Hamid Dabashi
Hamid Dabashi
Hamid Dabashi is Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University.
Bury Gaddafi with dignity
Gaddafi's body should be treated with dignity in order to send a message to other dictators and future generations.
Last Modified: 22 Oct 2011 17:30
 Colonel Gaddafi should get a funeral befitting of a fallen head of state, author says [GALLO/GETTY]

The unseemly pictures and videos circulating the internet capturing the final moments of Gaddafi’s life should be the last signs of indignity that Libyan people would ever see marking their historic revolution. Future generation of Libyans, the children of these very freedom fighters, deserve better.  

Reports indicate that Colonel Gaddafi’s body is in the possession of authorities from the National Transitional Council (NTC). They must see that he gets a proper and dignified funeral, befitting a fallen head of state. 

The body now in possession of NTC authorities is not just the remains of a fallen dictator to be violated freely on the battlefield of a cruel history. It is also the body-politic of future Libya. The triumphant euphoria of Libyans feasting on their victory, richly deserved, must not be marred by the undignified pictures of abusing the image they will most remember and tell their grandchildren for an entire history yet to unfold. 

Treat Gaddafi’s body with dignity not because he deserved it. But because the Libyan people need it. They must commence the rest of their history with a sense of self-dignity, of triumphant pride. That self-dignity is now determined by how they will treat the dead body of Colonel Gaddafi. 

Treat that body not as the fallen tyrant deserved, but as the future of your children deserves. 

Shakespearian dilemma

There is a scene in Hamlet where the bereaved Prince turns to the conniving Polonius asking him to treat a group of actors visiting the Elsinore with dignity and generous hospitality. “Good my lord,” Hamlet says, “Will you see the players well bestowed? Do you hear, let them be well used, for they are the abstract and brief chronicles of the time. After your death you were better have a bad epitaph than their ill report while you live.” 

These days are indeed “the abstract and brief chronicles of the time” for future Libyans, for the future of the Arab and Muslim world. They should treat the fallen tyrant not “according to his desert,” but after their own honor and dignity. 

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Let the pictures and videos of a proper burial and a dignified resting place for Colonel Gaddafi fill the schoolbooks in which future generations of Libyans will read their Arabic alphabet and learn the dignity of their parentage. 

The man was a relic, a frightful echo from a past, a monster not entirely of his own making. Heads of state, who in some cases enabled the dictator, are now rejoicing in his downfall. 

How unseemly were the scenes of US President Obama, or UK Prime Minister Cameron, rejoicing in Gaddafi’s downfall. But as Omar Mukhtar says in a key scene in the late Mustapha Akkad’s Lion of the Desert (a film about rebels fighting the Italian invasion of Libya) when refusing to kill a captured Italian soldier, “they are not our teachers”. 

Western intervention

Obama's administration still has to answer for the American weapons sold to Gaddafi when he was in power. There are even darker tyrannies in Bahrain and Yemen that Obama helps keeping in power. And his chief ally in the region, Saudi Arabia, is not exactly the beacon of liberty. 

These are the days from which the foundational myth of the future Libya is made. Future generation of Libyans, the children of these very Libyans that have earned their freedom, demand that Gaddafi be buried properly, with dignity befitting a head of state. 

Let the dignified burial of Gaddafi be the farewell ceremony for NATO. Libyans owe NATO nothing. NATO just destroyed the weapons that Europe and the US had sold Gaddafi’s regime. 

The dignified burial of Gaddafi would also be a signal to the world at large that the Arab Spring is in charge of its own destiny—that Arabs and Muslims will not join Obama and Cameron in “rejoicing” the demise of a postcolonial monster created by European colonialism and American imperialism in the first place. American and British professors at Harvard, Princeton, Johns Hopkins, and London School of Economics beatified and celebrated the monster — lucratively. 

It is imperative for the future of the Arab Spring that the hopes and aspirations of these revolutions determine the course of action rather than the NATO alliance who will be paving the way for European and American oil companies. 

The proper burial of Colonel Gaddafi would also provide a signal to other remaining dictators in the region. They too must see a safe and sane way out of their bloody deeds. They too must be given the chance to recognise the world has changed— that we are not going to repeat the vicious cycle of one brutal downfall after another. All the tyrants of the region, from Iran to Syria, from Bahrain to Yemen, must be able to see a dignified way out, without NATO intervention. 

As Obama, Cameron, and Sarkozy think of how to turn the Arab Spring around and to their advantage, and as European and American oil companies think of the lucrative contracts shining forth from Tripoli, Libyans, Arabs, and Muslims, must think of the enduring sense of dignity that the Arab Spring has in store for the future of their children. 

Bury Colonel Gaddafi in a manner befitting the dignity of Libya, the pride of Arabs and the faith of Muslims.

Hamid Dabashi is Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York. He is the author, most recently, of Shi’ism: A Religion of Protest (Harvard University Press, 2011).

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily represent Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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