Ten months ago, a Tunisian vegetable vendor set himself ablaze after being treated disrespectfully by a member of the police force. No one could have predicted that Mohammed Bouazizi’s single act of martyrdom would spark perhaps the most cataclysmic ten months that the Middle East has ever seen, with dictators forcefully deposed and endless bloody uprisings shattering cities.
In the cases of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, despots were removed from government in ways as undignified as the lives they subjected their people to. But clearly the most indecorous of the three was Gaddafi’s ousting – his bloodied corpse being paraded through the streets of Sirte after being killed in crossfire yesterday. It is not as though he was deserving of a humane unseating, but the jollity with which the news of his death has been received and the decision of all major television networks to broadcast these gruesome images may have gone too far in the other direction.
After Osama bin Laden was killed in May, I wrote a blog questioning whether or not images of his dead body should have been released to the public. As I believe I mentioned then, it is not as though I would have wanted to see those pictures, but the fact that the American authorities were holding them back added an uneasy sense of mystery and secrecy to the entire debacle. They wanted to bury him in accordance with the rituals set out by his religion, creating some semblance of dignity and respect for his death.
And yet for the past day, every news screen has been plastered with images of Gaddafi’s blood stained body, and trying to avoid the images has proved to be an impossible task. The elation felt by civilians in Libya again, like that of Americans following bin Laden’s demise, seems misjudged. Removing an autocrat who to many was seen as some kind of deity does not remove all of the problems plaguing that particular country. If anything, it will surely instigate more minority extremist groups outraged by the deposition of their leader, and lead to bitter divisions between civilians.
There is also the issue of Western governmental figures attempting to restore their version of order in countries that have been affected by similar uprisings. Ultimately, the two sides of the world view democracy and an appropriate way of living entirely differently, and imposing Westernised notions of leadership onto the Middle East has so far proved unsuccessful in the past decade since the ‘war on terror’ began. This is not to say that there is no common ground whatsoever between the two, but cultural traditions and history play a huge part in the way leaders rule a country. Somehow I don’t think telling Libyans to work towards a ‘big society’ would go down all that well.
Realistically, Gaddafi’s death may be a short term solution to the battles that have been raging in Libya for the past eight months, but the deaths of so many civilians during this time almost makes it seem redundant. No one dictator ever acts in complete isolation – they are always flanked by both their right hand men and loyal supporters – and thus to remove the figurehead of a corrupt movement is in many ways a superficial means of dealing with the issue. Dragging the body of a dead person through the streets, no matter who they are, is undignified, unseemly and a worrying indictment of what both civilians and news networks deem appropriate for the world to see.