Middle Israel: The kingling’s speech

The world’s most misunderstood leader looks back at an eventful life.

Gaddafi 311 reuters (photo credit: reuters)
Gaddafi 311 reuters
(photo credit: reuters)
Sandwiched between Carthage, which nearly conquered Rome, and Egypt, where Cleopatra seduced Caesar, Libya never won a fraction of its neighbors’ fame – until now. Now Libya is where it’s at.
As journalists from around the world flock there and diplomats scramble for a glimpse of this sorry desert patch’s future, while newsreels map its cities and eggheads list its tribal rivalries, Libya gets the one thing that even its petrodollars couldn’t buy, the prize that even the most unscrupulous of its trade partners could not deliver, the commodity that throughout a Sisyphean career Muammar Gaddafi found so priceless, mysterious and elusive: attention.
Oh, how much he wanted attention. What did that desert animal not do to catch the inhabited world’s glimpse, to hear its growl, to smell its sweat, to see its astonishment and to touch its skin? Though he could have ranked himself general, lieutenant-general or field marshal, he picked the unassuming colonel, hoping to generate some mystique. Alas, instead of stopping to ask “why, actually?” everyone took it matter-offactly, as if “the colonel” had actually commanded troops on a battlefield, or at least attended West Point or Sandhurst.
Having failed in this, he turned to dress. He wore galabiyas and he wore keffiyehs, he wore beards and he wore mustaches, he wore naval uniforms with golden braids and he wore paratroopers’ khakis, berets and boots, and he donned hoods, and helmets, and visor hats, and he covered his chest with ribbons, brooches and photos that kissed a clinking collection of medals worthy of a timeless warrior who somehow fought at Stalingrad, Iwo Jima and Waterloo, too.
And yet nothing worked. The world ignored him. Yes, the outfits were noticed, Time magazine one year even included Gaddafi among the world’s 10 worst dressed people, but Gaddafi the man, the persona, the thinker, the revolutionary, the provocateur, the path-breaker, the symbol, the gospel bearer, was ignored.
The man who went through the trouble of pitching tents in Rome, Paris and a Donald Trump estate in New York never, not once, heard anyone say, let alone write, the headline as he would have written it: “Gaddafi is the problem.” “If only,” he once was heard muttering as the last of his 40 virgin bodyguards disappeared into the harem after another hard day’s night, “if only they would once, just once, hand it to me.”
It was then, some believe, that he turned on the big world that sprawled beyond his wardrobe.
SO NOW, in the depth of the rat hole where he has arrived, we inserted between a fighterbomber’s deafening takeoff and a distant machine gun’s crackle the only question we came to ask:
Middle Israel: Colonel, how did you arrive here?
Gaddafi: (Gulping a pill and straightening his gilded scarf, which looks as if it were sliced from a drapery in Filene’s Basement) What didn’t I do? I took truckloads of money and peddled it to the IRA while it was killing Brits; I took money, all from the fortunes Allah graciously placed under the Arab masses’ feet, and gave it to Philippine rebels – Islamists, communists, anyone who would make trouble; I gave money to the Nation of Islam so it would attack the US. One morning in 1977 I even had tanks and planes attack Egypt. And yet, instead of saying, just once, for the record, “Gaddafi is the problem,” all I would hear, from everyone – statesmen, diplomats, literati, actors, playwrights and musicians – was: “Israel is the problem.”
Jesus, what didn’t I do to get noticed? In 1996 I had troops storm the Aubslim prison and murder hundreds of political prisoners in their cells. Did anyone care? Did anyone say, “Gaddafi is the problem?” or at least, “Gaddafi is a microcosm of the pan-Arab political catastrophe?” Did, say, the British academic forums, or the Scandinavian political circles, or the Ontario unionists who spent years badmouthing Israel, remember Gaddafi? Did all those Israel-bashing Nobel laureates, from Portugal’s Jose Saramango to Ireland’s Mairead Corrigan, condemn me, just once, so that not only they, but I too, could have my moment in the sun?
Heck, I took to the UN’s podium, tore up its charter and threw its bits in the General Assembly chairman’s face, said Jack Ruby was Israeli – and still nobody cared; not about the disgrace, not about the canard, not even about its having had nothing to do with the already incomprehensible sentences that I muttered before and after it, from my thesis that the swine flu was a capitalist plot to my demand – on which I still insist – that Martin Luther King’s murder be reinvestigated.
It was all to no avail. As soon as I left the hall, the UN returned to its habits, condemning Israel in the morning for this and in the evening for that, but Muammar Gaddafi, the brotherly leader and guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya – never for anything. Not for murdering opponents, not for meddling here, not for squabbling there, not even for invading entire lands, not even for my heroic diplomats’ shooting into a dissidents’ rally in London and killing policewoman Yvonne Fletcher.
Back at the UN, when I finally got down from the podium, the hundreds of diplomats at hand never rose on their feet to chant, if not admiringly then at least fearfully, “Gaddafi is the problem.”
The world continued in its stubborn ways. In Greece, monks blamed their economic crisis on Israel, in Seattle ads on buses condemned Israel as a war criminal and in South Africa Desmond Tutu called on the Cape Town Opera to cancel a trip to Israel. And what about me, Desmond? Why do you always forget me, Muammar, who cares for Africa more than all the Africans put together? Didn’t I kill people, a lot of people, people who had nothing to do with anything, like Lockerbie Flight 103’s 259 passengers? Don’t I deserve also some kind of statement from you and the rest of morality’s self-styled standardbearers? Only Israel is worth a headline for you?
Or take Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who won global attention for molesting Shimon Peres after Israel counterattacked Hamas. What about me, Mr. Erdogan? I attacked the sovereign country of Chad; I invaded it, big time, in broad daylight, and fought there for nearly a decade, a war that left 10,000 corpses in the desert and billions of petrodollars under it, the very money that the idiots who sold me tanks, missiles and warplanes could have made me use to develop the Arab world so it wouldn’t spew unwanted immigrants into Europe and desperate revolutionaries into city squares?
So this is how we arrived at this great moment in history, when my bullets, bombs and missiles meet my people in what is universally respected as a grand and very fitting finale of an illustrious career and a life well spent. Now I don’t know how exactly they will recall me in my death, but I can tell you this much: I will not be the laughingstock I was in my life.