“America can wage war against us, the West can torment us, it doesn’t matter: the world has my Green Book,” Muammar Gaddafi held in a 1979 interview. “All we need to defend ourselves is The Green Book.” More than three decades later, Qaddafi remains a pariah—and his Green Book is as irrelevant as it was the day he proclaimed its importance. He boasted then that “my Green Book has resolved man’s problems.” In fact, fidelity to it has multiplied Libya’s problems.
Penned in 1975, The Green Book reads as Qaddafi’s imitation of Mao’s Little Red Book, updated for the ’70s and tailored for the Muslim world. Whereas Black Panthers far from China peddled Mao’s Little Red Book long after it was written, Qaddafi’s little green book has transcended neither Libya’s borders nor its Marx-on-the-march, mid-seventies publication date. Children still study The Green Book in Libyan schools. Elsewhere, the slim volume is read rarely—and only then as a curiosity.
The second month into a NATO campaign that hoped to oust the Libyan strongman in days, it’s clear that Westerners don’t understand Muammar Qaddafi. Reading his Green Book is a good place to start. Though it isn’t particularly germane to the world, the work sheds light on the personality that has repeatedly drawn the ire of the world.
Unlike Osama bin Laden, whose religious-laced rants leave secular Westerners perplexed, Qaddafi speaks our language. Ruling in a region overflowing with mullahs, monarchs, and murderers, Qaddafi curiously looked West, instead of around him, for inspiration in lording over Libya.
The Green Book’s opening pages offer a half-clever critique of Western democracy. In a parliamentary system, when 51 percent captures the legislative body, then “49 per cent of the electorate is ruled by an instrument of government they did not vote for,” Qaddafi points out. “Plebiscites are a fraud against democracy,” he subsequently writes. “Those who vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ do not, in fact, express their free will but, rather, are silenced by the modern conception of democracy as they are not allowed to say more than ‘yes’ or ‘no.’”
For several pages, Qaddafi adeptly highlights the shortcomings of various aspects of Western democracy. The crescendo of criticism grows, and the reader anxiously awaits the punchline—and quite a joke it is. “Popular conferences are the only means to achieve popular democracy,” Qaddafi, presumably straight-faced, asserts. “Any system of government contrary to this method, the method of Popular Conferences, is undemocratic.” After all that buildup a letdown naturally followed. All of the pointed-out drawbacks of Western-style governance appear more glaringly in the proposed “Popular Conferences.” This sophist’s lapse in logic could only emanate from an emperor whose votaries are afraid to tell him that he wears no clothes.
The opening sections rationalize the few controlling the many by demeaning the governmental systems where the many possess a check on the few. The control-freak mentality that inspires The Green Book’s advocacy of one-man rule—called “Popular Conferences”—also inspires its section on economics. There, the state is as all-powerful as it is in the political realm.
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