Qaddafi Can Celebrate His Filthy Regime Without Us

The British government has been roundly criticized for freeing Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, the Libyan national convicted of murdering 270 people when he blew up Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. The Libyan government, meanwhile, has been roundly criticized by even the British for hailing him as a hero when he returned to his homeland. Britain has no leg to stand on, however—not because the government released a convicted terrorist out of “mercy” last week but because it is still considering “its plan to dispatch the Duke of York to Libya next week”: for Moammar Qaddafi’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of his seizure of power.
Qaddafi was Megrahi’s boss when that plane exploded over Lockerbie. The only reason he isn’t in jail is that it’s as hard to arrest him as it is to arrest Sudan’s genocidal Omar Bashir, even after an international warrant has been issued against him. (Bashir, by the way, “will be attending Qaddafi’s party”: without fear of capture.)
Britain is “reconsidering” its decision to send a member of its royal family to toast a Stalinist and a terrorist. That’s something. But “as Gene put it”: at the British blog Harry’s Place, “What’s disturbing is not that the plans are being reconsidered, but rather that there were plans in the first place.”
The Duke of York’s scheduled appearance at Qaddafi’s gala is unseemly, but that’s “diplomacy” for you. Plenty of diplomats from democratic countries attend events hosted by dictators.
Qaddafi’s one-man rule, however, is almost uniquely grotesque. He closely studied Nicolae Ceauşescu’s vicious regime in Romania and imposed the same system on Libyans after he overthrew King Idris in 1969. His government is so repressive that the Islamic Republic of Iran looks libertarian by comparison. Unlike in Iran and even in Burma, there are no protests against government power in Libya ever. State control over the people is absolute.
“Freedom House gives Libya scores of 7”: in political rights and civil liberties—the lowest possible scores in each category, with a score of 1 being the highest. Iran, by contrast, scores 6 in each category. Saudi Arabia is slightly less free than Iran, as is Syria, but both are freer than Libya. Only seven countries in the entire world are as miserably oppressive according to Freedom House: Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Somalia, Equatorial Guinea, Burma, Sudan, and North Korea.
I’m one of the very few Americans who has visited Libya since Qaddafi seized power. (Setting foot there was illegal until recently.) And I can attest that it is, indeed, one of the most thoroughly totalitarian countries on the face of the earth.
The place stinks of oppression. You can’t escape the state without leaving the country or going off-road and into the desert. Informers and secret police are omnipresent and all but omniscient. Hotel rooms are bugged. No one can travel from one city to another without a thick stack of permits and papers. I saw propaganda posters and billboards literally everywhere, even alongside roads in the wilderness where nobody lived. State propaganda is even carved into the sides of the mountains. Pictures of Qaddafi hang inside every building, and an entire floor of the museum in the capital is dedicated to glorifying him personally. Libya even looks like a communist country, with its Stalinist tower blocks outside Tripoli’s old city center and its socialist-realist paintings depicting happy proletarians in their Workers’ Paradise.
No one I met would talk about politics if there was the slightest chance anyone might overhear us. Those who did open up when we were safely in private were unanimous in their hatred, fear, and loathing of the regime. And they made sure to tell me that their entire families would be thrown in prison if I repeated what they said to anyone.
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