The Dictator's Useful Idiots

Friday, February 25, 2011
A great column by Greg Sheridan, foreign editor of The Australian:

Dictator's useful idiots happy to take his money

It was an iron rule of the Cold War that the more grotesque and horrible the communist regime, the more dedicated and active would be its fan club, its friendship societies and fellow travellers in the West.

This has also been true of Arab and Third World dictatorships. The psychotic murderer Che Guevara is an icon of style chic, even today. Cuba's revolting dictator, Fidel Castro, with his Havana Stalinism, was often touted as a great and wise statesman. Even a year or two ago the intellectual and moral giant Michael Moore paid tribute to Castro's health service without mentioning his gulag of dissidents.

But no devotion was ever stranger than that lavished on the Libyan dictator, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. Of course, intellectuals always love money and Gaddafi had plenty of it. There was a period in my life where I couldn't wait each week to visit the big news stand at Sydney's Town Hall to read the new edition of the Workers News. This was the journal of a Trotskyite grouplet, the Socialist Labour League. It was financed in part by Gaddafi's munificence, and I rejoiced at the exotic ideological material it offered. In among the routine denunciations of uranium mining and calls for greater trade union militancy would be a couple of pages extolling Gaddafi's fatuous and incoherent green book and the Libyan revolution.

No intellectual in Western life has had a more doleful influence than that champion of frauds, Edward Said. His animating idea was that all Western scholarship on the Orient, by which he meant the Arab world, was a kind of false consciousness, trapped in a narrative of colonialism and Western superiority.

The silliness of the idea has led to its reverse, a kind of reflexive idealising of "the other", so Arab despots, extremists and millenarian mass murderers are imbued in many progressive circles of the West with all kinds of qualities of wisdom and kindness which they singularly do not possess.

Gaddafi was the most absurd example. He of the 40 virgin praetorian guard, he of the murderous suppression of dissent, he of the dysfunctional sons arrested around Europe for beating up servants, he also of the nuclear weapons program and the sponsor of countless acts of terrorism, this man for a time was a hero to elements of the Western Left, including even parts of the Australian Labor party [...]

My closest encounter with the Gaddafi clan came, however, in 2003, when I interviewed young Saif Gaddafi, Muammar's second son. He was hosted in Australia by the mining industry, which quite sensibly wanted to get involved in exploration and production in Libya. And he was touted as the moderate, humane, reforming version of the Gaddafi family.

But there is something about tyrants' sons. They rarely turn out well. Young Saif entered in a cloud of flunkies, a blonde floozy on his arm, overweight bodyguards everywhere, himself in a white linen suit (he dressed rather like John Pilger) sporting designer stubble and a shaved head.

What's it like being Colonel Gaddafi's son, I asked. Not easy, he said. His father didn't always realise that he was just like any other Libyan who likes to "dive in Australia, ski in France" and generally do the ordinary things that ordinary Libyans like to do.

He was supposed to tell me how the new, modern Libya opposed terrorism. And he started out OK, telling me the attacks on New York on 9/11 were thoroughly opposed by him and dad.

"Of course," he said, "we're talking about the New York bombings, not the Pentagon, that's a military target and we hate that building."
At this point a mining executive leapt forward to say that what Gaddafi meant was that he came with a message of peace. Nonetheless, I persisted and Gaddafi Jr described the Pentagon as "the devil's building" and said it was perfectly OK to attack the Pentagon. On the other hand, the CIA, he told me, his family liked co-operating with. I'm not sure if the CIA was entirely grateful for this encomium.

Like a lot of tyrants' sons, Saif was a multi-talented fellow, acquiring a PhD from the London School of Economics, to which his family contributed generously, exhibiting his paintings in Paris, etc. His brother, Hannibal, was arrested several times in Europe, variously for beating his girlfriend and beating servants. One arrest in Switzerland induced Muammar Gaddafi to demand that the UN dissolve Switzerland.

Another brother was the head of a feared security agency.

The utter, absolute, intellectual and moral bankruptcy of the Western activists and intellectuals who embraced these gangster dictators is matched today in the same fatuous calls for dialogue and understanding of Islamist extremism in its many guises. The gullibility of a certain sort of progressive is almost infinite.