Tuesday, February 22, 2011
No One Writes to Colonel Qaddafi
In approaching the subject of Colonel Qaddafi and the current protests in Libya, it is hard to know where to begin. The title of this piece is, after all, something of a misnomer. The titular Colonel in the Marquez novella No One Writes to the Colonel is a man isolated through his heroic non-complicity in the corrupt and violent political system around him. Qaddafi on the other hand is isolated due to semi-heroic embodiment of such as a system in the face of impossible odds. As Qaddafi's position becomes increasingly untenable he appears to retreat ever further into the maddeningly contradictory persona that he has created for himself. Indeed, perhaps it is his role as something of a clown, replete with his grandiosity and which is in turn isolating, that prevents people from taking Qaddafi as seriously as they should.
My experience in meeting the Colonel (I would say conversing, but you never really have a conversation with Qaddafi, it's more that he talks at you) has left me feeling perennially compelled to respond to the man. In my initial piece, I noted that I found him to come across as a far more reasoned thinker than many of his critics would state and that much of the bluster was for show. Qaddafi has, as of recent, done everything from calling for the abolition of Switzerland - as a result of some minor slight by the Swiss in response to gross illegality by Qaddafi's family members operating in Switzerland - to repeatedly attempting to import Italian models as part of cultural tours with the aim of converting them to Islam, in some vainglorious and inane attempt to cosmetically 'improve' the Libyan gene pool.
Despite his very obvious megalomaniacal tendencies, his willingness to express his moods through awful sartorial hyperbole and the seeming pedantic weirdness of his response to recent events in the Middle East - his response to seeing both Egypt's Mubarak and Tunisia's Ben Ali ejected from their countries on Fridays was to weirdly abolish the day of Friday from the calendar - Qaddafi has largely responded to protest movements with a steely violence reminiscent of Hafez al-Assad's destruction of the town of Hama in response to an attempt on his life. Despite Qaddafi's idiosyncrasies making him something of a figure of mirth, his actions force one to take him very seriously.
Certainly, the hundreds of unarmed protesters that have been murdered by Qaddafi's security force speak to this. The regime has resorted to shooting, on-site, anyone found on the streets of Tripoli, grinding a city of two-million to halt in a noxious and brutal fit of pique. This has further escalated to include the use of tanks and aircraft to attack crowds. The regime had previosuly stated that peaceful protesters "risk suicide by army hands" - a notion that is as chilling as it is oxymoronic. Additional reports have alleged that the regime may be employing West and Southern African mercenaries against it's citizenry to avoid qualms from within the military to prevent qualms from being voiced regarding orders to murder fellow Libyans. Indeed, many of the shooters are apparently soldiers from Chad integrated into the military as a means of thanks for supporting Qaddafi in his foreign escapades their during that countries protracted civil war. Qaddafi has declared that he will not leave Libya peaceably under any condition and that he will "die a martyr".
While Qaddafi's clinging to power has been of the utmost vulgarity directed against Libyans, it has also affected international events. Libya pumps some 2% of the World's oil and as oil companies and field workers have fled the country, international oil prices have climbed sharply and stocks have dropped. In the 40 years since Qaddafi seized power in Libya, his regime has, to it's credit invested many of these oil revenues into services and improvements for many, however, the Colonel's increasing weirdness has limited further improvements and hurt the plight of Libyans, as has his tendency towards isolation in the face of his failed expansionist ventures. Qaddafi's actions, especially his seeming contempt for those he governs, and his rather limp acknowledgement that he could understand the anger of young towards his regime that they "should be forgiven for being mislead" after being caught up in the movements to depose nearby regimes - increasingly undermine whatever claims to legitimacy Qaddafi may have still had.
While no one may write to Colonel Qaddafi, in something of the sense that Marquez expressed, certainly we will remain compelled to write of him. Qaddafi's staggeringly barbarous response to the popular Democratic protest movements by Libyan's to rid themselves of this crazed and petty tyrant indicate what should have been clear all along - despite the entourage of Amazonian glamour-model bodyguards, Bedouin tents in Central Park and nonsensical bombastic pronouncements - Qaddafi is certainly a figure who must be taken deadly seriously.