Italian Colonialism, A Childhood Wound And The Origins Of Gaddafi’s Showdown With The West

Italian Colonialism, A Childhood Wound And The Origins Of Gaddafi’s Showdown With The West

The Libyan leader's lifelong grudge with Italy, and the Italian attempts to appease him, may help explain how Gaddafi sees the current conflict.


It all began with a scar, a sign left on the arm of a child who'd been playing with his cousins along a stretch of desert. That scar sealed the fate not just for a man, but for an entire people. Muammar Gaddafi was six years old when a mine exploded as he was playing with his cousins on a dusty patch of earth in the desert near his native city of Sirt. No one can tell when the soldiers of the colonial Italian Royal Army had buried it there. But that day, in 1948, the mine exploded. Two of Gaddafi's cousins died. Muammar's arm was wounded. He would never forget.

His story as a leader, and his long-lasting grudge, started that morning. That injustice engendered hatred, which later influenced political choices that so often seemed driven by pure emotion. And almost every time, Italy played a central role in these choices. Surely, there were geographical reasons, given that the two countries face each other on opposite sides of the Mediterranean. But mostly, Italy stood at the center of Gaddafi's politics because of his driving demand for compensation for that childhood wound, and for the country's colonial humiliation.

On July 21, 1970, a New Revolutionary Committee's decree was the first of these policies aimed at Italy. The committee was lead by a young and then still obscure military captain from Sirt, ordering the confiscation of property belonging to 20,000 Italian citizens who were still living and working in Libya after the coup d'etat. It also ordered their immediate expulsion. As quickly as they could, the Italians had to pack up their few remaining belongings.

To celebrate that expulsion, Gaddafi declared October 7 "The Day of Vendetta," a new, annual national holiday. Nevertheless, when Libya became an oil-exporting power, Italy reopened its embassy and tried to make peace. In 1911, European critics of the Italian colonial war in Libya dismissed the country as a "sandbox". Everyone would find out how wrong that view was in the 1950s, when oil was discovered. Italy could not ignore the business opportunities for Eni Spa, its national oil and gas conglomerate.

After the Yom Kippur war and the Arab oil embargo in 1973, oil became even more central for international business and geopolitics. As a consequence, Gaddafi increasingly tried to impose his worldview on the old colonial powers. His view was inspired by Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser's Pan-Arabism, with dreams of a world lead by Arab countries and Africa. When terrorism became a strategy of the global revolution, Gaddafi financed groups such as the Irish Republican Army and the Palestinian Black September Organization.

Italy was always in the background of his fanatic thirst for a new world shaped by the power of petrodollars. It had to face Gaddafi's pressure and his threats for revenge for the colonial past. Captured Sicilian fishermen were used as bargaining chips to gain freedom for the assassins of Libyan opposition's leader who had escaped to Italy.

On April 15 1986, after a Berlin discotheque bombing that killed American marines, President Ronald Reagan ordered bombings of Benghazi, Tripoli and Gaddafi's own personal compound. A mysterious phone call – which many believe came from then Italian Prime Minister Bettino Craxi – warned Gaddafi in time to save his life.

Thus began a new chapter in the alternating rapport of old grudges and neighborly relations. In 1986, Gaddafi unloaded two missiles on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa. But by the beginning of the 2000s, he'd stopped supporting terrorism, and admitted Libya's responsibility for the attacks to Pan Am flight 103, in December 1988, and to the DC-10, UTA Flight 772, in September 1989.

In 1999, he received the first official visit to Tripoli by an Italian Prime Minister, Massimo D'Alema. In 2004, Europe Commission head Romano Prodi invited Gaddafi for an official visit to Brussels. That scar on the right arm of that child who played in the desert did not burn quite as much.

Only later, in Rome and Tripoli, Gaddafi and Silvio Berlusconi hugged each other, and Berlusconi even kissed Gaddafi's hand -- the peak of humiliation in a business oriented and shameless approach to foreign policy. Gaddafi had somehow managed to obtain a triumphal march on the road to Rome, only to now be back in his bunker launching new accusations of neo-colonialism, the scars of the past surfacing yet again.

Read the original article in Italian

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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