Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Hisham Matar: Who said Gaddafi had to go?

Readers may be interested in the views of American born Libyan author Hisham Matar (In the Country of Men, Anatomy of a Disappearance) on whether or not Gaddafi had to go. Matar responded in the London Review of Books to Hugh Roberts's long (12,000+ words) article
with the letter below in the 1 December 2011 edition.
I understood that Gaddafi was guilty of any number of crimes but I had little idea of the charges that Matar makes against him.
I gather the alleged crimes of Gaddafi are still a controversial issue on the left.

Who said Gaddafi had to go?
Letter by Hisham Matar

For 42 years Libyans endured the contempt and violence of Muammar Gaddafi’s rule. It subjugated the press, closed down unions and weakened the independence of the courts. It dismantled civic institutions and hanged students by the neck from the gates of the university. Executions of critics in public squares and sports stadiums were broadcast on national television. In a country with a population smaller than that of the City of London, tens of thousands disappeared or were imprisoned. Journalists who dared break the silence were found dead.

It is extraordinary how in his very long essay Hugh Roberts excludes any mention of this history (LRB, 17 November). It makes one wonder whether he knows the country at all. His objection to Nato’s support of the Libyan revolution causes him to lament the end of the dictatorship. With an air of ethnocentric contempt he disregards the will of the Libyan people. Indeed, he even disapproves of calling the deposed leader a dictator, and offers Gaddafi’s comical Green Book the respectability of a serious political theory that, according to Roberts, ‘drew many ordinary Libyans into a sort of participation in public affairs’. Really? What ‘sort of participation’ was possible when every independent agency and organisation was subdued? Although Roberts prefers to judge Gaddafi by his words and not by his actions, he mysteriously excludes any mention of the speeches Gaddafi delivered after 17 February promising to ‘exterminate’ the demonstrators. Just as baffling is the derogatory tone in which he refers to those ‘young men … careering up and down’. He means the men who led the battles that ousted the dictator. In more than 12,000 words Roberts succeeds in expressing no sympathy for, let alone solidarity with, a people’s legitimate aspiration for justice and freedom. Shame.

Hisham Matar
New York

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