Tjebbe van Tijen on Mon, 25 Jul 2011 04:29:28 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> The disembodied Leviathan of Libya

The disembodied Leviathan of Libya

July 23, 2011 by Tjebbe van Tijen 

The illustrated and fully documented/linked version of this text can be found at

A picture today in Aljazeera of the Green Square (*) in Tripoli struck me,
it had a caption âPeople gather near a portrait of Gaddafi in Tripoliâs Green Square on Friday, before the explosions [Reuters]â. This news picture showed a huge street painting or print of Gaddafi and what seems to be a dwindling crowd around it. There is a fence around the picture that must be something like 40 by 160 meter in size. On the inside of the fence once sees guards posted at regular intervals. The picture shows Gaddafi in one of his hundreds of outfits, possibly the uniform of an air marshall  he wore when visiting the Italian president Berlusconi in June 2009. On the right side of his uniform jacket Gaddafi wears a gallery of medals and on the left the a photograph has been pinned on his uniform. The photograph shows the martyr of Libyan resistance Omar Mukhtar, the âLion of the Desertâ, on the day before he was hanged by his Italian colonial masters in 1931. A provocative statement for his host Berlusconi, who hugs him nevertheless as he is about to make some big business deals with the Libyan leader.

The people around the fence at the Green Square in Tripoli look at the picture of this moment of theatrical revenge, showing the leader completely, from his golden adorned cap to this shoes, with a saintly light blue glowing aura all around him. If one would not trust the strict editorial rules of Aljezeera and Reuterâs photo agency,  it could have been a photoshopped picture.

This made be think of the frontispiece of the book by Thomas Hobbes âLeviathanâ published in the mid 17th century during the English Civil War, which describes the necessity of a sovereign authority to be accepted by all, to avoid âthe state of natureâ, everybody for themselves, a âwar of all against allâ (Bellum omnium contra omnes).

For the sake of peace, the people, so did Hobbes argue,  had to make a social contract with an absolute ruler, best in the form of a king. The ruler in 1651 is depicted as an embodiment of âthe peopleâ. There is a crowd that marches from a landscape into the body of the ruler. The ruler has a sword in one and a crosier in the other hand, showing he is in command both of church and state.

[tableau picture combining the Hobbes book cover of Leviathan with the Green Square Tripoli street painting of Gaddafi]

The display of the picture of the ruler as if he was a landscape, one could walk in, at the Green Square in Tripoli, has a similar function: Gaddafi as embodiment of the Libyan nation. Only, the aerial photograph unveils that it is but a meagre crowd assembled around their leader. It expresses how the maximum leader has inflated himself disproportional to the feelings of embodiment by âhis peopleâ.

The 17th century theory of state of Hobbes can still be used today, to understand the prolonged rule of dictators. There is some form of common interest, expressed in a social contract, by the ruler and his subjects. How such a two dimensional state of affairs â ruler and ruled â may become a more diverse structure where more people can participate in the affairs of state, is apparently not well understood. The attempts of outsiders â like the Western coalition forces under NATO command â to kill the ruler have failed until now. Aerial bombing, even under the title of a UN mandate to protect civilians from attacks by their own ruler, are counterproductive to deliver the idea of democracy to a nation, or at least it takes many generations to wear off the effect of long distance destruction perpetuated by outside forces in oneâs own country. (**) Interventionist regime change does do little to empower the common people. Meanwhile, the ranks of the opposition forces are more and more filled with former supporters of the Gaddafi regime that try not only to evade the eminent purges after Gaddafiâs downfall, but also are preparing to continue the old rule, hidden under new revolutionary slogans.

The inflated picture on the pavement of the square of revolution in Tripoli of  the dictatorial ruler Gaddafi, serves more than one purpose. It glorifies him and at the same time it shows him as an ancient non-heriditary king who knows his days are counted when he hears the song in the streets: âthe king must dieâ. (***) The ruler as scapegoat to cleanse the history of a nation. The âeffigy of Gaddafiâ  may serve an extra purpose, as a painting to be trampled on by thousands of feet in a direct release of anger , thus avoiding or diminishing the acts of revenge that accompany any change of regime.

(*)  Green Square named so after the Green Revolution coup dâÃtat of Gaddafi in 1969 (Arabic: ØÙØØØØ ØÙØØØØØâ As SÄáah Äl áaárÄ), also known as Martyrsâ Square (Arabic: Maidan Al Shohdaaâ); a downtown landmark at the bay in the city of Tripoli. Mainly constructed during Italian colonial times. Named Square of Independence during the short lived Libyan monarchy (1951-1969). On February 20th an anti-Gaddafi demonstration took place here, which was harshly suppressed. One source, a mortuary orderly from Tripoli who fled to Tunesia, later told the BBC that he saw hundreds of dead and wounded be brought into the hospital where he worked: âMany young people went to protest in Green Square that day, and I believe almost no-one came back alive that night.â

(**) Incendiary carpet bombing of Germany, Japan, Korea, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, imprecise precision bombing of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistanâ

(***) See the famous chapter of Frazer in his book the âGolden Boughâ: âKings killed at the end of a fixed term.â

Tjebbe van Tijen
Imaginary Museum Projects
Dramatizing Historical Information
web-blog: The Limping Messenger

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