Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi paid the ultimate price for speaking “truth to power,” writes Fawzia Afzal-Khan, a professor and university distinguished scholar in the Department of English and director of women and gender studies at New Jersey’s Montclair State University. Her article, published by CounterPunch on October 24th, is entitled “Muammar Gaddafi: In Memoriam.”
Khan admits to her unrequited crush on Qaddafi, whom she saw as a teenager living in Pakistan during his visit in 1974 to that country. She swooned at the sight of this “dashing” young man, “tall and handsome in his military uniform,” who “represented hope for the third world against the imperial West –and what a package that hope came in!” She reveled in his “potent mix of revolutionary zeal combining the best of Islamic ideals of economic and social justice with the even headier language and concepts of western socialism.”
Thirty-seven years later, Khan – now responsible for teaching our nation’s college-age students at a taxpayer-supported state university – is still under Qaddafi’s spell. Sure he may have had his bad points, Khan admits, but nobody is perfect. And she is not convinced that all those nasty things being said about Qaddafi are true. There is a great deal of “murkiness surrounding his character and contributions to Libya or lack thereof,” writes this “distinguished scholar.”
In a display of her sharp critical thinking and analytical skills, Khan is skeptical about those pesky claims that Qaddafi was “a tyrant, who lived a life of immense luxury while his citizens suffered from economic deprivation and political repression, and that Libyans are now ‘free’ and rejoicing after his ignominious end.”
What is the basis for Khan’s skepticism? It seems that one of Qaddafi’s Ukrainian nurses praised Qaddafi as “a good boss who paid them well.” The nurse’s life in Qaddafi’s Libya was “much better than anything she could look forward to in her native Ukraine,” wrote Khan. With such kindness shown by Qaddafi to his female nurses and bodyguards, how can anyone believe the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, who obtained warrants for Qaddafi’s arrest, along with one of his sons and his chief of intelligence. The prosecutor said that Qaddafi bore responsibility for “widespread and systematic attacks” on civilians. But at least he paid his nurses well. And what “good boss” could possibly have ruled a regime that was responsible for the 1996 massacre of more than 1,200 prisoners, as revealed recently with the unearthing of a mass grave believed to hold the remains of the victims?
Also, Khan warns her readers not to necessarily believe all that nasty stuff being alleged about Qaddafi’s responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing, since “it has still not been proved that Libya under orders from Gaddafi had anything to do with it, nor why if so.” Never mind the fact that Libya agreed to a final compensation agreement over Lockerbie and other bombings, which would not have been possible without Qaddafi’s go-ahead.
Even if some of the allegations about Qaddafi’s misdeeds are true, Khan believes they should be put into perspective. Employing a variation of the “Mussolini made the trains run on time” defense, Khan argues that Qaddafi did many great things for his citizens:
Citizens had access to free health care and education and indeed, from having only one-fifth of its citizens able to read and write before he took power in 1969, at the time of his death, Gaddafi’s policies could boast an 83% literacy rate.
One has to wonder, however, whether the dissidents wounded by Qaddafi’s security forces had access to the same level of free health care as, say, Qaddafi’s loyalists did, including his bodyguards and nurses. As to the high literacy rate under Qaddafi, it only did the people good if they confined themselves to government-approved publications. In 2010, Libya’s press was rated as 160th out of 178 nations in the Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders.
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