Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Qaddafi in America

Today marks a signature moment in the history of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi's relationship with the West, as he arrived in New York City, his first visit to the United States, for the United Nations General Assembly, which he will address on Wednesday. This once reviled dictator is now welcomed, if somewhat reluctantly, by the nation that once bombed his house in an failed assassination attempt.

Former President Reagan called Qaddafi the "mad dog" of the Middle East, and ordered the Navy strike on his residence, in retaliation for terrorist attacks on U.S. military personnel in Germany, of which Qaddafi was accused. But, it was under the most unlikely of presidencies, that of George W. Bush, in which diplomatic relations were officially re-established between the two countries in 2004, when Qaddafi willingly gave up his nuclear program and agreed to pay reparations for the 1988 Pan-Am Lockerbie bombing, of which a Libyan national was accused and convicted. (But we should add, the accused was recently released by the UK, in anticipation of an appeal, for which some have argued that it is likely he would have been acquitted.)

Shortly before diplomatic relations were normalized, however, there were certain unofficial diplomatic moves made by Qaddafi and a young U.S. citizen that laid the groundwork for the eventual, official thawing of relations.

Between the extremes of one President trying to kill the man to another President happily shaking his hand (as did Obama earlier this summer in L'Aquila Italy), if one were to identify a moment that tipped the momentum of this diplomatic trend towards its current apex, we would place it in November of 2002, when Qaddafi hosted the Miss Net World beauty contest in Tripoli. On this occasion, he befriended the American contestant, a statuesque beauty of Jamaican & Irish heritage, Tecca Zendik. There is a scene which has been documented in the film, Beauty Will Save the World, where Tecca was brought to tears when Muammar described the bombing of his house, in which one of his adopted children was killed. Recognizing that his anger was only for the government of the United States, and not its people, and in particular not for the lovely U.S. person in his presence, he consoled Tecca, and told her of his wish for friendship.

Eventually, he granted her Libyan citizenship and made her an honorary consul to the United States, before the U.S. government would recognize such a thing...

And the rest is history.

As it happens, Tecca is an acquaintance, and we do recall seeing her in October 2002, if memory serves correct, at the Southgate House in Newport, Kentucky, for a concert of the rock band Death Beam. She told us she was going to Libya for a beauty contest, and somewhat disbelieving, knowing the diplomatic situation at the time, we said, tongue-in-cheek, "well say hey to ol' Muammar!' Little did we know what would ensue...

Update: Sept. 23

Qaddafi's entire 96 minute speech can be downloaded from the U.N. website.

Update: Nov. 28, 2010



Anonymous said...

On first hearing I was convinced that UN ops threw the unknowing Colonel a bum translator. At worst some power seemed to be scrambling the transmission of an authentic translation. Further reading indicates that Qadhafi brought his own translator who was either abused by the speaker or had his brain temporarily jammed by a psychological device.


Here's a critique from an unnamed internet source:
The technique he chose to do so - cunningly - was to blatantly insult his audience. The representatives of the 192 nations assembled in the assembly hall were no better, he told them, than orators at Hyde Park's Speakers' Corner. "You make your speech and then you disappear. That's all you are right now."

He then turned his wrath on to America, Britain, France, Russia and China - the permanent members of the security council, or "terror council" as he renamed it. Their veto was tantamount to terrorism. "This is terrorism, like the terrorism of al-Qaida. Terrorism is not just al-Qaida, it takes many forms."

In case the point was lost on anyone, he tore up his copy of the UN rule book.

Having thus abused and alienated 99.99% of the world's top diplomats, he suddenly changed tack, heaping praise and devotion on the one man he appears to respect. "Now the black man doesn't have to sit in the back of the bus, the American people made him president and we are proud of that. We would be happy if Obama stayed president of America forever."

WXXX said...

It did seem to go much more smoothly once the UN translator took over.

I recently saw a book title that well illustrates the point that Qaddafi was trying to make:

Five to Rule Them All: The UN Security Council and the Making of the Modern World by David Bosco

Basically you have the big five who get to make all the big decisions, and the rest make their speeches and then disappear.

Qaddafi has a point... Perhaps, if not for the practices of "economic hit-men" and the financial empires they enforce (with the sanction of the Security Council), we would see less of these tin-pot dictatorships to which vulnerable nations resort in heading off economic predators.

An excellent cinematic illustration of this is Burn! (1969) starring Marlon Brando as Sir William Walker.