Lake Mabprachan, 30th March, 2011

2 months, 30 days – still sober.

Libya

I well remember the year I spent in Libya. All in all it was a bit of a strange affair. I had gone back to England with my ‘tail between my legs’ after having failed miserably to find a way to exist in Thailand, once my little nest egg, which I accumulated during my 8 years working for an American oil company, had been exhausted.

It was in the mid seventies and by the time I arrived in Tripoli, Gadhafi had already been in power for a number for years. I had been recruited as the company chief accountant by the London offices of yet another American oil company and although I was a single man, the contract I signed was ‘married status’. This meant that a large 3 bedroomed Villa and car came with the job, but it also meant that as a ‘married man’ I was not entitled to any R & R (rest and recuperation), as I had my ‘mythical wife’ to amuse me when not working.


I have written at length about this period of my life in ‘Mobi’s Story’ and it may well also come up again in my novel, so I will not repeat all my Libyan adventures here, the main one being my overnight success as a booze manufacturer, both beer and ‘white lightning’. This little project eventually resulted in me escaping form the country by the skin of my teeth, with just the clothes on my back and the Tripoli police snapping at my heels.

I do have some very clear memories of my time there. The climate was wonderful, hot but not too hot in the summer and cold but not too cold in the winter. It was a semi-tropical, semi temperate, climate and the expats there loved it. There were some lovely beaches and parts of Tripoli and the surrounding areas had some beautiful colonial buildings. There were also a large number of Roman ruins which were interesting places to visit.


It seemed to me, during my time there, that Gadhafi was revered as a God. Not a word could ever be said against him and everything he said was regarded as the wise, indisputable words of a near deity. In those years, Gadhafi was very fond of insulting and haranguing virtually every western country and in particular, The UK and the USA were subject to almost daily rants, full of hatred and vitriol. The Libyans as a whole accepted this version of the west and regarded us foreigners with disdain, if not outright disgust. I well remember one day, I was in the gas station filling up my car, when I became almost the victim of a lynch mob. Gadhafi had been particularly venomous in condemning the Brits the previous evening and quite by accident I was holding cigarette close to a Libyan bank note which bore the imprint of Gadhafi’s head. When I was spotted with this note, I was immediately surrounded by an angry gang of young men who started poking me and spitting at me. I had insulted the likeness of their leader. After a few worrying moments I was rescued by a well-dressed, elderly Arab, who came over and told the young men to go away. It was quite a frightening experience and it taught me how volatile these people were and how they had been ‘brain washed’ by their ‘beloved’ leader.

At work, I soon learnt that the way to get things done was not to fight the Libyans (like most of the expat workers did), but to try and make them your friend and that you were on their side. My right hand man in the accounts office was a nasty piece of work and did all he would to make trouble for everyone. His elder brother also worked for us as the senior liaison officer between our company and the Libyan government. He was a man of great influence and knew many people close to Gadhafi. Without his presence the company would never have been able to operate.  So his young brother had been put as the number two in the accounts department, even though he knew little about accounts and even if he did, he had no intention of doing a day’s work – outside of his wheeling and dealing and launching conspiracies against the expats who worked there.


I was so successful in befriending this nasty little shit that he really believed that I loved Libya and the Libyans and hated the country of my birth. He would do anything I wanted, which included getting many of the recalcitrant office workers to do a day’s work and smooth the way for all our dealings with government departments, including the settling of tax liabilities and other similar matters. We became such firm friends that he even invited me to have a meal at his home – something completely unheard of between Muslims and infidels, although I couldn’t resist a wry smile when I discovered our friendship didn’t go so far as to have his wife at home when I arrived at his front door. He wasn’t ready for an infidel to meet a woman who was normally confined to her house for almost  24 hours a day, and on the rare occasions that she went out to visit relatives, she had to completely cover her body from head to foot.


In a manner of speaking, our friendship finally became my undoing, as once I had invited him to visit me at my home, he became a regular visit, but crucially, he also became a regular drinker of my illegal booze. He would stop by at all hours of the day or night, either to have a few glasses of home brew at the bar in my lounge or to buy a few bottles of white lightning for resale to the Arab community. But then he became tired of his role as ‘middle man’ in my alcohol business and he started to introduce some of his friends to me so that they could come by and buy their own booze. Within a short while it was becoming out if control. I had strange Arabs ringing my front gate bell at all hours of the day and night to buy my booze. I was making plenty of money, but it was getting more and more risky.

In the end, the little shit-face came running round one night and warned me that my name had been given to the police and if I didn’t want to spend the next 10 years in a Libyan jail I should cut my losses and catch the next plane out. This was easier said than done, as before I could leave Libya, I needed to have an exit visa in my passport, and I didn’t even have my passport, let alone the visa. None of us did, they were all kept in the care of shit-face’s elder brother, and when we wanted to leave the country he would arrange the exit visas for us.  His brother managed to rush though my visa the following afternoon and I managed to get away with literally hours to spare. I heard that the cops raided my house late the same evening that I flew out of Libya, never to return.


What did my time in Libya tell me about the place? It told me that while the Libyan Arabs were much better educated and seemingly more intelligent than the ‘Gulf Arabs’, with whom I had previously worked for almost 3 years, they were still Arabs. They were still a misogynistic race of bigoted people who treated their women at best as 2nd class citizens and at worst like indentured sex slaves. I recognise that much of this is down to culture, religion and the years of brainwashing by Gadhafi, but I’m sorry, it didn’t make them very likeable people.

I fully realise that my experience was somewhat distorted, in as much as I was British – one of Gadhafi’s’ main enemies, and I worked for an American owned company and the USA was as much, if not more reviled than the Brits. So once the Libyans knew of my nationality or who I worked for, then I would always see the worst side of them. I happened to make friends with a group of Australians who lived and worked in Tripoli for a number of Australian state- sponsored projects for the Libyan government. Their experiences were very different to mine and they seemed to enjoy working with them and told me that they had good, friendly relations.


There is much water under the bridge since I was in Libya in the mid-seventies and no doubt the country and its people have changed considerably since those relatively early days of the Gadhafi regime. Certainly, many Libyans have received decent educations, and we can hear by all the interviews and phone in’s that so many of the normal population have a good command of English – almost non-existent in my days. They seem to be ‘worldlier’, and many seem to have suffered considerably under Gadhafi, who through the years appears to have become ever more brutal and repressive. In my day, Gadhafi was still widely admired, in Tripoli anyway, but I now realise that at least some of that ‘admiration’ was purely for public consumption. Many were most likely frightened to say anything different. Furthermore, I cannot speak for people in places like Benghazi, who may never have admired him..

What does all this tell you? Well for one thing, it is clear that you can live in a country for a year without really knowing what is going on there and what people really think – especially if you can’t speak the language. Some of my fellow farangs would do well to consider this when spouting forth on current events in Thailand.


So the question is; should the west be involved in enforcing the no fly zone and taking all necessary steps to protect Libyan civilians?

It seems that in France and Britain that a majority of the public and a vast majority of the British parliament support this action, but in the USA, the public is deeply divided and less than 50% of the American public support the Obama initiative. This is an interesting phenomenon in itself. I do appreciate that there is the issue of Congress not being asked for approval and also the fact that in some respects, Obama has been hypocritical, given his earlier statements to the fact that he would never commit to a war without Congressional approval.

Are the Republicans playing partisan politics? In normal circumstances you would have fully expected the right wing hawks to be on the side of military intervention, yet here we see the ‘party of war’ split down the middle. (This, Rebel, is one of the many reasons I enjoy watching Fox news – you get one of their leading right-wingers, Bill ‘O Reilly on the side of Obama, and other leading lights of Fox News, bitterly opposed.)

I have watched the news from Libya extensively on the TV News channels, including some excellent eye witness accounts from reporters and Libyans alike and I have also listened extensively to eye witness reports from Libyans calling into  BBC radio. Then there are the commentators – so many, it seems like half the world is an expert on Libya, the Libyans, military manoeuvres and what the world’s politicians are thinking.

I must say I was pretty disgusted when the Arab league were the first to call for the no fly zone and it was explained to them over and over that a no fly zone would entail bombing Gadhafi’s military installations, but as soon as the bombs and missiles started to fly they all cried ‘foul’. The Aljazeera commentators were quick to reassure us that the Arabs didn’t really think that anything bad had been done, but they had  to placate their own people.

It just goes to show how much hypocrisy, partisan politics and just plain bullshit is behind any political decision and it is a wise man who can truly extrapolate the truth from the public ‘fiction’.

So do I agree with it and what do I think is going to happen?

Yes, I do agree and I think this may be the one time when the desired result will be fairly quick in coming. There is no doubt that Gadhafi has been transformed into an evil megalomaniac who cares not one jot for the sanctity of human life. We are learning that his regime has become increasingly repressive in the 40 odd years he has been in power and he has been totally ruthless in quelling any whisper of dissent.

Once the uprising in Benghazi stated to take hold, he and his son showed their true colours, by stating the unimaginable things they would do to anyone who opposed the regime. I do not believe these statements were mere threats. I believe that given the chance, everything they have threatened, would be carried out.

Given these circumstances the international community had no choice but to take the action that they did. I agree with many that double-standards are very much at play in this decision, given that they stood by and watched the holocaust in Ruanda and also the violent repressive acts that have been perpetrated in places such Bahrain, Yemen and Syria, to say nothing of Burma, North Korea and Iran and even China. But Ruanda apart, the threats to the population in these other totalitarian regimes pale into insignificance when compared to the potential genocide that Gadhafi has threatened in Libya.

There is much wrong with the coalition’s actions, but I believe the present situation it is the best of a bad deal. Let us hope that Gadhafi will be removed sooner, rather than later.

What say you?