Cowboy, Femme Fatale
The first meeting with Muammar Gaddafi was the most dramatic. It was exactly a week after President Ronald Reagan ordered the bombing of the city on April 15, 1986. In a sense, the Anglo-French enthusiasm for Gaddafi’s elimination we saw now completes the circle begun with Reagan’s air attacks. Remember, the Reagan-Maggie Thatcher combine had taken upon themselves the daunting task of reversing the process of western decline after the US defeat in Vietnam, the emergence of Communist governments in Angola, Mozambique, Ethiopia and Nicaragua and powerful Communist parties in Italy, France and Spain. The attack on Libya was part of Reagan’s counter-offensive, climaxing in the Star Wars project that led to the Soviet implosion. This, alas, was followed by the ‘neo cons’ overreaching, leading to the present trauma of rampaging capitalism. The Anglo-French rush into Libya was (partly) to keep the wolf from Europe’s door.
Yes, that memorable first meeting. Past midnight, I found myself being driven to Bab-el-Azizia, the fort-like compound where Gaddafi lived. Foreign minister Kamel Maqhour greeted me at the gate. Then, past a series of rectangular spaces to a dimly lit room with low ceiling, like a spruced-up army camp. Behind a rectangular table, in air force overalls, a black embroidered gown draped over his shoulders and flanked by gorgeous, well-chiselled women bodyguards (one ebony black, the other, her marble counterpart) stood Gaddafi. They made for a stunning trio, like an ad for a fitness parlour.
Camels, Mules and Other Kinsfolk
The conversation bristles with self-conscious sexuality. Reagan attacked him to impress Thatcher, he laughs. “He is a failed actor who became president of a great power and he wants to show he can move fleets, big war machines. He is suffering from old age. He wants to finish the world before he goes. I have studied psychology. I know what I am talking about. He has a special relationship with Thatcher: he wants to prove to her that he is a man.” Men from Sirte, reared on camel’s milk, are known for flaunting their macho sexuality. He looked athletic compared to the kings and sheikhs who populate Arab summits. His arrogant carriage was itself something of a taunt. Occasionally he added insult to injury by calling them “lackeys of imperialism”, provoking outbursts, some of which have become part of Arab summit folklore. At a summit at Sharm el-Sheikh, Prince Abdullah (now King of Saudi Arabia) screamed across the table, pointing at Gaddafi: “Kalb”, which means “dog”.
The Envoy’s Convoy
Non-aligned foreign ministers decided at a meeting in New Delhi that a delegation of foreign ministers led by India’s Bali Ram Bhagat should proceed to Tripoli—in the spirit of nam solidarity. Rajiv Gandhi asked me, “Aren’t you covering the story?” His special assistant Ronen Sen navigated my request for an interview with Gaddafi through diplomatic channels. At Tripoli’s Hotel Mahar, I buttonholed Bhagat and handed him a copy of my interview request to be handed to “the leader”. I was granted the interview, but, ironically, Bhagat was sacked soon upon his return. Reagan had apparently thrown a ginger fit at the Indian initiative.
Gaddafi was to step up his diplomatic contacts with New Delhi. His son Saif ul Islam visited India with a “sealed” letter from Gaddafi for Prime Minister Vajpayee. This was in 2001, after Gaddafi had made his peace with the West. In those days, Gaddafi was a ghost of his former self, like an actor without a stage. The letter was his “new internationalism”. He urged Vajpayee to take the initiative to “reunify” India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, a reversion to the pre-1947 structure! Vajpayee was amused. He should take up the project first with Pakistan, Vajpayee suggested, with a glint in his eye.
A Trophy For Their Wall
The straightforward colonial solution as to what to do with Gaddafi’s body would have been to hide it from people who might be tempted to build a shrine around which might grow popular movements: just like the last Mughal emperor, dispatched to Rangoon to die in the garage of a junior officer or, better still, like Osama bin Laden, tossed into the sea. Why did the West want to have him killed? In his appraisal to me, Gaddafi was on target: oil, one of the world’s largest reserves of underground water, an angry clergy choked by his secularism, his links with every dissident in Africa, unwavering support for Palestine and, of course, “my fierce independence”. Only when the mist lifts shall we know how many of Libya’s six million-strong population—divided into 140 tribes—will agree on a leader through the democratic route.
Surely, it must enthuse the faithful that every kick that landed on Gaddafi’s body was accompanied by the sound of “Allah-o-Akbar”. Was that not poetic justice for a man who had banned the mullah? For such misdemeanours, he was shot at close range and even as his body lies in a freezing room, a BBC camera brings into focus a young, unknown reporter, kneeling next to the body, with the triumphant look of a shikari standing over a trophy.
Saeed Naqvi’s Tripoli Diary (Nov 7) was charming and informative. Just like Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi was a tyrant. Both the dictators and their families were corrupt to the core. That said, Ronald Reagan’s bombing of Tripoli was straight out of the B-grade cowboy movies he once acted in. The less said of India’s foreign policy the better. Has anybody forgotten how we sent a congratulatory message to the CPSU (Communist Party of Soviet Union) soon after Gorbachev was overthrown, then rushed to greet Yeltsin soon after? Similarly, when nato planes bombed Libyan cities, India cautiously supported the West, but mouthed platitudes about non-interference. After Gaddafi was killed, we sent a message of felicitation to the NTC! Non-aligned indeed.
Ramesh Parida, Delhi
Nelson Mandela broke the travel ban on Libya in 1997. When President Clinton criticised the visit, Mandela said, “No country can claim to be the policeman of the world....” When former British PM Margaret Thatcher refused to allow sanctions against the apartheid regime and called Mandela a terrorist, Gaddafi funded some of the fight against apartheid by training anc fighters and paying for their education abroad.
Rohit Bhalla, Delhi
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
The operative word here is "benevolent". Do you really think that term can be applied to either Gaddafi or Saddam Hussein?
Gaddafi will go down in history as yet another in a series of murderous, megalomaniacal, power-hungry buffoons who have usurped power in Africa and scarred and ravaged their countries with their corruption and delusional programmes of social engineering or ethnic cleansing. In this regard, he is in the elite company of Idi Amin, Jean Bedel Bokassa and more recently, Robert Mugabe.
It is completely beyond my comprehension how anyone can ever suggest that Gaddafi was a democrat. Do you really think that democracy is about the stifling of all opposition through the torture, execution and massacre of your opponents, or about waging a ruthless and bloody civil war against your own people when they tire of your excesses and seek a change of regime?
The West may have its faults, but it has given the world far more than a thousand Gaddafis or Saddam Husseins could ever give. If you do not agree, and if you hate the West so much, then maybe you should put your money where your mouth is and stop using all, those decadent, imperialistic Western inventions that you doubtless enjoy using, like your car, TV, telephone, electricity - oh, and not forgetting your internet connection and your computer, so that we can be spared your strident, pro-totalitarian propaganda.
we are not living in a democratic paradise but oilgarchy and benevelont dictatorship is always better than that
forget our national interest..for an Iraqi life was better under saddam hussain or now?
idealism in international relations meant that when china attacked us only 2-3 NAM countries supported us and Pt Nehru became laughing stock of world by asking USA to interven by sending air force
As I have to live and (possible die) in this land only I hold it's national interest above all lofty ideals
Gaddafi was a a once-poor nomad who rose up to overthrow a brutal pedophilic monarch, fought for the rights of the poor and the women in Libya, and fought for the rights of the African continent against Western imperialism.
Gaddafi largely succeeded in creating the first true MODERN DIRECT DEMOCRACY, unlike the FAKE REPRESENTATIVE DEOCRACY in most so-called "democratic" nations today (which are, in reality, OLIGARCHIES) . Unlike our so-called "democratic" nations where it's the POLITICIANS and BANKS that have all the power rather than the people, it was truly the people who had power in Libya. Gaddafi's Libya had a democracy superior to our own, which no doubt annoyed many Western nations who cannot bear the thought that a third-world country could possibly have a SUPERIOR POLITICAL SYSTEM [based on results of 42 years].
If anything, it's representative democracy nations that are much closer to dictatorships. In Libya, Gaddafi had very little real power, but he was just a leader by name. IN LIBYA, THE PEOPLE DIDN'T ELECT REPRESENTATIVES OR EVEN GOVERNMENTS, BUT RATHER THE PEOPLE WERE DIRECTLY INVOLVED IN EVERY DECISION, like a true democracy. In contrast, people representative democracy nations have no say in political matters, rather it's corrupt "representatives" who call the shots.
In addition, all the citizens of Libya (including women) had access to free education, free healthcare, the largest free fresh water pipe system in the world (AN ARCH MARVEL UNRIVALLED BY ANY WESTERN NATION), their own telecom satellite (which Gaddafi shared with all of Africa, freeing the continent from the extortionate debt that the US & EU were imposing on them for using their satellites).
Let's also not forget the fact that Libya was one of the poorest and most illiterate countries in the world until Gaddafi came along and developed it into the most developed nation in all of Africa, despite the sanctions that the UN imposed on Libya. And let's also not forget that it was Gaddafi who supported Mandela in his struggle, when the Western nations were were vilifying Mandela as a terrorist. If it wasn't for Gaddafi's help and aid, South Africa may never have won its freedom from the apartheid, for which Mandela has thanked Gaddafi plenty of times. GADHAFI WAS wITH MANDELA WHEN THE DAYS WERE DARK AND THE NIGHTS WERE LOOOONG.
Gaddafi was planning to take his ideals a step further by sharing all the oil wealth equally among the Libyan people (an idea that the rebels disagreed with, since it would mean a lot of wealthier people could lose their jobs), as well as establishing a unified Gold Dinar currency across the African Union which would be measured directly in terms of gold. Considering the large gold reserves in Libya and across Africa, such a move would have brought an end to Western capitalist imperialism in Africa, paving a better future for the continent but in turn disrupting the dollar-dominated world economy which the IMF and World Bank thrive on.
The main reason why the Western world wanted Gaddafi out and resorted to whatever lies possible is because he gave the third world hope for an alternative solution, one where they DON'T need to follow the WESTERN CAPITALIST "DEMOCRACY" MODEL and become victims of extortionate loans from the World Bank or IMF. This is something that the World Bank, IMF, or NATO, clearly did not want so they can continue exploiting Africa and the Middle East. This was reason enough to take out Gaddafi.
Gaddafi's death is a sad day for not only Libya and Africa, but the world as a whole. For the next few years, I'm sure NATO's media propaganda machine will try its best to cover-up the truth and portray Gaddafi as a tyrant/dictator/boogieman he never was and attribute all sorts of heinous crimes he never committed.
In the future, the world will know the truth that GADDAHI WAS A HERO WHO STOOD FOR FREEDOM AND DEMOCRACY AGAINST THE TYRANICAL CAPITALIST IMPERIALISM OF NATO AND THE WORLD BANK, AND MORE GADDAFI's WILL ONE DAY RISE IN HIS PLACE TO CONTINUE HIS STRUGGLE AGAINST IMPERIALISM
Isn't it nice that we can sit here in our cosy democratic paradise and profit from the torture and execution of thousands of decent men and women aspiring for freedom from totalitarianism in other countries? That is really corruption on a global scale.
If our national interest is best served by supporting tyrants like Gaddafi or Saddam Hussein, then better we remain poor.
>> "16 things Libya is unlikely to see in future...." - Rohit
It was very nice and informative post. Who decided that democracy is the best form of government. And, who decided that all dictotors must go. USA misled the entire world when Bush wanted to vent his personal anger on Saddam. Then, they squeezed Gaddafi dry through embargos and sanctions.
One doesn't need to go beyond India to see the mess that Democracy can create for an immature country. KSA, China and UAE are no democracies. But, they are miles ahead of many countries, including India, who thomp their chest to celebrate the hollow will of the people.
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