By ROGER COHEN
Published: March 7, 2011
LONDON — There’s a video of Dr. Alia Brahimi of the London School of Economics greeting Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi as “Brother Leader” at the school three months ago, and presenting him with an L.S.E. cap — a tradition, she says, that started when the cap was handed to Nelson Mandela.
Damon Winter/The New York Times
Sir Howard Davies, the director of the L.S.E., had the decency to resign over the school’s financial links to Qaddafi and his own misjudgments. If only the L.S.E. were an isolated case. The Arab Spring is also a Western Winter.
I’m glad the United States and Europe have gotten behind the Bahrain-to-Benghazi awakening. But I’ve not heard enough self-criticism.
Hearings should be held in the U.S. Congress and throughout Western legislatures on these questions: How did we back, use and encourage the brutality of Arab dictators over so many years? To what degree did that cynical encouragement of despots foster the very jihadist rage Western societies sought to curb?
The West has long known what the likes of Qaddafi and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak did. Hisham Matar, the acclaimed Libyan novelist, has a new novel out called “Anatomy of a Disappearance.” His father, Jaballa, disappeared in 1990, abducted from his Cairo apartment by Egyptian security agents who handed him over to Libya.
For more than a decade there has been no trace of this cultured man, a former diplomat last seen in Tripoli’s notorious Abu Salim prison. His crime was belief in democracy and freedom. He has vanished leaving a fine novelist aching for closure, demanding — if his father is dead — “to know how, where and when it happened.”
There you have the Cairo-Tripoli axis. They were useful, Mubarak and Qaddafi, for intelligence and renditions and a cold Israeli peace in the case of the Egyptian; for oil and gas in the case of the Libyan. They were also killers.
Disappear is a transitive verb for dictators. That’s what they do to foes, disappear them in the night for questioning that becomes a nameless forever.
No law governs these captives’ fate. They vanish — and then they are tossed into mass graves. Qaddafi massacred over 1,000 political prisoners at Abu Salim in June 1996. Was Jaballa Matar among them?
It’s important to have names. The skulls in the sand were once sentient beings who screamed for justice.
The entire Western world has been complicit in the pain of Hisham Matar, whose first novel “In the Country of Men” was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. The West has embraced every Arab dictator now being toppled by the people they starved of rights and life itself.
Matar told The New Yorker this was “an appropriate moment for Americans to reflect on how they have for three decades allowed their elected officials to support a dictatorship as ruthless as Mubarak’s. To ask, for example, what are the reasons that have motivated the current vice president of the United States to say, as recently as Jan. 27, that Mubarak is no dictator.”
I think Joseph Biden might answer that question.
There are many reasons I oppose a Western military intervention in Libya: the bitter experience of Iraq; the importance of these Arab liberation movements being homegrown; the ease of going in and difficulty of getting out; the accusations of Western pursuit of oil that will poison the terrain; the fact that two Western wars in Muslim countries are enough.
But the deepest reason is the moral bankruptcy of the West with respect to the Arab world. Arabs have no need of U.S. or European soldiers as they seek the freedom that America and the European Union were content to deny them. Qaddafi can be undermined without Western military intervention. He cannot prevail: Some officer will eventually make that plain.
Timothy Garton Ash, in his book “Facts are Subversive,” quotes the Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz who wrote:
Do not feel safe. The poet remembers.
You may kill him — another will be born.
Deeds and words shall be recorded.
Yes, the poet remembers, and Qaddafi’s deeds — his crimes — will be recorded. One day we will know what befell Jaballa Matar and the numberless dead. I just watched Mohamed Al-Daradji’s powerful movie, “Son of Babylon,” in which an Iraqi Kurdish woman looks in vain for her son, disappeared in 1991 by Saddam Hussein. At one point she says, “I’ve been searching the prisons and now I’m searching the graves.”
Let’s put names to the dead, dates to the crimes, and details to our complicity. I know the world is unjust: Nobody made a big fuss about Dr. Brahimi’s words three months ago. All the more reason to be severe in assessing lessons learned.
In his new novel, Matar’s chief protagonist observes, “There are times when my father’s absence is as heavy as a child sitting on my chest.” He searches — “Everything and everyone, existence itself, has become an evocation, a possibility for resemblance.”
The foul Libyan regime that knows the answer must fall for the truth to be known. Closure time has come.
Bovenstaande column uit ‘The New York Times” brengt me de 70’ er jaren van vorige eeuw terug in het geheugen en wat de Chileense dichter Pablo Neruda (12 juli 1904 – 23 september 1973) toen overkwam. Hij schreef in Canto General (1950):
Poëzie is altijd al een daad van vrede geweest! De dichter is het product van de vrede zoals brood het product van bloem is. De brandstichters, de soldaten, de wolven zoeken de dichter om hem te verbranden, om hem te doden, om hem te verscheuren. (…) Maar de poëzie is niet gestorven, ze is niet dood te meppen. Ze kunnen haar aanranden, over straat sleuren, haar in het gelaat spuwen en honen, haar insluiten om haar het zwijgen op te leggen, haar verbannen, haar kerkeren, schoten op haar afvuren, maar ze komt al die dingen met een monter gezicht en een frisse glimlach te boven.
En in “I’m Explaining a Few Things” (Explico Algunos Cosas)
from Tercera Residencia (1947)
Preguntaréis por qué su poesía
no nos habla del sueño, de las hojas,
de los grandes volcanes de su país natal?
Venid a ver la sangre por las calles,
venid a ver
la sangre por las calles,
venid a ver la sangre
por las calles!
And you will ask: why doesn’t his poetry
speak of dreams and leaves
and the great volcanoes of his native land?Come and see the blood in the streets.
Come and see
the blood in the streets.
Come and see the blood
in the streets!
Poetry (La Poesia)
And it was at that age … Poetry arrived
I did not know what to say, my mouth
And I, infinitesimal being,