Understanding Players of Libya’s Recent Past

Last Tuesday, September 11, United States ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens and three of his staff members were killed when violent riots broke out in Benghazi, fueled by a 14-minute YouTube trailer of an American-made film called “Innocence of Muslims.” Now, U.S. officials believe that the Benghazi riots were not entirely spontaneous and that the attacks on Stevens and his men were pre-orchestrated.

These events have once again pulled Libya and the radical nature of the Arab Spring uprising to the forefront of the American attention and to the crux of the U.S. presidential election. In understanding the state of this young and tremulous country, it is important to revisit the personality and politics of Muammar Qaddafi, Libya’s former head of state and symbolic figurehead.

In Alison Pargeter’s Libya: The Rise and Fall of Qaddafi, she works to untangle the complicated idealisms and failed unifying actions taken by Qaddafi. In a recent interview with the Boston Globe, Pargeter describes Libya:

It was a very utopian vision based on Khadafy’s idea of the ideal society in which nobody would be exploited by anybody else. Even on the political level, no one could be represented by anyone else, so you wouldn’t have parliament or political parties. Everyone would be able to take part in governing themselves—essentially a stateless society, where no one could be victimized or be exploited. That’s the vision he had as a young man in his late 20s.

Pargeter’s book works through Qaddafi’s maniacal social plans, bizarre programs, and eventual downfall, working up through his death. She explains the surreal nature of his 42-year rule as “Brother Leader” and the utter fearlessness required of the people who overthrew him. She even laments his sad fate, writing:

Worse, for all the years he had dedicated to the cause of pan-Arabism – his ultimate dream – it was only with his death that Libya felt it could finally take its rightful place in the Arab world. It is a sad legacy for a man who genuinely believed that he had the solution not only to the problems of Libya, but to the ills of all mankind.

As Libya burgeons into a key player of the Arab Spring and modern history, understanding Qaddafi’s legacy is now more important than ever. With Alison Pargeter’s new book, the reader can get into the inner workings of the Qaddafi regime and uprising that defeated it.

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