I first met Col. Muammar Qaddafi, the leader of Libya in 1978. I was a member of a delegation of 100 or so, which was led by former U.S. Senator William Fulbright. We were a people-to-people “friendship”
Libya was on a downward diplomatic spiral at that time because of Col. Qaddafi’s leadership in what was called the “steadfastness and rejection front.” This bloc–which included Syria, the Palestine Liberation Organization, as well as Libya–was so named because of its steadfastness against, and rejection of Israeli usurpation and occupation of Palestinian land.
The U.S. was ramping up its pressure against Libya, and despite the friendship which Col. Qaddafi showed to Billy Carter, the younger brother of then President Jimmy Carter, soon diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Libya, and Col. Qaddafi and his countrymen were labeled “terrorists.”
I wrote articles which appeared in major corporate-owned newspapers defending what was then called “The Libyan Arab Jamahiriya,” or “people’s land.” While I could defend what I thought was a peaceful people, it became increasingly difficult to argue with Col. Qaddafi’s world image. He was frequently referred to as “mercurial” and that was the best of what was said of him in those days.
Col. Qaddafi helped fuel the rumors. He wrote a book of sayings. It was called “The Green Book.” Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Tse Tung had written “The Red Book,” and it became an essential item in the ideological toolkit of many (if not most) campus revolutionaries in the 1960s.
An Air Force commander, Col. Qaddafi led a coup d’etat which toppled Libya’s King Idris on Sept. 1, 1969. He then began consolidating his power and sharing his Islamic-revolutionary ideology. Inside the sparsely populated, oil rich desert land, Col. Qaddafi organized local governments into what he called “Peoples’ Congresses.”
“There can be no democracy without the Peoples’ Congress,” was a slogan which described that initiative at that time. Libya offered strong financial support for the PLO’s Yasser Arafat–even providing a temporary haven for thousands of PLO fighters in Tripoli for a few months.
Libya offered staunch support to Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress, when the White, apartheid government of South African–with the strong backing of successive U.S. governments–decreed the ANC to be a “terrorist” organization.
Col. Qaddafi even made a spectacular $3 million loan to Nation of Islam leader the Hon. Elijah Muhammad which allowed the Nation of Islam leader to purchase the St. Helena Greek Orthodox Church, which became the NOI headquarters.
Meanwhile, when Pres. Jimmy Carter left office and Pres. Ronald Reagan came in, the militant rhetoric escalated on both sides. Diplomatic relations were cut and in 1986 Pres. Reagan ordered a bombing attack against Libya, which actually targeted Col. Qaddafi’s home. The bombs missed the Libyan leader, but one bomb struck his home, killing instead his young adopted daughter.
Then came the Pan-Am jetliner bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, and relations went from bad to worse. Led by the U.S., the United Nations imposed harsh sanctions on Libya. All airline flights into and out of the country were banned. On subsequent trips into the country I took all manner of conveyances.
One time I took a ferry from the island nation of Malta to Tripoli and back. That was a tedious 12-hour trip each way across the Mediterranean. On two other occasions I was in a motor Conway, driving for six hours each way from Tunis to Tripoli.
I visited Col. Qaddafi’s tent home on an army base inside Tripoli once. I got to see that he lived mostly a simple life, although he obviously liked to dress sharp and had a vast wardrobe of fancy Bedouin-style robes and gaudy military uniforms, as well as luxurious Italian-tailored suits. Nobody’s perfect.
Now, who knows what’s going on inside the country? There are so many reports of high level defections, of diplomats, and high ranking military as well as civilian officials, it looks bad. And then there are those reports of hired African mercenaries being used to suppress the reported Libyan uprising. Still, there’s no way to really know what’s going on, and with the long record of U.S. hostility toward the “mercurial” colonel, it’s easy to imagine a sinister C.I.A. plot behind the unrest there.
In any case, it’s a matter for the Libyan people to decide, and no amount of wishing or hoping by American fans or detractors should affect the outcome there.