Muammar Gaddafi’s 42-year-rule of Libya has come to an violent end in a manner reminiscent of the dispatch of Fascist Italy’s Benito Mussolini. Libya under Gaddafi, like Libya before him, had a complex and often brutal history.
Libya, or parts of it, have been under the control of many foreign powers, including the Phoenicians, the Ancient Greeks, the Romans, the early Arab Muslim caliphates, the Ottoman Turks, Italy, and even the UK and France.
Libya was a World War II battleground for the Axis and Allied forces, including the Australian “rats” in Tobruk in 1941.
The Conversation is asking a range of specialists for their thoughts prompted by this latest turn of fate for the North African nation. More views will be added as they come in.
Ian Bickerton, Associate Professor, School of History and Philosophy, University of New South Wales
I’m very sorry to hear that Gaddafi was killed in the way he was. It’s not a very helpful way of ending a regime to just kill the leader, and apparently in the accounts that we’re hearing, not even in the heat of fire, but rather in circumstances which suggest that someone has shot him deliberately rather than he face trial.
I don’t think that assassinating such people, whether it’s Gaddafi or bin Laden sends the right message to anybody, either to the citizens of the country that does it, or the revolution or others who are engaged in thinking about radical or revolutionary or violent action. It’s just doesn’t seem to me to be an appropriate way to end this.
I have to say my initial response to hearing the president of the United States urge restraint on the victorious revolutionaries strikes me as a bit incongruous given the lack of restraint shown by the Unites States in assassinating anybody that they feel should be assassinated.
I feel it’s a dangerous trend. Take the case of al Awlaki - an American citizen who we feel is a dangerous person so we just go ahead and assassinate him on the basis of a secret legal ruling. These to me are dangerous trends.
Assassinating heads of state or people we feel are terrorists just doesn’t seem helpful in the long run, or even in the short run.
It’s always been the case that these things happen in the heat of battle. That doesn’t mean it’s a good thing. We should, where the opportunity arises, not make this the case. Saddam Hussein was tried in a court or sorts, and that seems to me to be the better way. We have mechanisms in place that we never had in the past for people like Mussolini - international courts and tribunals and so on.
If we are prepared to pursue some people in those, why aren’t we prepared to pursue everybody in those?
Scott Burchill, Senior Lecturer in International Relations, Deakin University
Two issues concern me.
One is the nature of the replacement regime, the personalities involved, and how many of those people were part of the old regime who have reinvented themselves as allegedly democrats. We don’t know a great deal about them yet we’re rushing to assist them.
None of them have any great legitimacy, given none of them have been voted into office. I’m slightly concerned about the enthusiasm that’s invested in people who have never had to confront their own population in a democratic vote.
The second point is the role of NATO and what lessons will be drawn from NATO’s bombing campaign, and the selective nature of why NATO got involved there but doesn’t get involved in Syria or Bahrain or elsewhere.
I think it’s too early to know what lessons will be drawn by the [Libyan] population and by people in the region about this, but it seems to me to be a highly selective form of intervention given there are very powerful cases around the world which might also deserve that kind of assistance.
So they are the two issues: who are these people and what legitimacy do they have, and secondly, what the implications long term are of what NATO’s doing in the region.
[As for why Gaddafi’s regime was selectively targeted by NATO], Libya is a significant oil-producing nation. Not in the largest category, but certainly in the high grade of its oil. I suspect that if Libya’s largest export was bananas it would not have attracted the same level of attention.
But the type of intervention was different in that there were never going to be any troops on the ground other than British and American special-forces clandestinely dropped in to assist the rebels. But now that NATO’s intervention was significant in changing the course of events, they have a certain responsibility for what turns out in the next few years. If this particular regime is replaced by something as repugnant and unpopular as Gaddafi’s, then NATO bears significant responsibility for putting it into power.
*Binoy Kampmark, Lecturer in Global Studies, RMIT University *
What happens with regional instability? We know that the region is in flux from various popular movements as part of the so-called Arab Spring, but the Libyan case is a bit different because it featured an internal movement backed by external powers. That did not happen, of course, in the context of Egypt.
That potentially means that there may be interventions in other contexts, for instance possibly in Syria. We don’t know if that will happen yet but there is a possibility of a broad intervention with a local movement backed by external powers, most likely Western ones.
It depends on many variables, including how NATO members feel, but it looks like after the role taken by France and Britain in promoting this venture – and because they’re such dominant players in the [NATO] alliance, certainly with US support - it looks like this could be the case, depending on how entrenched and developed the [popular] movement becomes in Syria.
In the African context there are so many countries that are involved in Africa in terms of natural resources and more or less blatant plunder, for instance the Chinese with their mineral interests, and India having a role in the economic sense. But now that the West is getting more involved of the context of humanitarian intervention or whatever it might be termed, whatever label they use next, it seems that there are certainly broader implications.
I think that certainly the Chinese method of [pursuing its] interest is not like that of the standard military sense. They’ll use economic means; they’ll use sweeteners and essentially try to encourage governments to yield to their interests.
The Chinese will do what they’ve been doing for several years now but they do it very quietly, whereas it’s been a bit more blatant in the context of NATO.
In terms of Gaddafi’s legacy as a force in the anti-colonial movement - and anti-monarchist movement for many African countries – in the post-colonial era, he was very shrewd and clever in the way he manipulated anti-colonial tendencies.
Of course he went to the Italian president Silvio Berlusconi and demanded compensation for crimes committed by Italians against the Libyan people – which he did get, by the way. He got a gesture from Berlusconi which was not a small one; it was actually quite a significant sum of money as compensation for crimes of history committed against the Libyan people.
Gaddafi was a very interesting character in some ways. He styled himself as an African leader for the continent, and he was also one of these curious blends of part socialist, part freedom-fighter, and part Islamist.
In the 1970s he came up with the Third Way in terms of the socialist revolution by combining Islam and socialism. In terms of a revolutionary legacy Gaddafi will always be there, but … [his rank] among [historical revolutionary] figures of some standing … remains to be seen.
I think that among members of NATO there will probably be those who are secretly happy this happened [the killing of Gaddafi] because they don’t have to deal with the implications of him being brought to trial, but in the broader context of the civic institutions of Libya and the broader context of the rule of law, it was not a good precedent to kill him.
It would have been a far better thing, perhaps, to have him go through a trial process, at least in a symbolic way. This, of course, is something that never took place and the rule of force has prevailed.
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