In Impromptus today, I talk about a number of things, from the GOP to Putin to cake-bakers to wind turbines to the ballet. But I lead with Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, a son of the late dictator, the one who was supposed to be “good.” The one who broke away — from the family’s clasp. But when the war came, he rushed to his father’s side, to commit war crimes.
The Hague wanted to try him. But Libyan authorities refused to hand him over. They kept him in prison, or under house arrest. (This is unclear.) Now they have released him, which is why he’s in the news, and in my column.
In the Corner, I would like to do a little quoting, from Children of Monsters, my book about sons and daughters of dictators:
I myself encountered Saif once, in 2005. It was at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Qaddafi’s son was the guest at a “media coffee.” With about ten of us sitting around a table, he discoursed on a range of issues, including his pet theme, democracy. He said — and here I paraphrase, but closely — “Do you know why we Arabs have lost all our wars against Israel? Because Israel is democratic, and we are undemocratic. So, 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 strongman is all that matters. Democracy, on the other hand, is a competitive mechanism — and that’s why Israel wins.”
An Israeli at the table said, humorously but nervously, “Please don’t ever have a democracy.”
I have more for you:
Something else interesting happened at that session. Toward the end of it, someone asked Saif about the Holocaust, and the widespread Arab denial of the same. Saif began his answer hesitantly: “I am not a historian. I don’t know all the facts.” He then trotted out the familiar line that Arabs cannot be anti-Semitic, being Semites themselves. The Jews and Arabs were cousins, he said. Being an astute fellow, he sensed that his answer was not working in this room. A person should not deny the Holocaust, or give the appearance of doing so, in a room full of international media. So he said, “It is incorrect to deny the Holocaust.” And why was that? Because it was the Red Army that liberated Auschwitz. “We learned about it from the Russians, not from the Zionists, not from the New York Times. So, if Arabs deny this, it is incorrect.”
The World Economic Forum official who was running the session said, “On that conciliatory note, we must adjourn.” You and I may not regard an admission that the Holocaust occurred, because the Soviet Union said so, as conciliatory, but in some atmospheres it evidently is.
Let me lay aside the semi-sardonic tone. To a degree, all the sons and daughters of dictators are tragic, as so many people in other circumstances are. But Saif al-Islam is more tragic than most, I would say, because he truly strove to break away — to rise above dictatorship — but the pull of blood or power or something simply proved too strong.