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Home The Feuilleton of MilSan and MikWag Welcome to the Hotel el-Qaddafia

Welcome to the Hotel el-Qaddafia

Welcome to the Hotel el-Qaddafia

 

I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation.  We must always take sides.  Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.  Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.

Elie Wiesel

 

Mercenaries and army forces put down an attempt by protesters on Friday to break Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s hold on this capital city, opening fire on crowds who had taken to the streets after prayers to mount their first major challenge to the government’s crackdown, witnesses said.

NYTimes, February 25, 2011

 

 

I called Tripoli today.  The Radisson Hotel, which “boasts an enviable location in the city center, overlooking exciting Al Fatah Street.”  The very city center where a bloodbath has reportedly taken place today.  Where Qaddafi’s mercenaries and army forces reportedly opened fire on crowds, killing many and injuring more.

A young male voice picked up the phone.

— Asalamalakum…

How strange, I think, to wish me peace when anything but peace reigns in the capital of Libya.

— Kayf haalak, —I said, — How are you?  Do you speak English?

— Yes, said the man.

— How are things in Tripoli? — I jumped at the chance.

— Everything is good, weather not good.

— What are you hearing?

— Nothing but your voice, ma’am.

I thought it was a joke.  But his voice was not ironic.

— Where in Tripoli are you?

— The center.

— Are you safe?

— Yes, I am.

— Did you hear gunshots today?

Silence.

— No, everything was calm.

— What do you mean?

— Everything is quiet and calm.

— What is the government saying?

— I am not sure.  Everything is quiet.  It’s good.

It seemed for a split second that I was speaking with Qaddafi himself.  I wanted to ask whether he actually understood English. Or may be it was my fault?  Maybe I didn’t dial Tripoli but the Radisson Reagan Airport Hotel?  But he hung up on me.  I tried to get him back but was transferred to voice mail:

“Enjoy this Tripoli hotel's prime city-centre location.  This luxurious Mediterranean hotel makes the perfect base for exploring Tripoli.”

A 32-year-old Omar, whose voice I had heard on the phone from his apartment a few minutes earlier, must be living in a different Tripoli.  Omar’s voice related the story of his friends, who traveled to the city center:

“They are marching with the protesters, they pretend to be with the people and when the crowd thickens up, they open fire, no targets, they shoot at everyone.”

The government is organizing a massive propaganda campaign, Omar said.  They sent out sms messages with fatwas: It’s haram to rise up against the leader.  “They were trying to say to us, to tell the people actually that we need to stay together, this is conspiracy from the world, from America, from Ben Laden…. At the same time they are sending text messages trying to convince people to go to work, to lead normal lives, but how can you live a normal live while you hear gun shots… everywhere?”

The voice of 42-year-old Mari, a resident of Benghazi, whose voice I had also heard, spoke about his cousin who lives in Tripoli.  Mari had spoken with him by phone on Friday.  “It was so hard to get through to him, I called 10-12 times and could not get through.”  When Mari reached his cousin, the things he said were unbelievable.  Bodies were lying in the square.  Nobody came to collect them.  There were a lot of dead bodies, dozens, according to Mari’s cousin, many more than the reports say.

“People who were shooting are not Libyans, they come from other places, they are Qaddafi’s men, Qaddafi pays them a lot of money.”

Mari said it was quiet in Benghazi today, but “I worry about my relatives in Tripoli,” his voice fluttered.

He sounded exhilarated, though, when asked about the prospects of the revolution.  “I swear to Allah we are going to take him [Qaddafi] down or send him to the High Court.  This is from me and the whole people of Libya.”

“We need help, we need help from America, we need help from Europe,” he pleaded, “because the people on the street, we don’t have planes to fight.  We don’t have guns to fight, we fight just with sticks or stones.”

 

Mari, I hear you.  I am just not sure whether those you beseech for help know exactly what to do.  They are also fighting with sticks.

The world has not yet figured out, Mari, how to neutralize dictators going on killing sprees against their own people quickly and effectively, even though dictators brutally suppress their populations with increasing regularity.  But someone like Ellie Wiesel has seen incredible progress in his lifetime. People are no longer silent, the people of the world are standing up for you.

They speak up, but actions would speak louder than words and the world could do more.

NATO could impose a no-fly zone, supply arms and other assistance.  NATO could bomb Qaddafi’s palace and kill him to stop the mass murder.  But neither NATO, nor any country or organization is prepared to take these steps -- at least not yet.

The UN Security Council voted unanimously to impose sanctions on Qaddafi and called for an inquiry by the International Criminal Court into atrocities Qaddafi and his men perpetrated.  They acted quickly, just a week after Qaddafi started killing his people, much more quickly and effectively than in Yugoslavia or Rwanda. But sanctions may affect you, Mari, more than they will affect Qaddafi.   The call for an inquiry will only matter if it peels off some of his supporters or deters those who have not yet committed crimes.

Do not expect further action from the UN.  For more than 60 years, the UN has failed to deliver on the promise that they made to Ellie Wiesel of “Never again.”  This very promise of "Never again," which they failed to keep in Cambodia and in Darfur and in Rwanda and in Yugoslavia.  As long as a single permanent member country of the Security Council has veto power, the UN effectively will not be driven by morality and what is right.  The decisions to intervene with force or supply of arms will depend on the agreement of just five countries, any one of which may wish to reserve the right to suppress its own citizens or which values being able to afford to stay at the Radisson or prefers to do business with the el-Qaddafis of the world as long as they offer access to markets and natural resources.