At this moment, the downfall of Moammar Qaddafi seems a certainty. Two of his sons and possible heirs, Seif al-Islam and Muhammad, have been taken into custody. The fate of all of them remains to be seen. Libya spokesmen appear on our television screens to talk about democracy and freedom and decisions to be taken in due course about the Qaddafis.
The spokesmen are dignified and mostly elderly but the worst is to be feared. The sight of the pick-up vans pouring into Tripoli is more frightening than encouraging. Here are milling crowds with weapons but no training in how to handle them, and no discipline. Unlike the spokesmen, wild and angry men are firing guns, shouting about what they are going to do to Qaddafi and how great the future will be.
Circumstances like these have ended down the centuries in revenge and murder. It is pointless to speak of law and order. After 40 years of one-man rule, there are no institutions or personalities with the authority for even minimum control. Those milling crowds look like anarchy.
I could not help noticing that the pick-up vans had Islamist slogans painted like graffiti on their sides. That may well be the future.
Tunisia is turning into an Islamist state, and Egypt might well down that path in a few months’ time. So might Syria if the Sunni rebellion succeeds there.
NATO alone is responsible for mobilizing those milling crowds in Tripoli and handing them success. Without NATO, Qaddafi would have slaughtered the people in Benghazi where the rebellion began. That would have been a dreadful outcome, to be sure. It would be an even more dreadful outcome if all we have done by intervening militarily in Libya is to advance the Islamist wave now sweeping the Arab and Muslim world.