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‘The Mad Dog of the Middle East’

Reagan was right about Qaddafi

Mar 7, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 24 • By MATT LABASH
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The minder communicated, not so subtly, that if all the dialogue and reeducation and the new Nerfed up Book of Correctional Studies that the former terrorists had group-authored (all of this, we were told, of their own volition) didn’t take, then the Libyan government would be in touch. And you don’t want the Libyan government to be in touch. Anyone who has ever read a Human Rights Watch report knows that thought control is much preferable to taking your chances in a Libyan prison. 

While one LIFGer, who now holds a government post, boasted of whacking a few low-level officials in his former life, most of the former terrorists seemed to have done nothing more than work in the LIFG communications shop, writing sternly worded editorials in jihader fanzines, their terrorist acts having all the teeth of a U.N. resolution. This could have been deliberate soft-pedaling on their part, with the note-taking monitor present. Though the closest any of them ever came to assassinating Qaddafi was throwing a grenade that didn’t blow up. Ronald Reagan came closer to killing Qaddafi, and he’d never even been to a madrassa. I started to question their terrorist seriousness. 

Not only did they not seem imposing—the most danger I ever felt was an elevated insulin level from all the pastries and pomegranate juice we ingested in their sitting rooms. But for all their martyrdom talk, they found excuse after excuse for never having become martyrs: They arrived in Afghanistan after the Soviets had already left because word hadn’t spread (good thing there’s Al Jazeera now, or some still might be rolling into Mogadishu, looking for a piece of some Black Hawk Down action). They were detained on a fake passport. They could never find an open shot at Qaddafi, surrounded as he is by his phalanx of Kalashnikov-toting, all-virgin female bodyguards, the Nuns of the Revolution. By the end, we were openly mocking the ex-LIFGers, asking if they’d gotten any volleyball in at jihader training camp, if they knew anyone who’d blown a finger off in explosives class, if they’d ever been in a fistfight. 

This near-timidity carried over to the streets of Tripoli. Walking the medina at night, you’d feel the drugged-up glare of Qaddafi, forever peering into the middle distance from his omnipresent billboards, looking like a jheri-curled Jim Jones in a Captain Stubing outfit. He is always depicted in his younger incarnations, before he started looking like a melting wax-museum version of himself. But for all the bustle in the claustrophobic alleyways, the sound seemed to be turned way down. Here, an act of rebellion was a wayward youth bombing a wall with pro-government graffiti. As I passed men smoking silently in shisha bars, without the social lubricant of women or alcohol to egg the action along, I felt as though I was witnessing a country of hollowed-out, beaten men. 

Boy, was I wrong. 

The last week has done nothing if not put the lie to that notion. Reports have poured forth from Libya of these once docile vassals being subjected to sniper rounds, fire from air and sea, and roving bands of imported mercenaries on the march to deliver death to them even as they stand in funeral processions or nurse injuries in crowded hospital corridors. And yet, the Libyan people appear to be getting the better of it, as one city after another falls their way. One of my favorite touches came when protesters in Tobruk torched a sculpture of Qaddafi’s Green Book. 

The Green Book, a slim volume authored by Qaddafi in three installments over a period of four years in the late seventies, is compulsory reading in Libya, like the Constitution and Koran all rolled into one. A bit like Mao’s Little Red Book, The Green Book showcases Qaddafi’s full-flowering insanity, the kind that in America would see you either committed or achieving fast-track tenure at UC Santa Cruz. It is a jargon-heavy, stream-of-consciousness, near incoherent statement of Qaddafi’s beliefs, which in turn forcibly became Libyans’ beliefs, as they’d tell you if they could stop giggling long enough. 

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