To the rebels, the spoils: Libyans waste no time in finding good homes for Gaddafi's treasures
Friday 26 August 2011
It doesn't take Edward Gibbon to point out the poetic justice swirling around the end of this particular empire. That of Muammar Gaddafi's looting of his nation's oil-rich resources to fund a lifestyle so stratospherically out of the reach of Libya's citizens.
The defining image of the Colonel's ongoing defenestration was the sight of Sky's heroic, intrepid, round-helmeted reporter Alex Crawford interviewing the Libyan rebel known only as "al-Windy" moments after he'd swiped Gaddafi's famous peaked military hat; a big gold chain and a bizarre sceptre from the Colonel's bedroom. Dressed like Flavor Flav at the Oscars, the mighty al-Windy breathlessly thanked the countries that helped Libya before telling Crawford how he'd bagged the swag: "I just went inside his room – Gaddafi's bedroom – and I was really, I was like: 'Oh my God'.
"I am in Gaddafi's room. Oh my God. Then this thing happened. I found this (the hat). Oh my goodness. I am going to give this to my dad as a present because he has suffered a lot from Gaddafi and from Gaddafi followers."
The inter-generational passing of a symbol of repression by al-Windy was definitely a more edifying sight than Britain's own spot of minor looting three week ago, even if a solid gold mace's resale value on eBay massively outguns that of two left-footed Nike Air Max 90 Hyperfuses.
The ceremonial rooting through a deposed (or in mid-deposition) despot is one of the rare feel-good moments in the post- (or mid-) liberation chaos. Images of a man who ruled with an iron fist (or golden fist in the back garden) having his citizens rifle through his smalls provide a minor element of payback for years of oppression, but payback with a disproportionate impact.
In Libya – as in Iraq – the looting of that sacred space, the home, indicates the tipping point in which power has gone – even if, like Gaddafi (at the time of writing at least) the leader is still at large. It's the post-totalitarianism equivalent of kids rifling through the host's mother's knicker draw at a teenage house party. Good luck with disciplining the kids if their entire school year has seen which brand of condoms you prefer.
Most of what the rebels, looters and journalists who made it into Gaddafi's Tripoli compound wasn't surprising, given what we already knew about the man's eccentricities. Of course he had chandeliers so big that they don't find into the back of a medium-sized saloon car. And what a sight to see the three young men struggling to heave them into the boot of their car.
The golf buggies we've seen him use regularly, too, but what most perplexed many of us as the pictures of the rebels leaving the compound emerged, was someone's photo album (third from top right) filled with NOTHING but pictures of the former US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice .
The "someone" in question doesn't take too much guessing judging by what Gaddafi said about Condoleezza in an interview with al-Jazeera back in 2007: "I support my darling black African woman. I admire and am very proud of the way she leans back and gives orders to the Arab leaders... Leezza, Leezza, Leezza... I love her very much. I admire her and I'm proud of her because she's a black woman of African origin."
The shots (far left and top right) from inside Aisha Gaddafi's house are equally stunning – mainly for the golden mermaid couch with the face of Aisha herself. A gesture of narcissism so hefty that it outweighed the seat itself.
The shot of a rebel relaxing on the mermaid (top right) evokes David E Scherman's famous shot of the Vogue photojournalist Lee Miller helping herself to a bath in the immaculate bathroom of Adolf Hitler's Munich house at the fall of the Third Reich. It's slightly inappropriate, but no less than definitive evidence that the regime is nearing its endpoint.
This is what the end feels like, if not what it looks like. As I write, rebel fighters are bravely skirting down possibly booby-trapped tunnels trying to smoke out Gaddafi.
Nicking his hat and trashing his Club Car golf buggy might seem like laughable gestures in response to the crimes Muammar Gaddafi committed against his people, but in terms of humiliating ends, it doesn't really get any more fitting.
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