“Today we can definitively say that the Gaddafi regime has come to an end… One year ago the notion of a free Libya seemed impossible but the Libyan people rose up…”
Barrack Obama

The news that Colonel Muammar Gaddafi has been killed has sparked celebration and jubilation worldwide. One interviewee on BBC news captured the mood of the Libyan people: “We have been in the shadow of the tyrant for so long, I am sure that the whole world will love Libya and Libyans.”  Watching the footage of Martyr’s Square, approaching 12 hours after the news had been announced there were no signs that the celebrations were quietening down. In Libya, London and New York, the BBC interviewed people who had spontaneously spilled out onto the streets in sheer joy.

Today marks a sea change for Libyan politics. What kind of change that will be is uncertain. In fact, there is much about today and the impact it will have that we just don’t know. The details surrounding Gaddafi’s killing are hazy and not readily available. As time goes on, a clearer picture may emerge but regardless of the circumstances, it is utterly indisputable that Libya has been freed from the grip of brutal dictatorship. And that is cause to celebrate. The window has been opened and freedom is pouring in like the sun’s rays.
However, celebrating freedom and celebrating someone being killed are worlds apart. Some of the reaction to the news has been shocking. It has, much as in the case of Osama bin Laden, included the de-humanisation, and objectification of Gaddafi thus depriving him of any personhood.

A quick glance at the headlines, interviews and stories of the day reveal much. What is clear is that in popular discourse, Gaddafi is almost more-often-than-not referred to exclusively as ‘the tyrant’ rather than by his name. This only serves to construct him entirely as a monster beyond any rationality and humanity.  As one BBC interviewee said on being questioned on the circumstances of the event: “We couldn’t care less how this tyrant died…” The headlines of the papers the following day are also highly indicative. The Telegraph’s read: “Gaddafi is killed: no mercy for a merciless tyrant” with the tagline, “Dictator had often referred to his enemies as ‘vermin’ as he vowed to hunt them down alley by alley”. This is followed by the opening statement, “But in the end it was he who was hiding like ‘a rat’ when he was finally cornered in a drain, a gold-plated pistol to hand and pleading in vain for his life.”

None of this criticism is to support dictatorship. Neither is it to mitigate the atrocities committed by the Gaddafi regime. But Gaddafi was not a monster. He wasn’t even a ‘rat’. He was a human being who committed monstrous acts. But a human being nonetheless and that’s how he should have been treated, with full respect of his human rights and human security. What the treatment of Osama bin Laden and Muammar Gaddafi have in common is that there was no place for a judicial process or the chance to be tried in the International Criminal Court. Yet, part of what separates us from ‘monsters’ is our respect for institutions and right legal process that elevates the principle of justice above pure, unadulterated retribution. Freedom is rarely based on disregard for human rights. For this reason, Gaddafi, like bin Laden, should have been tried in a proper court of law. It was interesting listening to the BBC footage as they interviewed various people, until they came to a man whose daughter had been killed in the Lockerbie bombing. His name is Jim Swire and he commented that today was not for him, or the other Lockerbie victims but for the Libyan people. However, he added, with Gaddafi’s killing all hopes of questions being answered by him at the International Criminal Court have now vanished. Then he said something, which gets to the very crux of this article: “I can’t rejoice about anyone being killed.” Today should be a happy day for Libyans – not because Gaddafi was killed, but because his regime has been toppled. Whether Gaddafi could have been treated with the humanity he denied to many is the lingering question.


Anthony Simpson-Pike

Image Credit – Ammar Abd Rabbo