Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Gaddafi: from tyrant to good guy, from good guy to dictator. The narrative changes again

Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, in a desperate try to control and preserve his more than 40 years regime, is using all of his destructive power to fight those who rise up against him, a majority that is quickly taking control over the country even as I write these lines. UN Security Council has just announced sanctions against Gaddafi for crimes against humanity and US President Obama recently said the Libyan leader must step down and leave the country immediately.

It was in 2004 when Tony Blair visited him in Libya and the world’s leading countries started to recognize Gaddafi as a good guy. In 2003 Gaddafi made a crucial change in his speech and publicly announced the cancellation of his weapons of mass destruction programs, allowing the international community to check that these were not just empty promises. That same year the regime took responsibility for the actions of its officials in respect to the Lockerbie bombing in 1988 and in 2001 Gaddafi was one of the first Arab leaders to condemn the 9/11.

These gestures, among others, seemed enough for the world’s media to start changing the narrative about a person who was once called by ex-President Reagan “the mad dog of the Middle East" in the early 80s. A look at the biography of Gaddafi shows the profile of a person who has incentivized and supported terrorism until the 90s, oppressed the country with his authoritarian ways for more than four decades, and, according to most online dictionaries, that is precisely the definition of “dictator”. Although he changed his approach in what regards to terrorism –or at least he manifested so- no indication whatsoever was shown about a change in the way he ruled the country, ways which are precisely what defines what a dictator is.

So, if nothing has changed in the way Gaddafi rules the country and he is still not restricted by a constitution, or laws or a recognized opposition, why did the world all of the sudden start to reframe his profile and turn the page from “Mad Dog” to “Good Guy”?

Libya’s oil production is interestingly correlated to the level of acceptance of the regime by the Western world: During the 1980s the production remained constant around 22,000 million barrels, and only in the mid 1990s did the production start to increase to almost double by 2004, and keep growing until another 16% as of last year, as long as foreign companies stepped into the country to renew the infrastructure and maximize the productivity of the oil rigs. In similar proportion Gaddafi’s fortune boosted with his shares in Tamoil among other assets. It wasn’t a secret that Europe (and Spain as well) had been also selling weapons to Libya until last year.

We all know by now that starting just a few weeks ago President, Leader and Father of the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya (Libya, for most of us) has once again been framed as a dictator and tyrannical oppressor of the Libyans—ready to do everything to retain his absolute power, including bombing the citizens or execute those in the military forces who refuse to defend the regime and follow orders.

It is clear that the term “dictator” fits Gadaffi better than ever. However, I can hardly find any good article denouncing the hypocrisy of those who didn´t hesitate to present and accept Gadaffi as the new friendly “regional strongman” and now again frame him as a cruel dictator.

We all have seen this changing narrative in global politics already framing the solution: the enemy of our society that has to be eliminated. From Saddam Hussein, Bin Laden or Chavez all the way to Gadaffi, and every new reformulation of somebody from evil to good person or vice verse is simply accepted as it comes. What accounts for this change in discourse framing? Have we been fooled again or are we fooling ourselves consciously?

It is tempting to mention the resemblance of the story with Orwell’s 1984: Eastasia, Eurasia, and Oceania keep changing their enemies and the system keeps us busy by instilling in us a new story of war which responds to the economic interests of the people in power to preserve a constant state of control, fear and shortages. However, this is no longer attainable when people in western societies have access to many sources of information and each individual can express his/her position through many channels.

Many people are now posting in blogs or social networks about the winds of change in the Arab world, stating that a change is needed and democracy in the region is the only plausible option. Wasn’t this change needed one year ago? Or twenty? Nobody is denouncing our leaders for collaborating with the regime during the previous years. However, weren’t we free to have denounced that too?

In my opinion, the narrative in global politics is not necessarily created top-down (as in Orwell’s 1984) and simply accepted. We, as informed individuals, are constantly creating our own individual narratives that frame the reality we need to preserve our status and continue to fulfill our expectations of a prosper future. We tend to ignore when our leaders are doing business with dictators like Gadaffi either because we think it is somehow beneficial for our country hence for us, or because we think it doesn’t affect us at all. If there is any doubt about what to think, there is always the “official” main source of information provided by our Media!

My conclusions are the following: let’s get some perspective and let’s use the information available to build our own narratives based on a greater prosperity than ours: a global prosperity. It would be a gigantic step for us if we were able to identify not only the current events in regards to Libya (or any other world conflict) but the social and historical context in which these events have taken place.

During the interesting and stimulating sessions of Connections and Inflections, our professor Rolf Strom-Olsen proposed the debate about continuous growth versus equilibrium. I think that to perpetuate these changing narratives will only respond to our interest of maintaining our status to keep growing, but, to what expense? Increasing the existing gap between nations and moving away from this equilibrium will only result in a scenario where our societies will be worse off and our prosperity at stake.

Now we have the choice to express ourselves as individuals through many channels. Next time we read about relevant decisions in global politics, let’s ask ourselves: Why is it happening? What are the consequences of these acts? How can I connect this to past events? How does this affect me, but also how does this affect citizens in the country relevant to the decision? Are our leaders’ decisions looking for our profit or our prosperity?

I already got tickets for Cut Copy next March 22nd in Madrid, so here is one of the song I expect to listen that day...Cut Copy, Hearts On Fire:


  1. Más razón que un santo. Eso mismo llevo preguntándome yo la última semana y media...De ídolo y "líder reconvertido" a "tirano"...

  2. Es la hipocresía de nuestros líderes unida a nuestro silencio lo que conduce a esto, al menos es importante ser consciente de ello.

    Gracias por tu comentario,