By Aroun Rashid Deen NY, USA – How history has come to pass, again, ghoulishly! This time, its victim: the revered self-proclaimed king of Sub-Saharan Africa, the flamboyant narcissist, Muammar Ghaddafi. History – in its chilling form – is not going to end with him because man, in his stubbornness to want to hold on to absolute power at all times at all costs, gets blinded, dumbed and deafened by Power-Absolute.
The video clip of a bloodied and dying Muammar Ghaddafi being bludgeoned is disturbing enough to rattle the very foundation of human conscience. The scene of his captors – Libyan revolutionary fighters – gloating as he faces death, horribly, brings to mind the scene in Homer’s The Iliad, where Achilles kills Hector and drags his body behind his chariot around Troy. It also reminds us of the delight taken by a mob of drunken and drug-induced Liberian rebels, led by a war-lord Prince Johnson, as they were slaying then-Liberian President Samuel Doe while cameras were rolling. The dying Samuel Doe lay naked, crying for mercy as he was stabbed to death and mocked.
What is troubling in this instance about Ghaddafi, as it was with Saddam Hussein, Samuel Doe and, to a lesser degree, Laurent Gbagbo of Cote D’Ivoire and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, is that we are witnessing the deadly blow of Power-Absolute being inflicted on its abuser. It always comes at a time when all that is left of man is the bare state of weakness, emptiness and irrelevance; features that also define us as mortal, but which we almost always brush aside or ignore once we command some level of political authority.
As the distinguished French philosopher, Christian-thinker and essayist Simone Weil puts it in The Iliad: in the process of killing someone else we actually are killing ourselves. And as we witness the brutality on Ghaddafi that may have led to his death, we also actually witness ourselves, helplessly doomed, being killed.
I despise Ghaddafi – even in death – because of his role in the wars that brought about the brutal deaths of millions of Sierra Leoneans and Liberians and the devastation that those wars have brought to both countries. And what’s more, he was never held accountable for his actions. By the same token, I find no pleasure in witnessing his brutal death. Those who broadcast it on television or print it on their newspapers, however, should not be criticized as insensitive to its gruesome nature. They are just performing a responsibility they hold to the public.
The alleged execution of the Libyan dictator has drawn worldwide concern and criticism not so much because he died but because of the brutal circumstances in the moments leading to his death – and witnessed by millions worldwide. Seeing, they say, is believing. However, seeing in this circumstance goes beyond believing. The savagery of what we witnessed is troubling.
With Ghaddafi abandoned, stripped of everything but his mere mortal self, what we see in that last moment is not a ‘powerful’ ruler but a representative of all of us – human beings – with our own blood spilling. This might account for the reason why some of us, despite our curiosity, turn away the moment we see it. But such brutal killings are being carried out every day in the secret dungeons that also define the misguided absolute power of the Moammar Ghaddafis, the Hosni Mubaraks, the Samuel Does and the Saddam Husseins. Many have perished in the most gruesome ways at the hands of all these terrible men.
Dictators often perceive their citizens as sub-human. In the early days of the protest-turned-revolt in Libya, Ghaddafi referred to the protestors as rats and cockroaches who would be tracked down, house to house, and crushed. The irony, of course, is that in the end is it Ghaddafi himself who, in an attempt to escape the rebels, was reduced to crawling in a drainage pipe, the home of rats and cockroaches.
Obsessed by the hunger for absolute power, dictators continuously mistake their authority for power. While they are only temporarily entrusted with the custody of authority, power is in the hands of the people, always. Authority is the legitimate consent that the governed entrust to the governor to rein as a leader, regardless of how that leader comes into the position. The people are the power.
And when leaders try to wrest that power from the people at all costs, they end up hurting the very people who are the true custodians of absolute power. There is a limit to how much a leader can impose his will on the people, because only the governed have the ability to impose their will on the leader – as we have seen with all of the fallen men mentioned above.
When a once great leader disgracefully succumbs, alas, people tend to wonder, with a troubled feeling of disbelief, why that is. History, as always, is merely at work.
The fall of Muammar Ghaddafi must serve as a warning to all leaders, be they autocratic, totalitarian or so-called democratic. History cannot be more clear: When leaders resort to devilish acts to cling to their authority, they end up making of their subjects the very devils who would eventually deliver them to their graves. Leaders of all nations great and small: You have been warned!