23 February, 2011

The myth of the bloody tyrant’s good son

Sergio Abranches

I was lucky enough to have had a bright and modest professor while at Cornell, decades ago, called Eldon (Bud) Kenworthy. He wrote a clever little essay on the use of “little well-known cases” to support fragile hypothesis in comparative politics. I would say that little well-known cases have been widely used to feed myths, especially about people from politically closed countries allies of Wester democratic nations. I recalled Bud’s paper reading about Gaddafi’s son, considered the more “liberal and modern” of the tyrant’s heirs. The same who confessedly ordered Tripoli’s bombing.

Kenworthy wrote about the misuse of wrong appraisals of the Argentinian dictator Juan Perón, and Brazilian dictator Getulio Vargas’ roles in their countries’ politics to support fragile hypothesis about governance in the underdeveloped world. He might disagree with my interpretation that the ignorance or naivete supporting unconfirmed analysis ends up by feeding convenient myths. Let it be registered that the myth-making thing is of my own.

Bud Kenworthy was by far the best guy I met while in Cornell and the memory of our conversations came very strong, yesterday at night, when I was reading my Twitter timeline. I retwitted a tweet by the UK journalist @Ian_Fraser, with a link to Saif Al-Islam Alqadhafi’s thesis for a doctorate in philosophy at the London School of Economics and Political Science. The same one who confessedly ordered government airplanes to attack civilians on the streets of Tripoli, saying they were supposed to bomb arms depots. Fraser got the link via @kairyysdall, Kai Ryssdal, who got it via @carney, John Carney, head of NetNet the new CNBC’s blog on finance. I browsed the dissertation yesterday night here.

The convenient myth of the bloody tyrant’s good son worked perfectly for Saif Al-Islam Alqadhafi. He was said to be the most “westernized”, “modern”, and “liberal” of the family. A few press profiles of Saif Al-Islam tell it all.

“The eccentric Libyan leader’s son, Saif al-Islam, has emerged as the key broker in Tripoli’s detente with the West”.

“Drawing a line between reform and greater participation by Libyans in governance, Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi, Muammar al-Qadhafi’s son and heir apparent, called for a more robust civil society, judicial reform, greater press freedoms and respect for human rights in a major speech August 20.”

“The second-oldest son of “Brother Leader” Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi would appear to be out of his mind. Reared by the military dictator who admitted responsibility for the Pan Am flight 103 bombing, Saif al-Islam el-Qaddafi believes democracy can take root in Libya.”

“Unlike his father, Saif al-Islam is a product of the new media-savvy generation.”

“Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi plain talker,  with an eye on the main chance. (…) Two years ago his star was in the ascendant but he announced last summer that he was quitting politics and devoting himself to promoting the growth of civil society.”

Many saw him as the future leader of Libya’s liberalization. It is likely that the larger contribution for this “good guy” mythology came from his friendly rapports with Western leaders, particularly in the UK. But his LSE education and the doctorate in philosophy were a valuable tool for this impersonation as the pro-civil society, enlightened son of a dictator. His lectures and speeches in prestigious academic environments may have helped.

He was advised by top professors of Philosophy and Political Science. On his thesis he thanks the four academics who advised him directly and “gave generously of their time” to assist him “to clarify and refine” his arguments. Professor Nancy Cartwright, of LSE’s Department of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method and at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). She is currently the President of the Philosophy of Science Association and was President of the American Philosophical Association (Pacific Division). A fellow of the British Academy, of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and of the German Academy of Sciences. David Held, perhaps the most globally influential british political scientist, author of important books on democracy and globalization, and global governance. He is the Graham Wallas Professor of Political Science at LSE, and Co-Director of the Centre for the Study of Global Governance. Alex Voorhoeve, Senior Lecturer of the Department of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method at LSE, he studies “liberal egalitarianism”, and the “economy of soul”. He published “Conversations on Ethics” in 2009. Joseph Nye, one of the most influential authors on international relations. He wrote “Soft Power: The Means To Success In World Politics”. He holds almost every prize a political scientist can get. His most recent book is “The Future of Power”.

Saif Al-Islam, was the main “speaker” on a “Special Ralph Miliband event”, in May 2010, chaired by professor David Held. It was part of the Public Lectures at the London School of Economics and Political Science. His lecture’s title was “Libya: Past, Present, and Future”.

Ralph Miliband was one of the top new left political scientists of Europe, and his sons David e Ed Miliband both served on Gordon Brown’s cabinet. The lecture was given at an event with the trade mark of left liberal thinking. Less than one year after this lecture he became the author of the most bloody crackdown on protesters of the cycle of uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East. He did not need any philosophical, political scientific or ethical training to order the bombing.

His dissertation was about: “The Role of Civil Society in the Democratisation of Global Governance Institutions: From soft power to collective decision-making?” I’ve browsed the thesis last night. Not bad at all.

But the fact that he read and perfectly understood progressive liberal and social democratic authors did not prevent him from ordering the massacre of his own people. Now it is clear that the presumed heir, and philosopher of global democratic governance has, at the end of the day, an authoritarian personality and as merciless as his father’s.

A few excerpts from his dissertation’s summary would help to grasp what he wrote about:

“This dissertation analyses the problem of how to create more just and democratic global governing institutions, exploring the approach of a more formal system of collective decision-making by the three main actors in global society: governments, civil society and the business sector. (…) The thesis focuses on the role of civil society, analysing arguments for and against a role for civil society that goes beyond ‘soft power’ to inclusion as voting members in inter-governmental decision-making structures in the United Nations (UN) system, the Bretton Woods institutions, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and other institutions.”

He also says that the

“thesis explains and adopts three philosophical foundations in support of the argument. The first is liberal individualism; the thesis argues that there are strong motivations for free individuals to seek fair terms of cooperation within the necessary constraints of being members of a global society. (…) Secondly, it supports a theory of global justice (…). Thirdly, the thesis adopts and applies David Held’s eight cosmopolitan principles to support the concept and specific structures of ‘Collective Management’.”

Let’s see if I’ve got it right: global and participative governance beyond soft power could (and perhaps on this case ought to) tolerate bloody tyrannical governance at the domestic level. Global justice is compatible with lack of any justice at the nation-state dimension. We can build a democratic, egalitarian, and fair system of global governance having as active members of this multilateral regime all sorts of authoritarian and dictatorial governments.

Believe it or not.

Tags: bloodshed, crackdown, , dicatorship, Gaddafi, governance, , repression, Tripoli