Forgive me if I cannot get on board with the cheering over the rough justice that was meted out to Gaddafi* this morning. The question is not whether he deserved his fate, but whether this bodes well for the next Libyan regime. While it’s understandable under the circumstances, celebrating death as an instrument of political change is not very far removed from the Gaddafi regime. Whether this is the beginning of a new era of freedom and democracy is a wide open question.
Progressives really need to get their story straight. We support due process, except when the Hollywood ending feels better. We are against the death penalty, but make an exception (if only by silence) for the likes of Amrosi. We hate western interference in the internal affairs of sovereign nations, except when we agree with it. We are against angry mobs, wildly overstating their case and peddling conspiracy theories, except when we like them.
Democracy does not come from removing and/or killing a tyrant. It does not come from having free elections. Only when a previously elected government is voted out and there is a peaceful transition to the new government, can a nation be called genuinely democratic. This has not yet happened in Afghanistan, where every election has endorsed the president installed by the occupying forces**, and often under suspicious circumstances. It has not happened in South Africa. It has not happened in Zimbabwe, where Robert Mugabe won the first free election in 1980 and gradually became a dictator. Iraq? Don’t make me laugh. Russia? I’ll believe it when I see it. Egypt? Syria? Place your bets.
As one Libyan on the radio today put it, killing Gaddafi (in crossfire between rebels and loyalists, according to reports at time of writing) is almost a mercy killing, meaning he will never have to face due justice. I shed no more tears for Gaddafi than I would for any of the other murderous tyrants whose people are rising up against them. But I must wonder if and when genuine democracy will ever come so long as we endorse, even under extraordinary circumstances, the take-him-out-and-shoot-him model of political change.
If the last sixty years have taught us anything (and I’m not sure they have), it’s that the enemy of your enemy may also be your enemy.
* There are numerous acceptable ways of spelling his name in English. This is the spelling I have seen recently. If you know of others, fine.
** Not a pejorative term, just the way it is.