By: Wilson Aiwuyor
Louis Farrakhan, an American radical black nationalist leader, has spoken out in defense of Libya’s leader Muammar Gaddafi, insisting that the brutal dictator remains his good friend from whom he cannot distance himself. Farrakhan defended this position at the 6th annual Veterans of the Mississippi Civil Rights Conference on late March. He had earlier declared in Chicago that there is no "one ruler that has the 100 love of his people…. You can’t find one." The controversial religious leader showered encomiums on Gaddafi for being a strong parent of post-colonial Libya.
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At a time when Gaddafi’s atrocities in Africa and around the world have come to a head with his butchering of his own people who were protesting his 42 years old repressive regime, the last thing that anyone with sound judgment would do is defend him. Gaddafi employed mercenaries from outside of Libya to unleash terror on peaceful protesters. After deploying his military to kill these protesters, some of his military officers defected. Gaddafi promised to "fight until last drop of blood is spilled." He threatened to go "from house to house, closet to closet" to kill the demonstrators whom he referred to as "rats" and "germs." These threats were not to be taken lightly given Gaddafi’s track record of sponsoring terrorism and aiding conflicts.
In 2001, Gaddafi admitted to have sponsored the bombing of the Pan Am 103 flight that had exploded over Lockerbie in Scotland in 1988, killing 270 people on board, including 35 Syracuse University students returning from a semester abroad. As an Alumnus of Syracuse University and former Remembrance Scholar – in honor of the memories of the university’s victims of Gaddafi’s terrorism – I feel connected to the transnational impacts of Gaddafi’s crimes. And as an African, I am deeply appalled that anyone would positively link Gaddafi with civil rights, anti-colonialism or liberation at this moment.
Both the organizers of the Mississippi Civil Rights Conference and Louis Farrakhan must be repudiated for such an attempt to diminish the essence of civil rights, trivialize the historic struggle in the Pan African world, and ridicule the fight for human dignity in general.
Over the years, the rabid hatred that the Gaddafi regime has displayed towards black people is as bad as that which Farrakhan claims to be opposed to in the USA. In 2000, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) condemned the Gaddafi regime over its practices of racial discrimination against dark-skinned migrants and refugees. This was after the targeted street killings of migrant workers from Ghana, Cameroon, Sudan, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad and Nigeria as a result of incitement from government officials who had blamed these immigrants for rising crime, disease and drug trafficking.
In 2004 the UN accused the Gaddafi regime of violating Article 6 of the 1969 International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), following the regime’s failure to implement mechanisms to safeguard people from racial acts that undermine human rights.
In what looks like an attempt to exploit the xenophobic tendencies against immigrants and black Africans in parts of Europe, in 2010 Gaddafi made some of the most backward and racist remarks about black people during his visit to Rome. He proposed that the European Union paid him $6.3 billion so that he could prevent what he called a "black Europe" by blocking illegal immigrants from crossing over from North Africa into Europe. Gaddafi said, "Tomorrow Europe might no longer be European and even black as there are millions who want to come in." He disdainfully referred to black African immigrants as "ignorant and starving Africans." He stated that their migration to Europe caused a situation where "We don’t know if Europe will remain an advanced and united continent or if it will be destroyed, as happened with the barbarian invasions."
Following Gaddafi’s speech, a member of the Italian parliament accused him of detaining thousands of African migrants in a "concentration camp" in the desert. Leaders who genuinely care about human dignity and human rights ought to be questioning Gaddafi about this detention camp instead of defending his atrocities.
There is hardly any living African dictator who has contributed more to the destabilization of the continent than Muammar Gaddafi. He supported and armed brutal dictators, including Liberia’s former war lord Charles Taylor and Sierra Leone’s Foday Sankoh. His destabilizing influence has also been felt in Burkina Faso, Chad, Central Africa Republic, Niger, Sudan, and in East Africa – where he aided murderous despot Idi Amin of Uganda to invade Tanzania in the 1970s.
The threat made by Gaddafi prior too the intervention of coalition forces was serious, and could have led to massacre of genocidal proportions. The United Nations responded with the imposition of a no-fly zone to protect Libyan citizens. Some people have opposed the extent of the bombing of Gaddafi’s military by the UN mandated coalition forces enforcing the no-fly zone. However, many of these people opposed to the coalition bombing have clearly distanced themselves from the brutality of the Gaddafi regime. But it seems Farrakhan would go any length to defend the butcher of the Maghreb for self-serving purposes.
According to a New York Times report published in August 1996, Gaddafi made a gift offer of $1 billion to Louis Farrakhan. The United States Office of Foreign Assets Control at the Treasury Department denied Farrakhan permission to receive the money from the Gaddafi government that was then labeled a state sponsor of terror.
Added to the $1 billion was another $250,000 honorarium for an award conferred on Farrakhan by Gaddafi.
It was this same Farrakhan who in the 1990s defended General Sani Abacha, one of the crudest and most cruel dictators and kleptocrats that has ever ruled Nigeria. Farrakhan likened Abacha to Moses, just as he is today elevating Gaddafi to a position of some sort of post-colonial messianic patriarch.
The voice of Desmond Tutu of South Africa overwhelms the confusion and cacophony of Farrakhan’s selfish and reckless rhetoric and the eloquent silence of many African leaders who have benefitted from Gaddafi’s largesse. Tutu condemned Gaddafi’s atrocities, asserting that leaders like him be held accountable. Archbishop Tutu is a human rights veteran who fought against apartheid in South Africa. Referring to Gaddafi’s actions, Tutu remarked: "The scenes of brutality being meted out with sophisticated weaponry by Libyan security forces against their own civilian population make God weep. With every blow they strike, each human rights abuse they perpetrate, they bring shame on Africa." If Gaddafi were a responsible leader, says Tutu, "there would be no need for United Nations sanctioned military interventions in Libya. Instead, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi has for more than 40 years honed his skills in the art of resource management to win friends and influence people."
No doubt, Farrakhan is one of those friends who Gaddafi sought to win over with Libya’s oils money and ridiculous resource management skills. It seems to me that that is why this religious leader would defend Gaddafi regardless of the dictator’s numerous atrocities and crimes against Libyans, Africans, and humanity in general. Supporters of African dictators must realize that by pursuing selfish interests against the aspirations of the people for human dignity and freedom, they are signing up to be on the wrong side of history.