Sunday, May 01, 2011

The underside of repression: Fear

Roger Cohen today describes the bunker that Muammar Qaddafi had built for himself because he knew – at least feared -- that the day would come when he would have to flee from his own people. So the bunker was made impregnable. Of course it is easy to surmise that that same fear animates the Syrian regime that had not shirked from shooting its own people – even shooting the troops that refuse to do it. Libya, Syria, Bahrain – these regimes, despite affectations of popularity among their citizens, in fact can no longer pretend to rule by popular acclaim. Likewise for the Chinese: All the pretenses of popularity during the Olympic Games have disappeared because they dare long allow public demonstrations of which they have no control – even a church service in Shanghai – for any uncontrolled gathering has the potential of exposing what virtually everyone inside and outside their regimes knows: that they hold power by force; they enforce their position through the exercise of violence or the fear of violence.

Here is part of what Cohen has to say about Qaddafi's hideout:

I descended 55 steps into the labyrinth of Muammar el-Qaddafi’s mind. The glow of cellphones and a feeble flashlight lit a passage into the darkness. A netherworld unfolded — bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens, even saunas — linked by tunnels with six-inch-thick metal doors agape at their mouths. No expense had been spared on this lair.

“You see what the rat planned,” said Farage Mohamed, a manager in an oil pipe company, as he led the way to the base of an escape hatch that emerged deep in the gardens of this sprawling former Qaddafi villa in liberated eastern Libya. “It’s like Hitler’s Berlin bunker.”

So Qaddafi always thought this could happen, even 42 years into his rule. He feared someone might slice away the myths — Arab nationalist, African unifier, all-powerful non-president — and leave him, disrobed, a little man in a vast vault with nowhere left to go. In the twisted mind of the despot now derided here as “the man with the big hair,” his own demise was the tousle-coiffed specter that would not go away.

Strange, then, that the United States and Europe never thought this could happen — not to Qaddafi, or Mubarak, or Ben Ali, or any of the other murderous plunderers, some now gone, others slaughtering their own people, here in Libya, or in Syria, or Yemen. Policy was based on the mistaken belief that these leaders would last forever.

They were paranoid about their fates. We were convinced of their permanence.

Of course it was not just a conviction about their inevitability that drove U.S. policy toward these dictators. It was a cynical decision to place counterterrorism and security at the top of the agenda and human rights — in this case Arab rights — at the bottom. It was about Big Oil interests. And, to some degree, it was about the perception of what served the security of America’s closest regional ally, Israel.
[Click on the title above for a link to the original.]

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