I have (once I think?) boasted of the time when Hampstead Theatre described me as a Free-wheeling Absurdist, a description I have been tempted to put in the ‘Occupation’ column of my passport. This F w A thing implies, I imagine, a fair dose of woolly anarchism. Shockingly, it may also be that I have signed off the odd punkily pompous letter with the phrase (‘Yours, The) Rebellious Jukebox’ so as to bask in reflected but beery glory from Mark E Smith, a hero of mine. I have, in other words, an inclination towards the subversion of the monochrome, the traditional, the conservative. And yet…
And yet I am traditional as they come in some ways. Forgive the self-obsession but I am (for example) genuinely finding it difficult to reconcile my teeth-baring discomfort with poorly expressed authority – the Old Bill, maybe – and my anger-loaded queasiness over what’s recently been called, pretty fairly, The Gadaffi Gore-Fest. The exercise of law; post or during riots; post or during revolutions. Law at Peak Times, when we surely need to be bringing out ‘civilisation’s’ A Game. Look we’ve dug in deeply very early here; let’s take a breath and get specific.
Libya. How wonderful that a tyrant is overthrown. We can surely understand the foamy excitement at the edge of this surge, this people’s revolt. We can likewise have some sympathy for those families or individuals feeling justified in biting or booting the figure who so terribly and cynically and carelessly masticated (or worse) upon their fortunes. When a brutal leader falls, is it not inevitable that heavy boots feature, in a more or less lurid dance of celebration?
This may be the likelihood. But forgive the neighing of my high horse as I beg to differ with the essence of such an argument. Clearly in the Libyan case a kind of agitated but almost funky indiscipline has been characteristic of the stagger towards ‘freedom’. The rebels (whom I certainly don’t mean to generally criticise) have had a cause alright, but have only been able to advance it following irregular but critical dollops of unanswerable violence provided chiefly by Western airpower. The strategy has then been to go like hell and mop up round the craters. Presumably there has been some co-ordination with the French or U.S. Air Forces but a phrase like ‘hearty’ or even ‘heroic endeavour’ probably characterises the rebel effort better than a phrase like ‘drilled regiments’. Again, this is no complaint; it is merely a way in to describing the difficulties that have arisen once order (yawn), that singularly unattractive concept to the broiling masses, becomes unavoidably necessary.
People clearly needed to be working on the Who’ll Be in Charge question some weeks ago – and maybe they were. But it is more than just a disappointment that in the event of Gadaffi’s capture in the place he was arguably most likely to be, things descended into the aforementioned gore-fest pretty quickly. Clearly much of that would be down to those who were in the immediate vicinity of the man himself. Whether, realistically they could have been primed to deliver a live prisoner for due process is doubtful; they were not, after all, soldiers. However, given that some time did elapse – time enough for tawdry or cheesy or criminal use of mobile phone cameras – before some decision was made to move the body, I wonder if some individual with some authority might ideally have intervened.
Because this was an important time. Imagine what a profound and positive – not to say enlightening moment –might have been captured if Gadaffi had been arrested and treated with dignity. Rednecks the world over would have been choking on their burgers. Other Arab Springers would have surely felt a poignant truth land softly in their palms; a gift which when twittered or beamed abroad might even bestow a kind of credence to Arab Springness itself. A moment of calm or foresight or decency or discipline and the way Africans/Arabs are perceived in the West really might have been positively shifted. That has an importance beyond the wonderful precedent of an absolute bastard being tried not butchered by the people he kept down so heartlessly.
Instead the gore-fest wins out. Papers are sold, the web is cruised. Revenge is sweet. But let’s consider, in the common knowledge that Gadaffi was a despicable and possibly unhinged character, whether it could be still be right, by that or any other storm drain, to answer “Just kill him” to the question “What do we do now?”
Or are we all better served by taking a breath, a moment, before reading him his rights? How long – to be blunt – are we going to judge vengeance to be some kind of justice? It is not justice and it demeans us all.