Washington Babylon — August 17, 2007, 8:51 am

Benjamin Barber: Qaddafi’s Riefenstahl

Marc Lynch has brought to my attention Benjamin Barber’s astonishing op-ed in the Washington Post about Libya and Colonel Qaddafi. Barber, the author of “Jihad vs. McWorld,” has found a kinder, gentler Qaddafi who wants to steer his country towards democracy. “Written off not long ago as an implacable despot, Gaddafi is a complex and adaptive thinker as well as an efficient, if laid-back, autocrat,” he writes. “Unlike almost any other Arab ruler, he has exhibited an extraordinary capacity to rethink his country’s role in a changed and changing world.” Not since Leni Riefenstahl filmed “Triumph of the Will” has an intellectual so cravenly toadied up to a dictator. And it gets worse as it goes.

Barber notes excitedly that “five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor condemned to death for allegedly spreading HIV among children in a Libyan hospital” were freed last month. He doesn’t mention that while being held in jail for years they were repeatedly tortured by the Colonel’s henchmen. Indeed, by Barber’s account, the Colonel had nothing to do with the arrest of the medical workers–that was the work of “Benghazi clans” over which Qaddafi apparently has no control. But wait–the Colonel must have some control because Barber gives him full credit for securing the release of the nurses, which he cites as a sign of his enlightened rule.

Barber knows Qaddafi is a good man for a very good reason: the Colonel told him so. “In several one-on-one conversations over the past year, Gaddafi repeatedly told me that Libya sought a genuine rapprochement with the United States,” he writes. “He insisted that in the Libya that comes after him there would be no new Gaddafi but self-governance.”

On his website, Lynch writes a letter to Barber, saying:

You presented some very interesting ideas about Libya in your Washington Post op-ed. I found particularly interesting your ideas about Col. Qaddafi’s experiments with direct democracy and efficient government. I know just the person you should talk to about these ideas–a brave journalist exposing official corruption in Libya by the name of Dhayf al-Gazzal. Be careful shaking his hand, though, because about a year and a half ago he had his fingers cut off before his body was riddled with bullets and abandoned in the desert. Hey, wasn’t that right around the time you were having such pleasant chats about direct democracy and the Green Book with the flexible and adaptive Colonel? How embarrassing! Anyway, since he’s dead, he might not be as vivacious a conversationalist as Col. Qaddafi. But I’m sure he’d be fascinated by your notions of Qaddafi’s enlightened rule and might even have some notes.

I can only imagine Barber with North Korea’s Kim Jong-il.

Barber: There have been media reports in the West claiming that people in North Korea are starving. Can you comment?

Kim: Look at the size of these lobsters. Waiter, more Hennessey!

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