By Arab News
By Aijaz Zaka Syed
THE day Muammar Qaddafi was killed before being kicked and dragged like an animal through the streets of Misrata, someone sent me an interesting mail offering a peek into the paradise that Libya had purportedly been under the colonel. From showering his bounty on his people by way of free housing, free education and free health care to pampering them with loads of cash and rewards at every stage of their luxurious existence, Qaddafi was a caring and benevolent leader to his people.
Why, he even made his people partners in power refusing to assume any official title and distributed Libya’s oil revenues among its people each month by directly crediting them to their bank accounts.
If only the people of Libya, who lived under Qaddafi’s benevolent rule for 42 years, had been aware of this, they wouldn’t have risen up and fought him so hard for months losing thousands of innocent lives.
So why did Libyans rebel against a regime that was so benign and spoiled them all these years? Or for that matter why did the Tunisians, Egyptians and Yemenis come out on the streets and continue to do, protesting against their compassionate rulers? Why do the Syrians defy the big guns and awesome power of Bashar Assad even after losing more than 3,000 lives?
Even if all those fascinating tales about Qaddafi’s largess and mollycoddling of his people were true, they don’t mean a thing if Libyans — and fellow Arabs — didn’t have the basic dignity and freedom that all human beings deserve and have been granted by their Maker.
When granted the sacred responsibility to serve their people, Qaddafi and his fellow travelers let it go to their head, giving themselves powers and status no human being deserves. From one end of the Middle East to another, it’s the same story of absolute power and absolute corruption.
And look at the uncanny, almost frightening, uniformity of the way everyone of them have had to go, utterly humiliated and disgraced in the land they not long ago strutted with such arrogance and at the hands of men who were little more than vermin in their eyes. Like Saddam Hussein, Qaddafi was dragged out of a hole pleading for mercy. And as in Iraq, the West played a critical role in getting rid of the monster it courted until months ago. It was the NATO bombing of Qaddafi’s convoy that helped the rebels catch Qaddafi cowering in a sewer pipe.
Despite all that Qaddafi visited on his people, it wasn’t easy seeing the man who was the lord of all he surveyed for four decades beaten to pulp, abused and paraded flung across the bonnet of a truck while he bled to death. It was chilling and disturbing beyond words.
Whatever his crimes — and there were many — the lynching of an already bleeding man was disgusting. It was inexcusable although Qaddafi himself might have sent thousands to their death with a smile on his lips. What’s the difference between the tyrant and his victims then? He deserved a day in the court and a fair trial — just as thousands of his victims did — to account for his crimes. Equally disturbing is the way he was subjected to indignities in death, lying half naked for days in a vegetable market freezer for the whole world to see.
This wasn’t just gross, it violated basic Islamic teachings and tradition of respecting the dead. But perhaps we are being naively idealistic here. Libya is an ancient, complex land of numerous warring tribes. So what we saw last week was essentially tribal justice — swift and unencumbered by the burden of proof and due process. Men like Qaddafi were driven insane by power. This has repeatedly happened in this ancient land, the cradle of civilization and home to great faiths that celebrate the unity of God and dignity and oneness of mankind.
It’s not just the Qaddafis, Saddams, Mubaraks, Ben Alis, Salehs and Assads that Arabs have suffered over the past half a century or so. There’s a long history of tyranny and oppression across the region that goes way back. Yet they never learn from history, condemning themselves to repeat it again and again. Just as Qaddafi failed to learn from the fate of Ben Ali and Mubarak. Just as Assad and Saleh and others choose to overlook what has just happened to Qaddafi.
Today, it’s all very well for our friends in the West to claim moral high ground and champion democracy and freedom. Those who are lustily cheering the Arab street today conveniently forget and would want the world to forget that they are the ones who put such tormentors there in the first place. They have protected and pampered them all these years, aiding and abetting in their crimes.
The self-congratulatory rhetoric of the Obamas, Camerons and Sarkozys claiming credit for Libya is therefore nauseating. The West has turned running with the hare and hunting with the hounds into an art. How could anyone forget how these guardians of democracy rushed to embrace Qaddafi when he pretended to play the ball? From Italy’s Berlusconi to Britain’s Blair, not to mention visits by top US politicians, Western leaders vied with each other to court Qaddafi. How France’s Sarkozy hugged the man Arabs called “majnoon” and smiled and smiled for waiting cameras.
Which is nothing compared to what the celebrated ambassador of peace and Bush’s deputy Blair did for Qaddafi, picking up Libyan dissidents from around the world and turning them over to the regime for a price — deals worth billions of dollars. And now that Qaddafi’s gone and the West has saved the world once again, there are more opportunities for business in new Libya — just as there are in Iraq.
In the end, it’s all about business — the West’s business interests. The empire is driven by Lord Palmerston’s golden dictum: “We have no eternal allies and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.”
Which is what the US and its European allies are doing as they effortlessly switch their patronage from tyrants to their victims. So dictators come and dictators go and no matter who is in power in Tripoli, or Baghdad and Cairo, the empire’s interests will endure and outlive those of everyone else.
— Aijaz Zaka Syed is a commentator on the Middle East and South Asia. Write him at: [email protected]