A Dictator’s Demise (Part 2: You can’t take it with you)

So about two months ago I blogged from my hotel in Italy as the Libyan rebels took control of Tripoli, formed the NTC and sent Colonel Gaddafi into hiding. Now, in more familiar surroundings, another moment in History has occurred- Gaddafi is no more.

I will not celebrate the death of any man, but the significance of the situation cannot be underestimated. It was only his existence that seemed to keep any chance of loyalist troops from recovering from the retreat of the last 10 weeks, and now he has passed, so has that danger. The seismic change in Libya was bigger even than that in Manchester today (couldn’t help myself,6-1!)

We live in a very different country,where the centuries of fighting for democracy have meant that we don’t rise up in Civil War against our leaders, although we have got better at voicing our frustrations recently (I’m talking about the ‘Occupy’ demos, not the London riots!). When our leaders die, it is of ill health or old age,and their passing is mourned, not celebrated. The only link we have to such an event was the execution of Charles I!

The execution of Charles I

But events such as those in 1648 should teach us that it doesn’t always mean things are going to get better. Cromwell’s Britain was not a ‘Great Britain’. Will a Gaddafi-less Libya be great? Out of all thr Arab countries, they are best placed to do well, but only time will tell.

The revolution in Libya has been remarkable to observe, despite the tragic loss of life. How it was a revolution from below, how a despot dictator clung on to the very end, is so similar to those of years gone by, that as historians it has been fascinating to see one play out in the 21st century. As one man proudly displayed Gaddafi’s golden gun, you knew you were watching History in the making.

Watching and reading as the story unfolded however, I was truly struck by news of Gaddafi bartering for his life with his endless riches, only then realising exactly how little they were worth. In a world where most of the news is dominated by difficult economic times, Gaddafi had the one thing most people want, and yet it couldn’t get him the one thing he needed- mercy.

It got me thinking- as teachers and other public sector employees potentially strike on pay and pensions, eurozones debate how to keep the currency afloat, people worry about the cost of living and rising inflation- do we place too much focus on wealth?

“For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions… this world is fading away”.
The Apostle John in his First Epistle, c.110AD. 

Sadly true of much we see around us. Don’t get me wrong, all of those issues mentioned are genuine concerns that affect us and our families. But how much do we worry about our happiness? Our sense of contentment, on a way that is not linked to our bank balances or savings? Gaddafi was a billionaire, but were the last six months of his life happy? Did it mean anything to him in those last moments? Not one bit. How sad that was all he had to offer on those final minutes. He couldn’t take one bit of it with him. It was worthless to him.

The world is going through some difficult times right now. How many of these challenges- be they dictators, economic crises or protests about greed and corruption- will fall the way of Colonel Gaddafi? And what impact will it have on us? Will life be over, as we know it? Or will our contentment come from life’s other pleasures?


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