Thursday, October 20, 2011

Colonel's Legacy

The body dragging spectacle is on at the moment. People love gory TV. Qaddafi, the tyrant. Mad dog of the Middle East, Ron Reagan once dubbed him. Twitter crowd is rubbing their hands in glee: it is gag time again – bon mot, as they say in French. Each time someone dies or is knocked off by a US drone or NATO’s Brimstone missiles, a great menace is over; the world becomes a better place. And we can move on to the next target.

Mad old Qaddafi. He wasn’t in exile after all. Not in Niger. Not in the Algerian presidential palace. Not in Chad. He was not bluffing when he said I shall stay put in Libya. While alive Qaddafi rambled quite a lot. He confronted the Saudi king, putting His Highness out of countenance, in an important international conference in Doha two years back, the videos of which can still be found on YouTube. Ofcourse no one does that. You don’t talk down to the most important man in the world. Qaddafi was eccentric but in a very fearless way.

The Italians colonized Libya around 1912. They did a lot of shit in the beautiful African country as most occupiers do. If you perchance read history (which is a tad difficult on iPhones, I agree) you might come across a reference to the Turco-Italian War (Guerra di Libia in Italian) of 1911. Italy won the war and occupied Tripolitania, Fezzan and Cyrenaica (roughly what constitutes modern day Libya). The first Libyan to fall to Italian bullets was Abdus Salam Bouminyar, grandfather of Qaddafi. Not a canine pedigree, exactly.

The truth is that Qaddafi was a flip-flop. The west never really trusted him, even after he voluntarily gave up his nuclear programme. With all the oil that Libya has (largest in Africa and ninth largest in the world) and his lifelong fascination to unite Africa, Qaddafi was always bit of a suspect. His female body guards and lapses into pitch-a-tent delirium, not to mention the stupid Green Book he wrote -- came in handy to call him a loony in garish clothes. Who pitches a Bedouin-style tent in the gardens of Baron Gustave de Rothschild's multi-million dollar mansion in the heart of Paris?

As long as he signed cosy deals with the Europeans, they welcomed him with official protocol at capitals and castles. Silvio Berlusconi used to come rushing to Rome's Ciampino airport to receive his ‘friend’ who came bearing goodies — oil and gas. So it appears a bit rich when the French rightwing nut Sarkozy says Qaddafi’s death has started a democratic process. Berlusconi used a Latin expression on hearing the news before quickly adding that the war is over. The Italian leader is a good seven-eight years older than Qaddafi and among other famous things, is best known for his sex party boast: eight is not enough.

Now that four decades of madness has come to an end (to use one of the cool expressions being bandied about) the uncouth rag-tag army of NTC, pushing each other to give bytes to Western TV channels, are no saints. Notwithstanding the praises they seem to be foregathering at the moment, an important 107-page report by Amnesty International late last month revealed that while Gaddafi forces committed widespread crimes under international law during the conflict, forces loyal to the NTC have also committed abuses that in some cases amounted to war crimes. Apparently they summarily executed the original 'Guide of the Revolution' after capturing him alive. No hermits here.

To cut the chase, Qaddafi proved to be a total screwball. But so was Bush. Thank the fathers of American constitution, a US president can serve only two terms. Yes Qaddafi bought soccer teams, spoke mercurially, was quirky sometimes, had simple-minded solutions for the most intractable problems like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (Unify both, call it Isratine. Simple). He gave money to Colombia’s FARC and the IRA. Switched-over on the Lockerbie bombing issue. The legacy -- if any -- is both fractured and fragmanted.

In hindsight Qaddafi was a bad juggler. He sought a middle way between capitalism and communism. He tore pages from the UN Charter while speaking at the UN. In Libya he never came down off the high horse and ruled rowdily. Historians won't have problems dismissing him as a narcissist with a bohemian heart. Notably Qaddafi gladdened many a heart back home in Kashmir, much to the embarrassment of India, when he famously supported the idea of an 'independent state' for Kashmir. So much of an idealist in those African robes.

Hugely influenced by the iconic Eygyptain president Nasser, Qaddafi absolutely loved Nasser's pan-Arabist ideas and deep down probably wished to succeed him as leader of the Arabs. Sadly he could never make the transition. He remained a tribal with a golden pistol on him, always. The NTC foot soldiers are currently brandishing the Samuel Cummings small firearm.