In his column today, the estimable Bret Stephens writes of an encounter some of us had with Saif Qaddafi at Davos in 2005. Saif is in a bit of a predicament now, I understand. Bret’s column made me go back to see how I wrote up that same encounter. My account is here. May I give you an excerpt?
. . . Then he says something utterly fascinating: We Arabs have lost all our wars against Israel because Israel is democratic, and we are undemocratic. In other words (Gaddafi continues), in one of our states, the worst general becomes army chief of staff, because he is no threat to carry out a coup d’état. Loyalty to the number one is all that matters. Democracy, on the other hand, is a competitive mechanism — and that’s why Israel wins.
Quips an Israeli at the table, “Please don’t ever have a democracy.”
One more, please — and for Impromptus readers who have heard this before, forgive me:
At the end of our session, Gaddafi is asked about the Holocaust — about the general Arab denial of same. Gaddafi begins his answer very hesitantly: “I’m not a historian, I don’t know all the facts.” Uh-oh — this is creepily familiar. Then he goes into the equally familiar spiel (I have heard it all my life) that Arabs can’t be anti-Semites, because Arabs themselves are Semitic, and Jews are cousins, blah, blah, blah.
Then he senses — he appears to sense — that this isn’t flying in this particular room; that he ought not to deny — even seem to deny — the Holocaust before an international group of reporters. So he says, “It is incorrect to deny the Holocaust.” And why? Because it was the Russians who liberated Auschwitz. We learned about these horrors from the Russians — “not from the Zionists, not from the New York Times,” but from the Red Army. “So, if Arabs deny this, it is incorrect.”
The World Economic Forum official who is with us says, “On that conciliatory note, we must adjourn.”
Amazing: that an admission that the Holocaust occurred — because the Red Army has said so — should be “conciliatory.” But, in our bizarre world, it is.
P.S. Fouad Ajami begins his own column — hot off the press — “Who, today, does not thrill to the spectacle of freedom in Tripoli?” I’m thinking, “Damn, he doesn’t read NRO.”