Why I am disturbed at Muammar Gaddafi’s death footage?
I am currently writing a new book about transcending the Liberal Peace paradigm, a post-Cold war view on which conventional Peace and Conflict Studies is built. This paradigm equates building peace to repairing a car. Throw in a free and fair election, a good governance program, some civil society capacity building, a human rights strengthening agenda, and any country can join in the ranks of peaceful democracies. We all know, after all, or we are told, that democracies don’t fight other democracies. So if we are all democratic, peace on earth will no longer be a distant dream.
For the Liberal Peace paradigm, democracy equals peace, and that’s all there is to it. We are also told that all takes time, a lot of it, and that we have to be patient. Democracy cannot be learned in a day, but it always prevails! This is surely what Tunisian women have been told over the week-end, when they were made to queue separately from men in front of voting stations, supposedly to ensure that they would all be able to return to their cooking duties in no time. We would not want democracy to make their men hungry, would we?! Maybe next time they will be told to stay at home, so that their men may be catered to even better.
So here I am, writing away on Liberal Peace, when a colleague sends me a disturbing video of Muammar Gaddafi’s last moments. I read the caption, “Muammar Gaddafi being sodomized”, and I instantly refused to believe it. Surely the good rebels of Libya that my country, France, has been supporting with 500 Million euros that it did not have to spare, were not capable of such a thing. I click on the video and here it is, in all its savage truth. The good people of Libya, hungry for human rights and democracy, savagely insert a knife in the anus of their former leader, shower him with punches, lynch him, shoot him in the head, and drag his body on the pavement. How can I come back to my Peace and Conflict Studies writing after this? I feel that I am choking in my ivory tower.
I head out to an academic committee meeting, and I wonder, how many of my colleagues know about this? Do they know that the Responsibility to Protect, invoked in preparation to the drafting of the UN Resolution 1973, was established in the wake of the Rwandan Genocide, the Srebrenica Massacre, so that the horrors that took place there would never reoccur. Do my colleagues know of the war crimes that have been perpetrated in Libya, in the name of peace and democracy? Do they know that not all civilians have been protected by 1973? Do they know that the future of Libya lies in the hands of former al-Qaeda fighters? How can peace be brought about in blood and revenge? Do they care, or is the removal of Gaddafi all that matters to them?
To all the champions of R2P out there, I have news for you, in the words of Alfred Korzybski: “the map is not the territory”. While R2P might be laudable, the reality of its application can defeat all the good intentions that were behind it, because in the end, I only believe what I see. I refuse to talk about a change in US foreign policy since President Obama claimed it in Cairo several years ago, because civilians are still dying under drone fire in Northern Pakistan. As someone who felt the dread of Israeli drones during the 2006 Lebanon war, I know the difference between a nice idea, and the terror that it might bring civilians. I refuse to be told that Libya is a revolution for democracy and people power, because the rebels we armed don’t even have the good intentions that we may have in our ivory towers. They proved it by the way they treated Muammar Gaddafi. They are as brutal as Gaddafi once was, as despicable as a US drone attack against Pakistani civilians, as wicked as the treatment of detainees in US secret prisons, and as ruthless as the use of white phosphorous by Israel in Gaza.
Was I so naïve to think that 1973 would save all civilians? Why should I be upset at the inhumane treatment of Muammar Gaddafi, since, after all, he was not a civilian? Not even in post-Saddam Iraq have I seen such horrors perpetrated. I remember being shocked at the parading of Saddam Hussein in his underwear, and being told at the time by a US officer that it could have been worse, had he been in the hands of an Iraqi mob. Maybe my military colleague had a point. So is this what we are condemned to: humiliation or lynching, all in the name of democracy, for peace.
I sincerely hope that in the days to come, this video will prove to be a fake, because right now, I am too disturbed to write about peace, of any kind. As much as I know that the patience we are exhorted into showing is as absurd as it is damaging, I also remember that there has to be something better out there, away from the well-intentioned map. If the NATO intervention in Libya was not about people power, maybe the people of Libya can re-appropriate a movement that is being high jacked in their name. Will they have our support though, for a second round?
Dr Victoria Fontan is Head of Department and Associate Professor in the Department of Peace and Conflict Studies at the University for Peace. Her latest book "Voices from Post-Saddam Iraq: Living with Terrorism, Insurgency, and New Forms of Tyranny" is published by Praeger. Her forthcoming book, as mentioned in the commentary above, is a critique of the liberal peace paradigm.