The Magazine

‘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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Since Qaddafi often seemed to recede for years at a time from the international stage, it’s easy to forget just how mad the man Reagan called the “mad dog of the Middle East” actually is. Here’s a helpful, though woefully incomplete, reminder: He suggested Switzerland be abolished, called Condoleezza Rice “my little black African woman,” asserted swine flu was created in U.S. military labs, stated a government shouldn’t tell women they can’t drive since that should be up to their male relatives, denounced sodomy on the floor of the U.N., charged that the CIA and Mossad injected Libyan children with AIDS, suggested Israel was behind the Kennedy assassination, finally settled eighties-era state-sponsored terrorism claims then tried to coerce oil companies to reimburse him $1.5 billion for the payout, said he could never form a union with Europe since Scandinavians walk around naked, and—my new personal favorite—suggested that the current revolution is the work of youth who are hopped up on hallucinogenic-laced milk and Nescafé provided by Osama bin Laden. 

The Green Book sought to systematize Qaddafi’s scattershot nuttiness. As I watched the coverage of the revolution, I picked up my own dog-eared English translation, which I bought in a Tripoli gift shop, along with a Qaddafi watch that I practically stole (“I want you to have my leader cheap,” said the generous shopkeeper). With chapter headers like “The Solution to the Problem of Democracy” and “The Social Basis of the Third Universal Theory,” it’s not hard to see what Libyans are fighting for, or rather against. Just a humble Bedouin, Qaddafi has always refused even to acknowledge that he is the leader of the country, preferring what he calls “direct democracy,” decrying evil dictatorships in favor of “supervision of the people by the people.” 

Qaddafi, he’d have you believe, is a people person, which is why in his book, he sets up layer upon labyrinthine layer of People’s Conferences, which must additionally set up Professional People’s Conferences, which are simultaneously members of the Basic People’s Conferences as well as the People’s Committees, so that all issues drafted can then be sent to a General People’s Conference, which is attended by the secretariats of the People’s Conferences and the People’s Committees, which are in turn answerable to the Basic People’s Conference. See how that works? There’s a flow chart in The Green Book. It actually looks like a circular firing squad. 

All of this bureaucracy, of course, was set up so Qaddafi could weaken potential rivals and consolidate power, which he has also managed to do by not having elections. When asked about elections once, he said, “Elections? What for? We have surpassed that stage you are presently in. All the people are in power now. Do you want them to regress and let somebody replace them?” 

Of course, for a man who can sell that line with a straight face, it’s just the beginning of the madness. Qaddafi propounds the need to abolish the wage system, since wages enslave earners to those who hire them. (This might explain why Libya ranks 173rd out of 179 countries on the Index of Economic Freedom.) “In a socialist society,” he writes, “there are no wage earners but only partners.” As Qaddafi and his children have looted state coffers overflowing with oil boom revenues, the people have been an extremely silent partner for four decades running. 

Qaddafi the social scientist opines that “the black race is .  .  . in a dire and backward social condition” which has led “to an unchecked and high birth rate,” as they’d rather procreate than work since their “lassitude is due to living in constantly hot climate.” Qaddafi the PE coach wants the masses to vacate the grandstands at sporting events and take to the athletic fields “to practice sports in crowds, as they realize that sports are activities to be practiced and not watched.” Qaddafi the educator wants to see a “worldwide cultural revolution” that destroys prevailing education systems in order “to liberate the human mentality from syllabuses that nurture fanaticism and the deliberate reshaping of man’s concepts, his tastes and mentality.” (The Green Book aside, I think he means.) 

At times, he sounds less like Colonel Qaddafi than Captain Obvious. Here’s Qaddafi on gender: “Women are female and men are male. According to gynaecologists [sic] women, unlike men, menstruate each month.” In most normal instances, finding yourself an audience to such utterances would prompt you to say, “That’s nice, Grandpa.” Then you would help Gramps on with his robe, wheel him to the dayroom, park his chair in front of The Price Is Right, and tell him the nurse will be by soon with his meds. Maybe, if you really liked him, you’d fetch him a bowl of applesauce. In Libya, Grandpa has had all the guns and has inflicted his demented worldview on the citizenry for 42 years. 

Though seemingly not for much longer. When I met with the LIFGers in 2009, I was troubled by the fact that what little complaining they did about Qaddafi—when outlining for instance what had animated them to take up arms against him—essentially boiled down to his clipping their Islamic-extremist wings. They were mad at him, in other words, not for being crazy, but for not being crazy enough. (No surprise that al Qaeda’s North African wing said it supports the uprising.) Such uncomfortable realities in the Arab world could give any sensible Westerner—concerned over anti-Americanism, Islamic extremism, and $5-a-gallon gas for starters—serious pause about what comes next, as those Nescafé-addled youth take the country back from the only leader they’ve ever known. 

But worrying about the lunatics who may come gives short shrift to the ones who are already here. As Qaddafi himself wrote presciently, though with his usual lack of self-awareness: “When the instrument of government is a dictatorship .  .  . a society .  .  . has no means to express its position and rectify the situation other than through violence.” 

Watching these newly minted street-fighting men on TV wading through the rivers of blood that Saif al-Islam Muammar Al-Qaddafi promised would come, I was reminded a bit of my own compulsory education—a song they made us sing long ago in Sunday school. Its opening lyrics went, “It only takes a spark to get a fire going.” 

Here’s hoping the protesters all held onto their copies of The Green Book. It’s hard to think of anything that would provide these emboldened fire-starters with worthier kindling.

Matt Labash is a senior writer at THE WEEKLY STANDARD. His book Fly Fishing with Darth Vader is now available in paperback from Simon & Schuster.

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