a critic of the Libyan regime. Amnesty International listed at least 25 assassinations between 1980 and 1987.  A Libyan doctoral student at the University of
Colorado, Boulder, Faisal Zagallai, was partially blinded in an assassination attempt. There have been instances of defectors being kidnapped and executed without trial or mercy. In 1981, Gaddafi had plans to assassinate President Ronald Reagan. In 1996, near the city of Sirte, UK’s Secret Intelligence Service tried to return the favour by assassinating Gaddafi when rebels attacked his motorcade, but a futile attempt that was later termed by the
foreign secretary as ‘pure fantasy’.

“Mad dog of the Middle East” is how Ronald Reagan described him. Later in 1981, US State Department invalidated US passports for travel to Libya. US also banned the import of Libyan oil a year later. Al-Rakr, a Libyan-financed gang in Chicago, tried to disseminate
propaganda in 1984 saying it was preparing for a “Race war” with the whites.
Its members were convicted in 1986 for terrorist activities within the US.
Libyan state television supported and announced Libyan eagerness in training suicide squads for missions against US and European interests. 

In 1986 itself, US conducted surgical air-strikes to kill Gaddafi, but a handful of his military officers were killed. This operation was called ‘Operation El Dorado Canyon’. As a deft manipulator and a propagandist, Gaddafi made sure it was largely reported by the Western Press as to how the victims of the US bombing were civilians, one amongst whom was his ‘adopted daughter’. He officially renamed Libya as the ‘Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriyah’, as a mark of commemorating Libyan military victory over the US, which again turned out to be a damp squib. 

In a merger of dictatorships, Ugandan President, Idi Amin married Gaddafi’s daughter while in Libya, but she then divorced him. Were it not the irony of this fact, it would have been tragic. Gaddafi sent Libyan troops to fight against Tanzania on behalf of Amin. Even as the collapsing presidency of Uganda was far from salvaged, such an act ensured hundreds of Libyan soldiers’ lost their lives. Amin was exiled and had to later move to Libya (and consequently Saudi Arabia). 

 Once Mr. Bakr, as was the case in the evenings, was on a steady supply of scotch-whisky. After three pegs, you would find him totally indulged in Gaddafi-talk. That evening, there were a couple of guys of Libyan origin (my guesswork) at the table, listening to him, swearing vociferously, drinking beer like fish, and then stopping to let Mr. Bakr vent his high-pitched chagrin. I pulled my chair up with an intent to listen, as had become customary. “And this
guy’s deeds on Lockerbie bombing was ridiculous!” he gulped. 

In the late 1980s, Libya was under economic and diplomatic sanctions from the West. The Pan Am Flight 103 was bombed and downed on Lockerbie, Scotland, killing about 270 passengers on board. Gaddafi refused to extradite the terrorists to US or UK.

In 1999, Gaddafi agreed to a compromise to hand over the defendants of the bombing to the Netherlands for trial. As a swap, the UN sanctions were suspended.

In 2001, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was convicted for the Lockerbie bombing case. After a couple of years, Libya wrote to the UN, formally accepting responsibility for the bombing. It also agreed to pay compensation of $2.7 billion to the families of the 270 victims. After this, UK and Bulgaria co-sponsored a UN resolution to remove the suspended sanctions. The deal was that 40 percent compensation would be paid to each family, and another 40 percent to follow once US sanctions would be removed. The US, however, refused to take Libya off the list of the State sponsors of terrorism, owing to which Libya retained the remaining 20 percent of the compensation package. However, in 2008, Libya paid $ 1.5 billion into a fund meant to compensate the relatives of the Lockerbie bombing with the remaining 20 percent, and other American victims of the bombings in 1986 and UTA Flight 772. As a result, President Bush signed the Executive Order 13477 that was to restore Libyan government’s immunity from terror-related lawsuits and dismissal of all pending compensation cases in the US.

 Now here’s the irony. In 2007, Megrahi was granted the right to second appeal against the Lockerbie bombing conviction. He was released from prison on compassionate grounds in 2009. Gaddafi welcomed the convict with a grand show of solidarity! In September 2009, Gaddafi, for the first time, addressed the world leaders at the UN General Assembly, demanding representation for the African Union, and his notions about “security feudalism” for the Security Council members who had a protected seat.

One evening Mr. Abu-Bakr ran amok on a wild-goose chase. He talked about Gaddafi for a marathon amount of time, not knowing where to pull the plug. He was himself sloshed to the hilt. There were only a few people at his restaurant that evening, and a lot of information was being spun out of volatile discussions. There was a group of Libyan adults too. Mr. Bakr
threw a Guardian news-clip at me that had a Gaddafi-quote: “
I am not going to leave this land. I will die as a martyr at the end. I shall remain, defiant. Muammar is Leader of the Revolution until the end of time.” He also mentioned: “The integrity of China was more important than (the people) inTiananmen Square”, making an oblique reference to the brutal Tiananmen Square massacre way back.

I thanked all present there for the immense enlightenment and debates, but not before one of the guys present served me another full-volley of Gaddafi’s take on democracy, written by the Lybian dictator in ‘The Green Book’, 1975: “The era of the masses, which follows the age of the republics, excites the feelings and dazzles the eyes. But even though the vision of this era denotes genuine freedom of the masses and their happy emancipation from the bonds of external authoritarian structures, it warns also of the dangers of a period of chaos and demagoguery, and the threat of a return to the authority of the individual, the sect and
party, instead of the authority of the people. Theoretically, this is genuine democracy but, realistically, the strong always rules. That is, the stronger party in the society is the one that rules.

It seemed interesting, full of intrigue. I made my way back home, while Mr. Bakr sped off on his scooting legs. That was the last time I saw him. When I opened the newspaper the next
morning, over a cup of brewed coffee, I read a headline: “Libyan suspects behind murder of Indianapolis hotelier.” 

I was unnerved, even haunted by Mr. Bakr’s murder. Maybe it was a symbolic gesture to modulate public speaking. Maybe it was not. Investigations are still underway.

On the same page in the newspaper, was another article on the recent crisis in Libya, and a sentence caught my eyes. It read: “Gaddafi styles himself as ‘An international leader, Dean of the Arab rulers, King of Kings of Africa, and Imam of Muslims.’”

Many days later, I visited Jamahiriya. It was lunch-time. I ordered the Muammar Gaddafi - $8.67, as usual. 

No doubt, it tasted great. As usual.

When the rich and the mighty snore within their
self-built edifices of invincibility, as did the leaders in Yemen, Tunisia,
Egypt and Libya spanning epochs in time, there’s much that a flute, given the
right note, can play! It can turn the people on, and turn oligarchs in!

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