Mob Rule Comes to Libya

October 24th, 2011 at 12:56 pm | 15 Comments |

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If there was any doubt in my mind that the so-called Arab Spring was nothing more than a backdrop to a long winter freeze, that doubt was set aside by the gory scenes of the death of Col. Gaddafi, played again and again on TV networks. The mad dog of the Middle East was dead, but not before he was captured alive and subject to mob justice and public lynching that have become part of Arab heritage for the last 1,400 years.

For me this was the turning point. Had the captors of Gaddafi arrested the butcher of the Libyan people and subjected him to a public trial, I would have said the Arab Spring has blossomed and that rule of law, the essence of contemporary civilization, had finally arrived for the Arabs to savor.

Too bad. It seems the course the Arabs have chosen in dealing with their oppressive dictatorships has little to do with individual liberty, rule of law or a sense of justice.

Gaddafi’s extra-judicial killing reminded me of my childhood when another slaughter in the Arab World unfolded. It was July 14, 1958 and the Iraqi army under the command of Col. Abdel-Karim Qasim marched on the royal palace in Baghdad to stage a military coup to end the monarchy and establish a republic.

King Faisal II had read the writing on the wall so he ordered the palace guard to offer no resistance. Before dawn, he surrendered himself to the insurgents and the palace guard lay down their arms. The peaceful surrender was not enough to satiate the bloodlust of the Iraqi army officers.

As the Baghdad morning sun rose, the King, his Crown Prince Abd’allah and several members of the royal family, including women and children, were asked to gather in the palace courtyard from where they were told they would be transported to the prison. However, when the family reached the open space, they were met by machine-gun fire. Reports say the bodies of the king were dragged through the streets of Baghdad and in the bizarre custom of the Arab world, people fired their guns in the air to celebrate a massacre.

Gaddafi and Faisal II are not alone. The custom of mass slaughter at the time of a coup has its roots in Arab heritage that goes back to the successors of Prophet Muhammad, but best exemplified in the year 750CE that marked the end of Islam’s first century and dynasty, the caliphate of the Ummayads.

Even after the takeover in Damascus, the new Abbasid caliph was worried. Remnants of the deposed Umayyad family were still alive and he feared they might strike back. To lure them into a trap, Caliph Abu al-Abbas declared amnesty for all surviving members of the deposed caliph’s family. After the first round of massacres, the survivors had gone into hiding. The caliph sent out the message that all Umayyads were welcome to a grand reconciliation dinner party. Except for Abd al-Rahman I, grandson of the Caliph Hashim, they all fell for the ruse and were slaughtered as they sat down to eat dinner. It is reported that even as the dead and wounded lay bleeding on the floor of the caliph’s court, Abu al-Abbas ordered that dinner be served and the revelries of the victorious continued amid the groans of the dying.

Those who escaped were rounded up. Marwan II, who had escaped Damascus and taken refuge in Egypt, was discovered in his hiding place and put to death. Another nephew of his had a hand and foot chopped off, and in that mutilated state he was put on a donkey with his face blackened, and paraded in humiliation throughout Syria with a herald announcing his arrival, “Behold, Aban, son of Muawiyah, the most renowned cavalier of the House of Omayya.” The agony of this man ended only after he was no use to his tormentors and was beheaded.

A millennium and more later, the tradition of extra-judicial killing continues unabated. Yesterday it was the Umayyad caliphs, King Faisal, Col. Gaddafi and many more. Tomorrow, it will be someone else.

Arab Spring? What Arab Spring? It’s the same old wine in a new bottle.

Originally Posted at Huffington Post Canada.

Recent Posts by Tarek Fatah

15 Comments so far ↓

  • Ray_Harwick

    Interesting. It sounds like Texas in the 1920s and 1930s where, supposedly, the rule of law protected everyone yet black people could be hanged in the town square for not tipping their hat quick enough and nobody went to jail. The whole community would have amnesia about it.

    I expect there will be more instances of revenge and street justice in Libya. There was abundant activity like that at the end of the Civil War in the United States. My family fled southern Kentucky for the Chickasaw Nation to get away from it.

    Libya’s life is, indeed, beginning anew. We just hope the old monster isn’t replaced with a new one. I think Americans have this image of the Islamic Middle East as being a place where justice is swift and brutal. How many reports have I read about gays in Iraq who were not merely shot down in the street with *no* action taken by the authorities against the murderers, other gays had family members pursue them to surrounding countries and kill them there without fear of prosecution. Hands and heads get loped off in Saudi Arabia and women get stoned to death when they are the victims of rape. Is the fashion of Gaddifi’s death inconsistent with Islamic justice?

    • Fart Carbuncle

      First post.

      Indeed, the first post here declares that mob rule events in Libya, a nation tortured for over 40 years by the rule of the demented crazoid Qaddafy, is equivalent to the American South.

      Why not blame Bush, too, while you’re at it?

      Well, no need, as Mr. Graychin below corrected your error.

      This site is fun, I must admit.

  • CautiousProgressive

    I was wondering how such a bleeding heart article could have been posted here. I couldn’t imagine the FrumForum complaining that a sadistic dictator didn’t get a trial before he got what he deserved.

    Then I noticed that this came from the Huffington Post. And it suddenly makes sense.

  • Graychin

    Yes, the hotheads who had been chasing Qaddafi through the desert all summer should have held their fire and brought him in alive. But I can’t see how these events equate to “mob rule.”

    How would hanging Qaddafi after a trial of sorts (ala Saddam) have been a morally superior path?

    Of all the injustice we see in the world, Qaddafi’s death ranks very low on my list of concerns. I’m much more angry about Bush and McCain’s recent cozy relations with the Mad Dog of Libya.

  • andydp

    Qadaffi got what he deserved. I fail to see how killing a despised dictator and his son somehow equates to “mob rule”. I was listening to the BBC this morning. The reporter in Libya has not reported looting, indiscriminate killings, militias or anything that could be described as “mob rule”. As a matter of fact, the majority of the speeches by Libyans have been for unity and calm.

    When the Iraqis were rioting, looting and going bezerk after their “liberation” Sec Rumsfeld said its what “free people do”.

  • Rick123

    And I will execute great vengeance upon them with furious rebukes; and they shall know that I am the LORD, when I shall lay my vengeance upon them.

    –Ezekiel 25:17 and Jules from Pulp Fiction

  • balconesfault

    The mad dog of the Middle East was dead, but not before he was captured alive and subject to mob justice and public lynching that have become part of Arab heritage for the last 1,400 years.

    ITALY: Death in Milan
    Time Magazine
    Monday, May 07, 1945

    From TIME Correspondent Reg Ingraham came this eyewitness report of one of history’s raw spectacles:

    “For My Murdered Sons!” The first of the Fascist dictators was the first to meet death at the hands of the people he had so long oppressed. This Sunday morning (April 29), in a sun-drenched square not far from Milan’s center, where 22 years ago Editor Benito Mussolini launched the Black Shirt March on Rome, his battered, bullet-riddled corpse sprawled in public display. His head rested on the breast of his mistress, comely Clara Petacci, who had died with him. Around him stretched the bodies of 16 of his Black Shirt henchmen.

    When I and other correspondents reached the scene, a howling mob was struggling for place beside the heap of cadavers. Partisan guards vainly fired rifle and pistol shots into the air to keep the crowd back. We drove our jeep to the edge of the scene, I clambered atop the hood.

    While I watched, a civilian tramped across the bodies and dealt Mussolini’s shaven head a terrific kick. Someone pushed the twisted head into a more natural position again with a rifle butt.

    Although the Duce’s upper teeth now protruded grotesquely, there was no mistaking his jaw. In death, Mussolini seemed a little man. He wore a Fascist Militia uniform — grey breeches with a narrow black stripe, a green-grey tunic and muddy black riding boots. A bullet had pierced his skull over the left eye and emerged at the back, leaving a hole from which the brains dripped. Mistress Petacci, 2 5 -year-old daughter of an ambitious Roman family, wore a white silk blouse. In her breast were two bullet holes ringed by dark circles of dried blood.

    The mob surged and swayed around the grisly spot. One woman emptied a pistol into the Duce’s body. “Five shots!” she screamed. “Five shots for my five murdered sons!” Others cried: “He died too quickly! He should have suffered!” But the hate of many was wordless. They could only spit.

    “I’ll Give You an Empire!” As near as can be pieced together at this time, in this fashion, from the last days of Benito Mussolini.*

    On Sunday, April 22 men went on strike. The city’s German garrison correctly interpreted this as the prelude to a revolt, withdrew from the streets into their barracks. On Wednesday a general strike was called. Demonstrations against the Germans and Fascists swept through the city. That evening Mussolini, as chief of the Republican Fascist Government, and his War Minister, Marshal Rodolfo Graziani, met with partisan representatives. Terms of surrender “were discussed. Mussolini cried: “The Germans have betrayed me!” Bombastically he asked for one hour’s time to inform the German High Command of his displeasure.

    Before the hour expired, the Duce, who in his fustian prime had bellowed to his followers, “If I retreat, kill me!” was in headlong flight. At 9 p.m. he reached Como near the Swiss border. At 2 a.m. Thursday he sent an envoy to ask Swiss authorities to grant asylum to his wife, Donna Rachele, and their children. The Swiss emphatically declined. About 6 a.m. Mussolini sneaked northward presumably in the hope of reaching Germany. According to one report he joined a German truck convoy trying unsuccessfully to disguise himself in a German officer’s overcoat. He was spotted near Dongo and held for arrest.

    A partisan commander known by the nom de guerre “Eduardo” dispatched ten men and an officer to “settle the matter.” They found the dictator and his mistress in a cottage on a hill outside the village. When he saw his countrymen approaching, Mussolini thought they had come to liberate him. Joyfully he embraced his Petacci. When he learned that he was under arrest, his face turned yellow with fear and fury. He cried: “Let me save my life, and I’ll give you an empire!”

    But the partisans gave him short shrift. He was bluntly informed that he had been condemned to death. After a brief “trial,” the 16 other Fascists in the Duce’s party were also adjudged guilty. The Duce’s last words as he faced the firing squad were: “No! No!”

    The bodies of the 18 were loaded into a moving van and trucked south to Milan. There, at 3 a.m. Friday, they were dumped in the old Piazza Loreto, now renamed Piazza Quindici Martiri, in honor of 15 antiFascists recently executed there.

    “It Is Finished.” The bodies lay on the ground for many hours. Then, to give the mob a better view, the partisans hanged Mussolini and Petacci by their feet from a scaffold on the Piazza. “Hah!” jeered an onlooker, “Mussolini has become a pig!”

    Shortly before noon today the bodies were removed to a mortuary. Mussolini and Petacci were dragged like sacks of grain into a high-walled courtyard. Men, women & children followed, climbing the brick wall and peering over at the shapeless pulp that was the Duce’s face. The people’s temper, as though satiated, seemed calmer now. “At last, it is finished,” said one quietly. “He was punished by God.”

    Read more:,9171,797481,00.html#ixzz1bjKKQLYr

    • ScottPilgrimVersus

      Yeah, we should not be surprised that a dictator should be killed by those who endured his murder. I have misgivings about where the Arab Spring will go, but then I would have also had misgivings about The French Revolution and indeed it was either a false step or a partial step forward, to put it nicely. This event is probably the last thing I would judge it on, even if I did greatly enjoy Tarek’s book.

      Nicely done.

    • Graychin

      OMG! That was in Christian Italy!

  • Oldskool

    Christopher Hitchens makes the same complaint but there’s at least one upside; no reason for Qaddafi’s fighters to keep going. We weren’t interested in making OBL a hero, and if it’s good enough for us …

  • Frumplestiltskin

    the video footage is all grainy, it was in an active war zone in the city of Sirte that had not yet been secured. If I had been there and believed that Gadhafi and his guards were within that sewer I would have thrown hand grenades in first. Would you have considered that wrong or simple self defense. I think it is apparent that there were people there that wanted him captured alive, on the video there are a number of soldiers who shouted so, and to somehow state that his death represents a failure of the Libyan revolution is frankly nuts. Likely one young soldier lost it, he was shot once in the head, not bullet ridden and torn to shreds which would have been what a mob would have done.

    The Libyan Prime Minister, after declaring Libya liberated, stepped down from his post. Not exactly the makings of a new dictatorship, is it?

    And Fatah ignores how just yesterday Tunisia had free and fair elections monitored by the EU filling the 217 seat parliment. I guess Fatah will say the elections were a failure because his preferred party did not win without giving the new assemply any chance to prove themselves either.

    And what is it with the stupid history lesson. How many European kings survived being deposed? Charles 1 had his head cut off. As did Louis XVII, does this mean that England and France are barbaric states?

    A large number of former high ranking Gadhafi people are still alive, the head of his security was captured alive and treated at a local hospital, there are many who were former Gadhafi officials who are now in the government, they were not executed.

    Yes, there will be some revenge killings, a few rapists and murderers will get killed by a vengeful family. I honestly can’t say I blame their desire to do so, if someone raped and killed my daughter I would hunt them down if given the chance. I know that doesn’t make it right, but it doesn’t make me a barbarian.

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  • hisgirlfriday

    Libya is in chaos and the situation in Egypt is troubling.

    And yet, Tunisia’s weekend elections were GLORIOUS!

    Treating the Arabs within the Arab spring as one monolithic block without accounting for national differences within the movement not only is insulting to the Arab world, it’s detrimental to providing a full analysis of the reality on the ground so that we can craft the best foreign policy response to all of this.

  • dugfromthearth

    A gay man was beaten and burned alive in Britain by a mob. There was no war going on. He was no dictator trying to massacre his own people. It was simple hatred.

    I am less worried about a society in which a homicidal dictator is killed after a civil war by a mob, then one in which a man is beaten and burned alive for being gay.