Like many I was heartened to read that Saif al-Islam Gaddafi had been captured by Libyan Liberation Army forces on Monday. Still, my satisfaction was tempered by a deeper sadness I will attempt to explain.
A suave and sophisticated, Westernised figure, Gaddafi attended the same university as I did: the London School of Economics and Political Science. I didn’t stay long but I always look back favourably on my time there and its effect on me. When I began my period of study, my politics were right of centre but a few classes on John Stuart Mill had left me a little more liberal in my instincts. I had hoped something similar might have happened to Gaddafi, but I was wrong.
Saif’s role in the suppression of protestors has been well-documented as well as his infamous speech in which he declared that there would be “a river of blood” if resistance to the regime was not discontinued.
Ironically, in the past this Gaddafi had been name-checked as ‘the acceptable face of the regime’; even, by some, in their giddiest flights of expedient fancy, as a reformer. It was not only I who had been hoping for a genuine change of heart on his part. Indeed, his association with the LSE had continued right up to the Arab Spring and, although swift to disown him, they’d taken a fair bit of his money, obviously without the kind of forethought you’d expect from people of that level of intellectual rigour.
Here then, our problem in the West, that even those, ostensibly, more enlightened among us are susceptible to the enlightened veneer of a Medici. No matter the level of patronage of charitable foundations and otherwise, all this does is open the way for those Machiavellians in our midst to make backroom deals with an oligarchy, at the expense of all those values we profess to hold dear. Of course, Saif Gaddafi is an extreme case but the old and inexcusable ‘he’s our bastard’ adage, pales next to those cases of dangerous negligence where nobody checks if the guy is a bastard at all. In this, I am talking as much of our democratic liberal governments, as I am of my left-liberal leaning alma-mater.
Recently, of course, Saif had been revealed, in his desperation, as the snake-oil salesman he, no doubt, always was; a faintly ludicrous figure, haggling for a bottom line that would never come: “If you are angry […] because oil deals art not going well […] talk to us”.
No doubt had he spent his time at the LSE actually studying, instead of, allegedly, employing a team of researchers to do the work for him, he might have taken the salient points of The Prince on board and not be in this position now. Or, perhaps, he took them all a little too literally… Either way, I was always jealous of my friends at UCL- they, at least, could claim Mohandas K. Gandhi as alumnus, a true reformer whose influence is still being felt in modern India, whatever Orwell had to say about him. In truth, I expected more from the LSE. No doubt someone there was aware of Orwell’s counterintuitive litmus test for Gandhi that ‘Saints should always be judged guilty until proven innocent’. Would it have been too much of a leap to apply this to the son of a dictator?
I feel compelled, in light of all this, to write of my old school what they repeatedly wrote to me before I dropped out: ‘Must try harder’.