Qaddafi, Gaddafi, Gadhafi: No Matter How You Spell It, He’s D-E-A-D
What can you say about a 69-year-old dictator whose own people felt the need to murder him? That he was vain and deluded? That he was pompous and vengeful? That he was lucky to have lasted 42 years as king of his hill? That he was, in the end, merely human and made of mortal flesh? The answer is “all of the above, and more.”
What more can we say about the deposed and summarily dispatched Libyan potentate Moammar al-Qaddafi/Gaddafi/Gadhafi/Khadafy, that man of multiple transliterations and personalities… that matchless Mad Dog of the Middle East (to use Ronald Reagan’s memorable phrase)?
Well, it seems he had a major crush on Condoleezza Rice. Found among the personal possessions at his imperial compound in Tripoli was an album filled with photos of the demurely fetching former Secretary of State. “I support my darling black African woman,” Qaddafi once gushed during a TV interview. “I admire and am very proud of the way she leans back and gives orders to the Arab leaders… Leezza, Leezza, Leezza… I love her very much.”
He proved to be an ardent suitor. During Rice’s state visit to Libya, Qaddafi presented her with a diamond ring and a locket containing his photograph, then treated her to a special viewing of his Condi Rice photo album. Ever the cool professional, Rice described the experience as “not standard diplomatic practice.”
What else can I tell you about the late Colonel Qaddafi that you might not already know? With a little help from Wikipedia and a few other sources, I’ve assembled the following fascinating facts:
- He was born in a tent on the Sahara sands — the Arab equivalent of a log cabin. One grandfather was a martyr in the struggle against Italian occupation; one grandmother was alleged to be (would you believe?) Jewish. Of course we never heard about the Jewish granny directly from Qaddafi, most likely because he was a devout anti-Semite.
- He attended his nation’s military academy at Benghazi — a ticket to social mobility for a desert Arab — and had attained the rank of lieutenant when he headed the bloodless military coup that overthew Libya’s King Idris in 1969. He was all of 27 at the time. Qaddafi immediately won a promotion to colonel, a rank he wore with pride throughout his years in power.
- After taking power, Qaddafi scrapped the old Christian calendar. He renamed July Hannibal after the ancient North African general who challenged Rome. August became the month of Nasser, in tribute to Egypt’s chieftain.
- He despised the native (and non-Arab) Berber population of Libya, which his scrambled mind somehow came to associate with foreign imperialism. After taking power, he made it illegal for Berbers to give their children traditional Berber names and outlawed the teaching of their language in schools. He moved them en masse from their native villages into specially constructed public housing.
- He counted among his friends and allies some of the vilest despots of his time: Uganda’s Idi Amin, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, Liberia’s Charles Taylor — even Serbian genocidist Slobodan Milosevic. If they were sufficiently evil, chances are they were FOM (Friends of Moammar). Imagine these international Goodfellas stepping out together for a night of bowling followed by a chummy killing spree. Whoever said it’s lonely at the top?
- He was a sartorial peacock who favored outlandish gowns and uniforms along with the ever-present sunglasses. He never traveled without his so-called Amazonian Guard, a crack coterie of Hollywood-glamorous female virgin bodyguards trained in the martial arts. (I’m not making this up.) But his favorite traveling companion was his Ukrainian nurse, a healthy-looking blonde who professes nothing but fond memories of her old boss. Their relationship was said to be strictly professional. As for the Amazonians, who knows?
- He started out as a proponent of Pan-Arabism, with his eyes on a united Arabia that would span the desert lands from Morocco to the Persian Gulf. When that dream fizzled, he set his sights on a future United States of Africa. (Give the man credit; he thought big.) In fact, just a few years ago he was crowned “King of Kings” by a consortium of more than 200 African tribal chieftains.
- He was afraid to fly over water and stayed resolutely on the ground floor when he traveled. Members of his inner circle noted that he wouldn’t climb more than 35 steps.
- He was known for making strange and sometimes incomprehensible public statements, once referring to HIV as “a peace virus, not an aggressive virus.”
- He declared a jihad against Switzerland last year, calling it an “infidel state” and urging the U.N. to partition it among France, Germany and Italy. (One of his sons had been arrested there and briefly detained after a hotel scuffle in Geneva.)
- He survived at least seven attempts on his life until his luck ran out while he hid in a drain pipe outside his hometown of Sirte. Despite all the gruesome video footage played repeatedly and almost zestfully by CNN and other networks, nobody captured the moment of his death. Word has it that he was shot with his own golden gun after being roughed up and pinned against a truck. His reported last words: “Don’t shoot!”
But what about Qaddafi’s politics? Where did the late “Dean of Arab Leaders” stand on the left-right spectrum… and did he even have a coherent political philosophy?
Like the man himself, Qaddafi’s political views defied conventional description. He was an ardent socialist who vastly improved his people’s healthcare, housing and sanitation through direct government intervention. Libyans enjoyed the best standard of living in all of Africa during his rule. At the same time, he personally siphoned the lion’s share of Libya’s oil wealth and kept it for his family — along with a tiny elite of close friends and associates. The state controlled the economy, and he controlled the state. In short, you might call Libya’s economic system a socialist kleptocracy — a strange melding of far left and far right, with nothing in between.
Make that an Islamist socialist kleptocracy. Unlike the secular Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein, Qaddafi imposed a heavy (and mandatory) dose of Islamic faith and morality upon his people. Alcohol, gambling, homosexuality, adultery and casual public displays of affection were strictly verboten. He also believed in exporting Islam and defending it against all threats, real and imagined. He became infamous for his role in state-sponsored terrorism, from the dastardly Lockerbie bombing to gun-running for the IRA. He reveled in the prospect of an Islamic Europe.
Only after 9/11 did he soften his militant bravado, probably to avoid retaliation by the U.S. and its allies. (Smart man.) Then, as the Arab Spring swept across the deserts of North Africa, he turned against his own people. Refusing to surrender power, the aging dictator fought a bitter and ultimately futile civil war against the forces of democracy and change. These cockroaches!, he fumed as his people marched against him. Surely they must be on hallucinogenic drugs supplied by foreigners!
The old fox managed to evade his pursuers until they finally trapped him in that drainpipe near his birthplace. His last moments on this earth must have been a hellish blur of terror and stress hormones. Paradise seemed beyond his reach; he died stripped of all dignity, like a prize hog at the slaughterhouse. Allah-hu akbar!, his killers shouted when the deed was done. God is great!
It would be pleasant to think that the new Libya will emerge as a shining model of representative democracy, but I’m not ready to place any bets just yet. The manner of Qaddafi’s forced exit merely succeeded in turning my stomach.