Friday, 21 October 2011

Gaddafi: Justice or Vengeance?

The picture is of an 18 year old Libyan youth holding aloft one of Gaddafi's famous golden guns, which he had taken from the fallen leader after his capture.

Shortly, Muammar Gaddafi would be dead, shot with a single bullet to the head; the circumstances of which are unclear at the present time, and will probably remain that way. Joyous scenes throughout Libya were accompanied with the cry of "God is Great".

Gaddafi's 42 year reign of state sponsored terrorism, and the systematic brutalising of his own people was now over - a bullet had seen to that. NATO air support through Britain, France and America has been justified, as it has helped to bring an end to "this brutal dictator and his regime".

For David Cameron, this was "a day to remember all of Colonel Gaddafi's victims", which was echoed by The Sun headline, "That's for Locherbie". Cameron continued, "People in Libya today have an even greater chance, after this news, of building themselves a strong and democratic future. I'm proud of the role that Britain has played in helping them to bring that about, and I pay tribute to the bravery of the Libyans who have helped to liberate their country". Not to be left behind, Ed Milliband said, "I pay tribute to the Libyan people for standing up to the former regime, and seeking to define their own democratic destiny. We should be proud of the support that our armed forces have given to that cause".

In the middle of such world-wide joyous celebrations, I have a couple of concerns. To the National Transitional Council (NTC), the uprising in Libya was about bringing in democracy. To Cameron it was  about giving support so that Libya could build themselves "a strong and democratic future". To Milliband, the support was given to Libya to help them "to define their own democratic destiny". To a country that has not known democracy, I wonder what this means? On the 2nd September 2011, 60 countries, that's right 60, met under the "Friends of Libya" banner to discuss Libya's future.  This was a conference hosted by France and Britain, and according to the website, Middle East and Balkan News, "It marks the beginning of normalisation, but also the beginning of a race for Libya's oil".

This is the fear of course lurking behind the congratulatory and supportive statements, that politically and economically, nations are positioning themselves to take advantage of Libya's huge oil resources. Britain has spent around £2 billion so far in support of the NTC's aim for regime change, and they will be looking for some claw back of this money, as well as opportunities for further investment. On the surface, helping the NTC "as it seeks to improve economic and social conditions, ensure order and prepare for elections" is a good thing, but at what future cost to Libya? How does the presence of 60 of the world's most powerful nations in conference help Libya "to define their own democratic destiny"? It's early days of course for the fledgling democracy, and it's hoped that the NTC leadership will be strong enough to plough its own course, and not allow others to dictate their destiny. Westernised models of democracy may not be what is best for the Middle East; Libya needs to work this out for herself.

Of course, getting there will be no mean feat. Until elections are held, there is no clear picture of who wants democracy as we know it. I'm sure that Libya's elite, who form most of the NTC want it, but what of Libya's Warlords? There is historic tension between various tribes in Libya, which I would have thought needed more than a few months of 'transition to democracy' to deal with.

I've just read some fascinating articles on the Al Arabiya News website here (click English if it comes up in Arabic). An article by William Maclean of Reuters begins, "Jockeying for power among Libya's well-armed and fractious new leadership may intensify after the death of Muammar Gaddafi". He feels that the interim NTC is faced with a critical task, namely "getting under control a clutch of anti-Gaddafi militias competing, so far peacefully, for ample share of funding and political representation in a post-Gaddafi Libya". He says this because, "In recent weeks Tripoli has seen an apparent competition for the title of top militia in the capital, where the many armed groups now exercising authority in the city portrayed themselves as the sole legitimate security force".

Gaddafi was a member of Libya's largest tribe, the Warfalla, which has up to one million of the six million Libyan population. The Warfalla, along with two other tribes were traditionally considered the pillars of Gaddafi's rule, dominating the security forces and the ranks of the military. In recent years support for Gaddafi has been inconsistent, culminating in failed coup attempts, but it is thought that numbers still remain loyal to Gaddafi. Getting to grips with tribal Warlords will not be easy, for as Al Arabiya News explains, "The Warfalla are unlikely to act under a unified leadership when the tribe is actually a confederacy of around 50 sub-tribes spread across Libya, each with its own local leaders, local concerns and varying degrees of affiliation or loyalty to the old Gaddafi leadership".

My point is not to be negative; it is just to hope that the immense expectations inside and outside of Libya will be realistic, and that foreign countries will allow Libya "to define their own democratic destiny". I fear though that the NTC will be put under immense pressure in the battle for Libya's wealth.

My final thought disturbs me. So Gaddafi is dead, but it's not so much his death, but the manner of it that disturbs me. Was this justice or vengeance?  Yes he was an evil man, and few will be mourning his passing, but summary execution cannot be so lightly glossed over.

On the BBC 10 O'clock news tonight, Jeremy Bowen said that this was a question being asked elsewhere, rather than in Libya. My views may well be dismissed as coming from a do-gooder, bleeding heart liberal, that should put himself in the position of those who have suffered for decades, then I might understand. But a wannabe democracy has to accept what goes along with that term, and it's morality and law, which is justice not vengeance. Perhaps it's too early for Libya to grasp this, but what about the rest of the civilised world? I've trawled the Internet tonight for comments on Gaddafi's death, and there were some who felt my unease, but there were many others who had no such concerns. This is summed up by one blog comment. "The Human Rights activists are having a Hissey Fit about his killing, but who else cares? He was responsible for the killing of many, many thousands, and I hope he burns in hell. There is now no focal point for his supporters or reason for them to mount terrorist attacks to secure his release, which seems a big plus. I suspect if he had been brought to trial, (certainly if it were under British law) he would have been found insane and committed to Broadmoor or the equivalent, which would have helped no-one. Far better for all of us that he's dead". No doubt this writer would have agreed with the headline in the Daily Star, "Mad dog is Put Down". But I'm no Human Rights activist, and I care.

"God is great" shouted the crowds, and our own history shows that we've been there. Those in the Crusades murdered Muslims in the name of God, and Muslims murdered Christians in the name of God. In the 16th Century we burned people at the stake, horribly mutilated others, in the name of God. "God is great" would have been their thinking, but we've moved on from that, and our laws enshrine the principle of justice, not vengeance. This is part of being a democracy, no matter how heinous the crime or the criminal. Many years ago, Stephen Fry was writing for the Telegraph, and he expressed concern at a picture of an American soldier in Iraq standing beside a wall that had the words written on it, "Burn in Hell, Saddam". He eloquently explored what was behind this thinking, and ended his piece with these words, "I would like to believe, foolishly no doubt, naively for sure, that we are fighting for the same reason - a detestation of fanaticism, fundamentalism and barbarism - and that vengeful ferocity and unfettered machismo will form no part of our strategy. Let's stand up to Saddam in the name of civilisation, not in the name of our own particular brand of savagery".

I've looked in vain today for similar thoughts from our Politicians, but found none. I was not surprised, as who wants to upset a fledgling democracy when so many lucrative, rebuilding infrastructure contracts are up for grabs. Democracy is about justice, not vengeance, or where will it all end? Who will decide when vengeance is acceptable? Who will draw the line? I genuinely hope, along with Ali Abdullatif Ahmida, a Libyan political scientist at the University of New England, that the NTC leadership "heals the country and reconciles people". I may be in a minority, but I care how that is done, as the road of revenge can be a very dangerous one to travel on.

1 comment:

  1. Oh you are so right, John.
    A correspondent in this morning's Guardian said: "Cameron hailed Gaddafi's death as a step towards a 'strong and democratic future'. Gaddafi was shot, stripped naked, dragged around the streets covered on blood while being filmed on a mobile phone. Clearly, western democratic values have arrived."
    In the vacuum that is now Libya and which Cameron, Obama and the rest of been prime movers in creating there will step the "values" and "morals" of corporate business, the political class, Wall Street and the City. I'm not convinced it will be an improvement.
    If the Libyan people wished to get rid of their leader, then that is their right. Where the west and its "democratic values" comes into the equation I cannot grasp.