Tuesday, April 1, 2008


Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi’s clamor at the current Arab League (A.L.) conference in Damascus is notable for a couple of discomforting moments. The oracle of Tripoli has been the A.L.’s comic relief for some years, providing rants and raves that usually stir little consideration. More recently his oil wealth has enabled distribution of sizable investments across the African continent and purchased him an occasional audience. His upbraiding of fellow Arab attendants, this weekend, for their disunity may have rung true, but received bored looks and rolling eyes nonetheless. His additional exhortatory that they all stood to suffer the same fate as Sadam Hussein at the hands of America, returned laughter. Why?

His claims were evidently humorous, but for what reasons? Did his audience not believe America would? Or did they think America couldn’t? Or perhaps they laughed at him thinking, “no way, look at what you got away with.” Gaddafi’s rants become even more humorous, and more disquieting when placed in the context of an earlier meeting he had this past week. Congressman John Beohner visited Gaddafi to advance deals developing Libyan oil and gas infrastructure, and the visitors reportedly “saluted the efforts of the Guide for the Libyan revolution in consolidating peace and stability in the world.” Reading such sincerely delivered flattery is neck-snapping, though understandably there is need for polite manners with your host, or on the other hand, you could just not go. Gaddafi, however, probably believed them, then went home and stayed awake all night worrying about the attention and what else it might bring in the dark of night from the air over Tripoli. His solicitation of unity from the A.L. may come from a sense of self-defense and preservation. He wants his nightmares to go away.

The West’s recently (2006) new friend, having sworn off nuclear energy, WMDs and the financing of Lockerbie airplane bombings has been promoting the unification of much of Africa under one government. He has also been driving a separate unity bus attempting to get leaders of the oil and petro-dollar rich Arab world in general to climb aboard. It’s a refrain they have all heard for decades from this authoritarian ruler, who’s power and leverage rest under his sands, like much of the all-powerful monarchies controlling Arab states, or dynastic ruling families who used revolution to take power. America and Israel have long been whipping posts for distraction. Deflecting blame is an indulgent and self serving element of human nature that becomes so much more pronounced when one aspires to preserve inherited or abducted power and wealth.

America is often accused by Middle Eastern countries of opposing Arab unity, however, this blame ignores the fact that it is, and has been, in the interest of all these monarchies, califates and authoritarian regimes to maintain a certain distance from one another. Their political roots are neither deep nor wide and they stare with suspicion at one another across all their borders. The dis-unified status quo has been de rigueur for all of them and the maintenance of power over the wealth beneath their feet is tenuous. Wars and dissent between Arab states have long been justification for martial laws and the overriding of civil liberties. Unity of consent on crude oil prices is about the limit of co-operation. Where men would be kings, there is no seat in the room for unity. The poorer Arab countries have little say in the unity discussion and all they can expect is an occasional handout from wealthy neighbors. There will be peace in the Middle East when Arab leaders of the rich states will it so. Until then kings and princes will oblige photo to all comers, even Putin, striving to establish international credentials as peace makers for candidacy to higher office.

Consummate harmony between dominions is only truly achieved when there is broad based consensus prevalent throughout a population, whether it be between two countries or a dozen. Gaddafi’s version of unity is unity between potentates. To Gaddafi’s dismay there is no such prospect on any radar, and currently most Arab countries have sent Syria to the closet to do penance for its incursion in Lebanon and its rapprochement with Iran. Many of the wealthy leaders politely declined presence at the current Arab League meeting in Damascus, feigning meetings of greater import and urgency. “In any case, what’s to discuss? Oil prices are trending nicely and there’s a new museum opening in honor of my greatness and beneficence.”

All of civilization can affirm gratitude for Arab contribution to society’s advancement in the panoply of human endeavors from agriculture and architecture to the arts and mathematics. Yet much of that contribution dates back to the Middle Ages. While Gaddafi congratulates himself as a benevolent dictator, he and his peers don’t indulge much light into their realms. Today there are unrealized dreams across the Arab cultural landscape that will slowly surface as education, supplanted by the internet, reverses the suppression of thought and ideas. Creativity will then flourish along with productivity, self confidence and self fulfillment. The internet’s role in the process will be to stimulate interaction and debate across borders and substantiate premises presented by slow to evolve educational systems. Strength and promise of a country, or of a culture, is rooted in the development of the individual. Positive contribution to the broader global community is then an extension of that development. It becomes a contribution rooted in confidence, not restrained by fear. In the meantime, we will continue to watch Gaddafi verbally acknowledge his intimate understanding that there is aegis and security in numbers.


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