A Moment of Silence

Look at our democracy, such a powerful enemy”
Sekou Sundiata

Paraphrasing Shakespeare, let’s be clear that I have come to bury Qaddafi, not to praise him. But please, a moment of silence is in order for our heathen nemesis, our swarthy enemy and ourselves.

When Qaddafi came to power in 1969 during the last three years of the Uranus-Pluto conjunction, little did we know how long, treacherous and dangerously close our relationship would turn out to be. After forty years we came to know Qaddafi’s quirks very well, and he knew ours. The U.S. relationship with Libya was a stormy affair, a form of ‘satellite animosity’ that characterized American foreign policy during the Cold War with the then-Soviet Union. It began with years of intense and violent tits for tat in the 1980s between Libya and the U.S., starting with the Gulf of Sidra incident where the U.S. Navy responded aggressively to a surface to air missile attack by Libya. This lead to a retaliatory Libyan attack against American servicemen at a Berlin disco, followed by the climactic bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

Everything changed with the fall of the Berlin Wall at the end of the 1980s. Libya re-aligned itself and began improving its image in the West, atoning for the Lockerbie bombings, working diligently to diplomatically remove the U.N. sanctions against Libya for their involvement in the killing of innocent civilians. During the 1990s, as oil flowed freely from underneath Libyan soil, there was never any doubt that Qaddafi would survive, or at least we never took him down directly. Crazy as Qaddafi was, and yes he was crazy, as Juan Cole notes, Qaddafi — like Mubarak in Egypt, Musharraf in Pakistan, and Ben Ali in Tunisia — became a useful tyrant to our allies in the west.

Yet, even beneficial relations deteriorate, and the world evolves. As Professor Cole says in his article linked to above, “The real lesson here is that there is a new wave of popular politics in the Arab world. … People are not in the mood to put up with semi-genocidal dictators.”  Like any partnership, the relationship between our allies and antagonists is a two-way street — a dance. Your choice of friends and enemies defines you, and we both are defined by the times we live in. At this moment the west —  so long in control of the puppet strings that strain the world — faces the same upheaval that began with the first wave of Arab Spring.

After Libya, after Egypt, after Tunisia and Iraq — after the killing of Usama Bin-Laden — what does losing our enemies/allies say about us now? Where do empires who have danced with lieutenant despots like Qaddafi and Saddam Hussein go from here? What do we do now that our former enemies say they no longer want to play our game?

As Eric pinpoints in the U.S. chart, there is some deep re-calibration that we have to do:

Mars emerges from the 12th house and Scorpio, that deep, unconscious place, and materializes face to face with us in the 7th house in Gemini. It’s as if everyone we look at is potentially our enemy. But the whole arrangement is in Gemini, suggesting that our friends are our enemies and vice versa. This would cover two men who were well-established CIA assets, Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. … Perhaps it’s every country, but it seems that the United States is always gazing into the eyes of a supposed bogeyman who wants to hurt us because he doesn’t like our way of life. We would be wise to consider the psychological projection involved in having Mars being the effigy of this evil critter, be it kidnappers, Communism, queers, heathens, al Qaeda or our neighbors.

It’s always been the constant hum during the history of my lifetime. You can hear it in the sounds and messages and news broadcasts of our continued unconscious fears — particularly fear of  ‘the others’, where we will continue to create and perceive each other according to our worst projections. Not to say we’ve not been alone in doing this. There are so many puppet strings pulled from various levels throughout the world, controlling what we think and how we perceive one another that it would take a gargantuan pair of shears to cut across all the lines to enable us to start over again. Yet, the awakening occurring across America and in partnership with the world is real enough to give one hope that at least our cynicism can take a break, maybe for a month or two. Perhaps then we can take time to reflect what is happening in every corner of our now-frail empire.

I don’t feel sad for the death of Muammar Qaddafi. His tyranny — with unlimited access to wealth that could have belonged to the Libyan people — came with a price. In order to feed and fuel our western allies and enrich ourselves, nations and people were sacrificed. Qaddafi was a useful enemy during the latter half of the 20th century. But times have changed in the 21st. Who is to say that the current leadership under the TNC — the new leadership in Libya, will do the same things Qaddafi did forty years from now?

But maybe this time, regime change on the scale caused by the momentous Arab Spring needs our thoughtful re-assessment: we’re no longer the western end of a two-superpower world poised to annihilate each other and the rest of us with the push of a button. We are all in this world morphing into something else that we’re trying to grasp the meaning of. We need that moment — a long moment of silence — to detect exactly what that is.

About Fe Bongolan

Fe Bongolan is a writer, dramaturge and actor living in Berkeley, California. Along with her Planet Waves column "Fe-911," Fe performs with Cultural Odyssey's "The Medea Project -- Theater for Incarcerated Women," which produces work empowering the voices of incarcerated women, ex-offenders, women with HIV-AIDS and young girls. A long-time Planet Waves fan and an employee in the public sector off and on for 30 years, she describes herself a "mystical public servant." When it comes to politics, she loves reading between the lines.
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12 Responses to A Moment of Silence

  1. fluidity says:

    and ps Cole really lets it out of the bag at the end of that article:
    “Those with investment capital who short Libya out of such overblown concerns will only be missing a big opportunity.”
    - oh, you warned about being cynical, my bad
    i guess he’s not a government operative, he’s just a nice guy who wants to see businesses do well for themselves … I’m sure the Libyans are glad to be free for investors to have such great opportunities
    . funny how this Occupy Wall Street thing is all about trying to get rid of corporate control, and meanwhile looks like NATO bombs (and coaching/on the ground support) may have just set the stage for corporate control of a formerly sovereign country … and those two things can somehow be spun to be part of the same movement … i think there’s a word for that, not sure if its double think or cognitive dissonance?

    in that context, i do think your writing is quite fitting,
    “In order to feed and fuel our western allies and enrich ourselves, nations and people were sacrificed.” … just the ‘were’ might be better changed to ‘are’, i don’t think that pattern has changed yet

  2. fluidity says:

    hi Fe,

    yes you can have your narrative if you’d like
    … meanwhile, the relationship b/w the US and Libya is much deeper than the official narratives of the White House press corps or professor Juan Cole

    of note: African leaders thoughout the continent are very upset at the NATO-sanctioned genocide taking place in Libya. Obama hails the liberation. what kind of relationship will the US have with its new enemies who come to understand that supporting genocide in achieving imperialism is fair game, and apparently the American people are mostly receptive to the cheerleaders for this kind of thing…
    http://www.counterpunch.org/2011/10/25/lynching-black-africans-in-libya/

    i find it a bit funny that you seem to see in Gaddaffi the ‘supposed bogeyman’ that’s Eric’s astrological reading that you quote warns you against seeing .. and you paraphrase that, “where we will continue to create and perceive each other according to our worst projections”, right along with painting Gaddaffi completely negatively, much more so than many people who’ve actually lived under his rule. they say they’ve got free education in that country, free health care, they don’t have the same problems with homelessness… they point out that maybe bringing them American-brand democracy (at the cost of so many bombed-to-death Libyans) isn’t actually an improvement

    personally, i’ll question my assessment of the rebels – are they really so bad? are they really a small minority that basically had NATO bombs ‘part the seas’ for them to walk into control of the country? are they really genociding Black Libyans and migrant workers?
    - that’s what the non-official-narrative facts seem to be, but maybe i’m just projecting :D

  3. Fe Bongolan says:

    Fluidity:

    Thanks for the fill in on the history. But do I give Juan Cole very high marks on his expertise. Let’s agree to disagree on our panel of experts. I think you missed the point of the article that the relationship between the US and Libya, as well as its other enemies/allies was more complex than official government sanctioned stories. I don’t believe Professor Cole, who is generally a non-interventionist, is a government operative.

  4. fluidity says:

    hi Fe, in your brief history of US-Libya relations, you missed the key prequel to the lockerbie bombing – the US assassination-attempt bombing in 1986 that Gaddaffi narrowly escaped from and it killed 60 Libyans. (aka Operation El Dorado Canyon)

    ps it also sounds like you missed the boat in having some skepticism of the officially endorsed version of who Gaddaffi was.

    this nicely titled piece (riffing off the title of a piece published on CCN by Juan Cole, the ‘expert’ you cited) shows that there’s a bit more shades of grey to Gaddaffi than one would get from labels of ‘semi-genocidal’ etc etc
    http://www.counterpunch.org/2011/08/31/the-top-ten-myths-in-the-war-against-libya/

    “Speaking of the breadth of Gaddafi’s record, that ought to resist simplistic, revisionist reduction, some might care to note that even now, the U.S. State Department’s webpage on Libya still points to a Library of Congress Country Study on Libya that features some of the Gaddafi government’s many social welfare achievements over the years in the areas of medical care, public housing, and education. In addition, Libyans have the highest literacy rate in Africa (see UNDP, p. 171) and Libya is the only continental African nation to rank “high” in the UNDP’s Human Development Index. “

  5. Brendan says:

    Last, additional thoughts.

    I recall hearing of the cold war, but not really understanding it fully of course. The hot war was rather more in my face. We had plenty of defense stuff around: there was an Air Force radar station up near the border with a huge antenna spinning around (now gone for 30 years), there was a Navy intelligence gathering radio listening post out on the local Indian reservation, and we saw lots of Navy planes from a nearby base fly over all the time. Plenty of reminders of the outside world.

    Fort Lewis, south of Tacoma, is split by I-5. Camping trips at the ocean saw us drive by, and we’d see lots of young men in green getting ready for Nam, their trucks and tanks also there along side the freeway.

    Yes, big things, big dreads, were out there, but mutually assured destruction as a concept was one I did not yet know. Instead, it was all those college students demonstrating around town all the time, almost always about the war. They even shut down I-5 in my hometown with a sit-in that lasted for about 5 hours. There were not enough cops to break it up right away, and they had to wait for help from the State Patrol and county sheriff to arrive before carefully leading everyone off the freeway. The SDS was quite big at the local college (later to be my alma mater), as the campus was a little off the beaten path and very amenable to radicalism.

    There is still a weekly demonstration outside the Federal Building downtown every week, Tuesdays I believe, and they started way back then, over 40 years ago. Today it’s Occupy Bellingham, and yes, they shut down downtown. Not hard to do either: block just two intersections, and the one way grid locks up. Hee hee.

    Off to bed.

  6. Brendan says:

    Wellll, Fe, I was 10, so that means 4th grade, Miss Rank’s class. To be honest, deep thought had yet to invest itself fully within me. I was prone to daydreaming in class, not caring much for school at all, and usually just wanted to read everything I could get my hands on. I was reading a lot of my older brother’s sci-fi and any and all history books. My reading level was very high, somewhere in the high school levels, so not much was beyond me.

    “He” had curly hair, not far in shape and texture from my own, and that impressed me. Not too many people outside my own family had hair as curly as we did, and seeing those curls really had an influence on me. Now that I think about it, he and my never-known great uncle actually looked a lot alike, albeit my g-uncle being Irish-American, and not Bedouin. Oh, and great uncle Tom was also a ladykiller as well.

    Libya, I knew, had had a big role in WW2, it was in North Africa, and it was far away. Viet Nam was (seemingly) closer, I knew that lots of people were being drafted, and my brothers were 16. They were still in school, but concerned about the draft, so college and its deferments were on the horizon.

  7. Fe Bongolan says:

    Carrie:

    We were all kids then, with a child’s sensibility. And no internet.

    What I do remember is that there was a vague threat somewhere, ready to come at any minute. My parents were worried about war. That I could feel. Being aware of threat during the Cuban Missile crisis, or the assassination of the President when you’re six and seven.

    We grew up with the world being rather big — especially with your mother in an interracial marriage. I never felt protected or secure within it. And I was always questioning why. The only thing that brought me joy was James Brown and the Beatles.

  8. Carrie says:

    In 1969? I was 9 years old, my mom was remarrying an African American (so hers was a “mixed” marriage as they called it back then), we were dirt poor, I began growing breasts (early puberty), and we had no Christmas presents that year. The moon landing happened and I watched Star Trek episodes for the first time. That’s all I remember.

  9. Fe Bongolan says:

    Brendan:

    1969: Do you remember what you were thinking? Where were we?

  10. Brendan says:

    Nicely put, Fe.

    Thinking visually here, he was very photogenic in the early years, clean shaven and always smiling. The years were not kind, though, and the switch to over-the-top uniforms was too reminiscent of previous despots (to the west).

    I do think he had the best of intentions in 1969, but, well, power corrupts, right?

  11. Fe Bongolan says:

    eric;

    Thanks.

    He was a very attractive recruiter. I was looking at his earlier photographs, and you could see the determination, the machismo charm and the charisma. Even at the end, he had people going down to the death for him — paid or not. I’m not sure what else to call it but an extreme cult of personality built over decades.

  12. Eric Francis Eric Francis says:

    good one, Fe.

    What I liked about Qaddafi was his original approach to revolution — driving around the countryside and recruiting members. He started with the right idea, anyway.

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