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September 25, 2009
Qaddafi: A madman, or just desperate for attention?

Worldfocus special correspondent Hoda Osman attended a briefing with Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi in New York this week. She blogs about the experience.

Qaddafi: The Self-Proclaimed Philosopher

As I watched Muammar al-Qaddafi walk into the meeting room at the Council on Foreign Relations, I remembered my shoes getting stolen.

The first (and only other) time I saw the Libyan leader was in N’Djamena, Chad, in 1999. Libya had arranged for a plane to take journalists from Cairo to Chad’s capital for the day to cover a speech he was giving. Tens of thousands of people gathered to watch him speak and security was very tight. The media area was right in front of the stage, but we had to take our shoes off as it was also an area where people were going to pray.

Once he finished his speech, the security was gone in the blink of an eye. We suddenly heard gunshots, people were running all around — and there went my pair of shoes. My cameraman’s shoes were also gone. Bad luck didn’t end there; it suddenly started to rain. We walked with wet, dirty socks until one of the locals guided us to a place where we could buy new Chadian shoes.

Back here in New York, 10 years later, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) event was about to start. The meeting was arranged for CFR’s members and was going to be based on an open question-and-answer format. We were warned that if we couldn’t stay for the whole duration of the meeting, which was scheduled to end at 2:00 p.m., we should move to another room where it was being transmitted to a big screen.

I was sitting in the fourth row and had a live report to do at 4:00 p.m. Qaddafi spoke for an hour and 36 minutes at the United Nations the previous day, instead of the proposed 15 minutes. I contemplated leaving, but decided to stay, knowing that CFR meetings usually started and ended on time regardless of who the speaker was.


Qaddafi is sometimes described as a madman. His eccentricity — and especially his unusual choice of words — may have something to do with that. At the United Nations the day before, he tore up a copy of the organization’s charter and called the Security Council a “terror council.”

He seemed sane to me that day, if his word choice remained eccentric.

One of the terms Qaddafi uses is Isratine, a combination of the words Israel and Palestine. At CFR, Qaddafi explained the reasons behind his support for a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He argued that the geography and the demographics of the area make a two-state solution difficult. The Libyan leader pointed out that the Palestinian state was split between Gaza and the West Bank, with Israel in between them. He added that settlements in the West Bank were too intertwined into Palestinian lands, which makes creating a Palestinian state there unrealistic.

Qaddafi suggested creating a “multicultural, multi-religious, multiracial state,” arguing that the lives of Israelis and Palestinians already depend on each other, with many Israeli factories employing Palestinian workers.

Although the one-state solution is not an option being considered in official discussions and negotiations, the idea is not new and there are those who support it. But it’s Qaddafi’s choice of the name of the country, Isratine, that makes his proposal more amusing.

“It Was A Different World Then”

Explaining why in 2003 Libya suddenly decided to give up its nuclear and chemical weapons program after investing so much in it, Qaddafi said things have changed. “At the time, all nations took pride in developing weapons of mass destruction. We were young and excited about the revolution,” he said in his very calm voice, one empty of any excitement.

He went on to argue that this phase has ended. A “strategic assessment” of which countries Libya would use those weapons against made them realize, he said, that the weapons represented more of a danger to Libya itself.

So far, so good, I thought.

“I Am Not An Authority”

Libya has no government and the press belongs to the people. That’s how Qaddafi, who is one of the longest serving leaders of the world, tried to evade giving a sincere answer to a question about Libya’s human rights practices. He said the questioner from Human Rights Watch wouldn’t understand this because she hasn’t read the Green Book which contains his theories about society.

All over the world, anything related to the government is hated and despised, “so we annulled the government,” he said. “I am not an authority,” he claimed. “Whether I am president or not, it doesn’t matter.” It was here that I felt Qaddafi was really insulting my intelligence. He’s been in power for 40 years now and it would be naïve to believe his utopian portrayal of Libya.

“I was a philosopher before I was an officer…I have a philosophy,” he went on.

Qaddafi argued that the system followed by Libya is the ideal one for governance and anticipated that the whole world to eventually evolve and adopt it.

And Finally….

The last question from the audience was about whether the President of CFR, Richard Haass, a Jewish-American, would be as well-received in Libya as Qaddafi was in New York.

“I am surprised by this question,” responded Qaddafi. “Did somebody tell you we discriminate against religions?” Qaddafi half-jokingly said that the question indicates that this must be an issue here in the U.S. or else it wouldn’t have been asked.

At the end, I was thinking: Is he really a madman? Putting aside his eccentric looks and strange choice of words, he seemed like just a typical Arab dictator, but a more irrelevant one. And maybe that’s why Qaddafi feels the constant need to attract attention.

It was 2:00 p.m….and guess what, the meeting did end on time. So, any new information, new impressions? Not really. Was it entertaining? No question about it.

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First of all great article, Gaddafis PR has taken a big blow after his disaster of a speech at the UN recently. He should have slept and gathered his thoughts before exposing himself so openly for the media and world to snicker at. But alas, its all downhill from here.


I agree that the Libyan people should be allowed to make their own decision. They should be allowed to write the score and play their own tunes without interference from special interests and others with their own agendas, the Libyan people should select their own leader – no strings attached – and when that leader addresses the UN, the rest of the world should accord the leader of a sovereign nation the respect any leader is entitled to. I reiterate, HRW has condemned one “democracy” for war crimes and that leader was allowed to address the UN without all this fanfare. The standards for judging war crimes and the punishment meted out to the war criminals should be the same, no matter which nation – that would be music to all ears.


Ravi, you defended Gaddafi, what I want to know is on what basis? Why should he be respected for staying in power 40 years without the consent of the Libyan people? The leaders you hinted at are elected into office and at most they stay in power for eight or ten years after re-election, and they are accountable to elected and appointed legislative and executive bodies who keep a check on them all the time, add to that the important role the free play in these countries . Gaddafi had not been accountable to anyone for 40 years, is that something worth defending, unless you think that Stalin was an excellent ruler? What good did Stalin bring to the world, without mentioning the terrible things he did? Will you allow Stalin to lecture the world about democracy and respect of law from the UN?
Everyone should get their hands off the Libyan people and let them decide freely whether they want Gaddafi or not. Send a group of non-corrupt UN officials tomorrow to Libya to investigate how many Libyans want him to stay their ruler. Then we can talk if he has any legitimacy at all to represent Libya, let alone a whole continent, and lecture the world from the UN podium.


What is the meaning of sovereignty? Many leaders addressed the United Nations, including the leader of a “democracy” that the Human Rights Watch organization recently condemned for having committed war crimes. All the leaders should be allowed to address the UN and when their governments are found guilty, they should be held duly accountable – one set of standards for all nations.


It is very simple to judge anyone who had been in power for 40 years. Franco ruled Spain for 40 years and we know every everything about him now, but not when he was in power because then we did not have the internet. For Gaddafi, all what it takes is to look objectively at his record for these 40 years in a country he ruled ruthlessly all this time? Do not get distracted by his stunts, such as he is not the ruler of Libya. Look at the quality of life of all Libyans (not just the few) and look at what happened to the country’s resources he squandered right, left and center, and you will have an idea what I am talking about. There is absolutely nothing good about Gaddafi worth defending. Enough Gaddafi enough


long live gaddafi long live the revolution, people are ignorant and arrogant and what pissed me off was the question about would the pres. of CFR be well recieved in libya as the brotherly leader was in New York?? were was the hospitality?? rude americans need a good leason in manners from middle eastern cultures. what he said at the UN was right and not rambeling. And who said we dont have freedom in libya?? we have the same or even more freedom here in libya than you yanks who want to rule the world and when someone goes against your ideotic ideology you give them grief like Chavez like gaddafi excluding ahmedinajad.


Ghaddafi is an absoute dictator.He is criminal,liar,corrupt,murderer and overall is a thug.We live in a police state since Gaddafi came to power.We Libyans have no freedom and no say in our normal lives.Gaddafi rules by daily instructions and directives.The world is full of money hungry politicians who welcome such a man.Instead of demanding he pay for the destruction and the thousand of killings he committed not just in libya but all over the world ,he is meet with open arms..There is no justice on earth.I feel shame belonging to human race.


I cannot understand Gaddafi’s tirade against the other Arab dictators. He is simply another manifestation of the ruthless way Arabs are governed. If these countries didn’t have oil they would be no better than Haiti in terms of development so unless giving their despotic leadership more publicity leads to true liberty I feel that we are knowingly feeding their propaganda machine. Just go an live in Libya for a few days to understand the nightmare.


I think that with a program named World Focus, any analysis of any issue should be performed without the biases of individuals or vested interests. President Qaddafi has renounced nuclear weapons under western pressure, paid reparations for the Lockerbie bombing (the bombing suspect was handed over to Britain and was recently released after serving a lengthy term), allowed western oil companies into Libya and has complied with European demands to control illegal immigration from Libya by closing down the refugee transit camps. President Qaddafi has remained in power for forty years and should be accorded the respect of any leader of a sovereign nation and his individual eccentricities or clothing habits should not be the focus of the world on World Focus.


What kind of dumb headline is that? Maybe he is neither a madman nor desperate? I didn’t know WorldFocus is just another propaganda mouthpiece of what the US government, whom wants the people to believe whatever it wants them to.

Didn’t Castro give a similar speech in the UN back in 1960? Then the US tried to strangulate Cuba and attmpted to assassinate him over 500 times.


I think he is both. He is also delusional. He thinks he smarter than everybody, like most fools. The world community should keep him isolated.


THANK YOU HODA Osman, I do really like your writing style. I am libyan and I know Gaddafi very well. Nothing is new about him in your article. However, I did enjoyed reading it. Thank you again.


Any leader of a country that the US doesn’t like, it orchestrates the media to describe them as madmen. May it be Chavez, Morales, Ahmadinejad, Castro, Saddam. Wasn’t Saddam not a madman when he was useful to us?

Don’t forget, Qaddafi is the Nasser of Libya, overthrowing the puppet king placed there to do the bidding of imperialist power.


The word Luddite comes to mind

I guess when you live in a tent or mud hut and your only skill is selling “black crack” the word luddite really dose not apply ?


It appears to me that the American government has a direct resentment againt Mr. Qathafi. This resentment has existed from the time the U.S. failed in putting in to power a currupt king they wanted to rule in Libiya. Mr. qathafi was responsible for putting the U.S. out of Libiya, and closing military facilities there. They did the similar things to Fidel Castro.

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