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Gaddafi should be treated with respect

Libya's president did not deserve the appalling treatment he received last week in New York

Image Credit:Ramachandra Babu/Gulf News
Gulf News

Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi was shabbily treated during his visit to New York to make his first ever address to the United Nations General Assembly. What was supposed to be an historic re-binding of ties between Libya and certain Western nations was a predetermined flop.

Evidently, states such as the US and Britain that promised normalisation of relations with Libya in return for the handing over Lockerbie suspects for trial and dismantling its nuclear programme have reneged on the implicit bargain.

Their behaviour towards the Libyan leader was little short of insulting. Canada, for instance, announced that its delegates would not be present when he delivered his speech, while British Prime Minister Gordon Brown told the BBC in advance that he had no intention of attending.

Brown later tried to score brownie points with the White House, which had rejected five British requests for a Brown-Obama one-on-one. When it came time for him to speak he turned his sarcasm on the Libyan leader.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the US Ambassador to the UN quit the chamber before he spoke while UN officials made sure that the Libyan leader didn't accidentally brush shoulders with President Barack Obama.

This state-level hostility was mimicked by the people of New York and New Jersey, who made it clear that they didn't want Gaddafi in their country by organising street protests and childish campaigns to ensure that he would not be allowed to sleep in his Bedouin tent.

It seems to me that those people could learn a lot about hospitality from the Middle East, where overseas guests are invariably treated with respect. Moreover, it is incumbent upon New York, which hosts the UN headquarters, to ensure that all delegates are properly treated irrespective of whether they happen to be in the good graces of the US or British governments.

In any event, if the demonstrators were upset at the early release of terminally ill Abdul Basset Ali Al Megrahi on compassionate grounds, their ire should have been directed elsewhere. Al Megrahi was sent home by the Scottish justice minister with the British government's blessing. It's true that a few hundred Libyans turned up at Tripoli Airport to welcome him but, as far as they were concerned, they were greeting a man who had been wrongly convicted.

Despite receiving the cold shoulder from many of his fellow delegates, Gaddafi spoke confidently for 90 minutes without a teleprompter; exhausting his translator and massively over-running his allocated 15 minutes. At times his words were met with scant applause, at others open derision and yet more walk outs. It almost goes without saying that his address was later savaged by the Western press, which called it "rambling" and "incoherent".

Gaddafi may break the mould with regards to his personal style and delivery, but he should not be so easily dismissed. He may not observe the rules of diplomacy and he certainly doesn't tiptoe around a subject, but the thrust of his speech made perfect sense.

Indeed, he shed light on important anomalies. Article 2 of the United Nations Charter states that the "Organisation is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its members". But as Gaddafi rightly pointed out, in practice this isn't the case as long as the Security Council is a closed club of big powers.

Secondly, he noted that while the UN was set up in 1945 to "save succeeding generations from the scourge of war", it has failed dismally in that task. There have been 65 wars since the establishment of the Security Council, he said, waged in the interests of "one country, or three countries or four countries".

He is against enlargement of the Security Council and would like to give more power to the General Assembly. The Security Council, he says, should exist just to implement decisions taken by the General Assembly.

Turning to the war on Iraq, which he called "the mother of all evils" and "a violation of the UN charter without any justification", he rightly called for an investigation. "Why did we invade?" he asked.

And on the subject of Palestine, he echoed what many Palestinians and commentators are now saying: a two-state solution is no longer practical. Israelis and Palestinians should live together in peace, sharing one state.

There's no doubt that the address would have been slightly better received had he not digressed by suggesting that swine flu may have escaped from a military laboratory or that president John F. Kennedy was killed because he sought to investigate Israel's covert nuclear programme. Nevertheless, he was courageous enough to say what he thought even though most people might not agree with him.

I've listened to Gaddafi speak on many occasions and am often pleasantly surprised at the incisive way he gets to the nitty-gritty of a topic. Not for him diplomatic mumbo jumbo. He says it like it is. One thing is certain: as a leader of an Arab nation and chairman of the African Union, Libya's president did not deserve the appalling treatment he received last week in New York.

Linda S. Heard is a specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She can be contacted at Some of the comments may be considered for publication.

Your comments

A well written article. This was the same treatment meted out to Ahmadinejad too.This attitude of New Yorkers, just shows the sheer arrogance
Naumann Al Haq
Posted: September 29, 2009, 16:46

No, Gaddafi deserves no respect. He is known for weird speeches and I can understand everyone who would refuse to listen to him. Look what Gaddafi is doing with Switzerland in attempt to take revenge to the arrest of his son.No, a man who tyrannizes his country for 50 years and at occasion all Arab or world audiences when they have to listen to the self-proclaimed king of the kings of Africa or the Imam of the Muslims deserves to diplomatic courtesy.
From A Reader
Posted: September 29, 2009, 13:59

I feel this is more lightweight, unobjective and frankly inaccurate writing from Linda Heard. Col. Gaddafi was cold-shouldered because Libya reneged on the understanding that Megrahi's return would be dealt with quietly and sensitively. To suggest that the crowds that greeted him at the airport were spontaneous is just not credible - firstly, they could not have been there without at least tacit Government approval and secondly - the "welcoming party" was headed by Seif Gaddafi!When you consider that Libya has accepted overall responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing it is entirely understandable that democratic nations would want to protest. They chose to do so by peacefully walking out of a UN meeting; in the past Libya's way of drawing attention to itself has been bombing civilian airliners, and other wrong practices. Which form of protest would you prefer to be on the receiving end of?!
Posted: September 29, 2009, 13:39

I totlaly agree with writer's views. all the situation the world is facing is due to the double standered of so called big power's injustice. and their behaviour towards poor nations.
Sarfraz Ahmad
Abu Dhabi,U.A.E
Posted: September 29, 2009, 13:28

What an amazing piece Linda? I am glad I tripped over this article while I was browsing GN site. Very true topic and well organized words - keeping the momentum. For whatever it's worth, Gaddafi is a brave man, one who deserves to be a leader of a nation! Unlike other leaders that have been in the corner for a very long time. I respect this man and refer to him as an icon. The Libyan people love him, because hes a brave man and is worth the position he holds - a leader and a good one.
Posted: September 29, 2009, 11:39

The United States perceives The UN as its personal fiefdom so any world leader who opposes the US policies is cold shouldered and insulted by the US and its allies like Great Britain and Canada. Before Colonel Gaddafi, other World Leaders like President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran have suffered the same fate at the UN General Assembly for opposing the self serving policies of US. There is no doubt that Colonel Gaddafi remains a highly controversial figure because of his strong Anti-Western World policies,but to insult a guest after inviting him to speak is a reflection on the cultural ethos of the United States which hosts the United Nation General Assembly.
Posted: September 29, 2009, 11:09

I like what you said in this article, its true that the people in power just say what they know the people want to here, but totally do the opposite.( do as I say not as I do,policy) They are worst then use car salesman. They talk about the rest of the word as terrorists, but do not tell how we are terrorizing others or what we are really doing ourselves elsewhere. They are like little ones alway blaming the other side and do not take responsibility for their mumbo jumbo! Well it is not just the big shots it is also us because we are so brain washed that we will believe anything that they tell us. Instead of reviewing the facts as they say there is two sides to every story. We are so caught up in are own lives that we do not care about others. (It is all about money and power the rest can died-off, as long as Im taken care off me and mines, who cares about you and yours!) they need Jesus in their lives! Here is a remodel fro them, never worried about his well being, instead worried about the well being of others and denied himself . Thats it, which is what we need to do. Denied are selves and worry about everyone else and if we worried about everyone elses then someone will always worries about us. It is like a circle I worry about your needs and you about the others and the others about mine, and I about yours! Perfect world, I mean Circle.
From A Reader
Posted: September 29, 2009, 04:19