Listening to the recent NPR program on Qadhafi http://www.npr.org/2011/02/28/134132726/dirk-vandewalle-peers-inside-qaddafis-world , despite the obvious efforts of the host Terry Gross and her guest, Dirk Vandewalle, an Associate Professor of Government at Dartmouth College, to ridicule this eccentric Libyan leader, I, surprisingly, found myself feeling more respect to this figure.
His, for the first glance, lunatic reflections, viewed in the historic context, started to make sense:
“GROSS: Yeah, like for instance, he recently said: Those people who took your sons away from you and gave them drugs and said let them die are launching a campaign over cell phones against your sons, telling them not to obey their fathers and mothers.
Gave them drugs? I mean, what’s he talking about?
Prof. VANDEWALLE: Well, in a sense, what all of this goes back is really – and you will see repeated references to this throughout Qadhafi’s speeches. It really goes back to the colonial period.
And one of the heroes of Qadhafi was Omar al-Mukhtar, a tribal elder in the eastern part of the country, who eventually was captured by the Italians after several years of resistance and was hanged by the Italians, became the national hero.
And there has always been a charge, been – that it was with the help of some Libyans, a fifth column, that Omar al-Mukhtar was eventually captured and hanged. And so Qadhafi’s references to people who are poisoning others in Libya really goes back to that very moment in history, which is now, of course, 80 years or so ago.”
Unorthodox political ideas, compared to the thinking of the Enlightenment Age philosophers, really have deep roots in European political discourse:
“Prof. VANDEWALLE: …And according to him, democracy could only really take place if it was in a kind of tribal setting, where people could directly appoint their representatives, rather than having to go through a kind of representative system that we have in the West.
GROSS: …So the “Green Book” was very important to Qadhafi’s vision of his revolution, and Jamahiriya, which you mentioned, is his idea of a stateless state. So that’s a paradox. How do you have a stateless state?
Prof. VANDEWALLE: Well, I mean, in a sense, what he meant there – and it really coincides very nicely with his idea of a Jamahiriya, and that is that if you have a polity, if you have a political community that is ruled directly by the people, you don’t need the institutions of the state. So you don’t need the administrative institutions. You don’t need the bureaucratic institutions.”
And the personal awkwardness has a some strong appeal of originality:
“GROSS: And his father was a Bedouin who lived in a tent and herded camels. Do I have that right?
Prof. VANDEWALLE: Yeah. His father was indeed a – well, he was somebody who traveled back and forth across areas of Libya, illiterate, and so there are lots of pictures of Qadhafi with his father before he died in a tent and, of course, the tent then became also one of the symbols of Qadhafi’s revolution. Again, a sign or a kind of an indication that he wanted to be what he saw as his roots, so to speak, within the Bedouin population of Libya.
GROSS: But, again, correct me if I’m wrong, when he’d go to a foreign country and meet with leaders there, he’d pitch a tent in the city and insist that he had to sleep in the tent.
Prof. VANDEWALLE: Yes, indeed. He insisted always on taking a tent with him. Now this was no ordinary tent. This was a bulletproof tent.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: I didn’t know they made such things.
Prof. VANDEWALLE: Well, I did not either until I actually found out. But the point was, of course, that this was an enormously heavy tent by implication, and so it would necessitate a special airplane to fly the tent into wherever Qadhafi went.
I saw this happen, for example, when he flew into Brussels for a meeting with European Union officials. But in a sense that wasn’t the strangest thing because he also sometimes insisted on bringing two or three camels along with the tent and that, of course, riled up a lot of officials wherever he went.
GROSS: So the camels would be flown in?
Prof. VANDEWALLE: Yes, the camels would be flown in and would be tethered to the tent.”
On the opposite, the host’s efforts to portray Qadhafi as a mentally ill person, living in the world of absurd, which deserves, at best, good laughs, looked downright arrogant, short-minded and quite pretended:
“Libya under Gadhafi was built on such a big lie. He has this “Green Book,” his revolutionary text, his revolutionary Bible that preaches this direct input of the people into the government, and the people have no input at all and there’s no political system. There’s no political parties. There’s no parliament but he sets up these revolutionary committees to basically control things and to control the people.”
Could you think only about one and only “right” type of social organization, which will fit all societies? Which way of thinking Montesquieu called the Despoty of Idea – the worst type of policy after the real Despoty.
Could you imagine that a Libyan radio host could have said the following and be perfectly in her own right to say so:
“America under Founding Fathers was built on such a big lie. They had this “The Constitution”, their revolutionary text, their revolutionary Bible that preaches this indirect input into the representative government, and the regular people have no input at all and there’s no direct political system. There’s no revolutionary committees. There’s no stateless state but they set up these Parties and Lobbyist Organizations to basically control things and to control the people.“?