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Let me be very clear: I don’t like Gaddhafi. Never did. Even when bombs rained on him during his first encounter with American firepower in the reign of Reagan, and I protested with hundreds more. He was not only once, but twice, one of our Arab strongman clients who believed his own propaganda and went bad.
I also don’t like our participation in this undeclared war against Gaddhafi which is fraught with danger for Americans. The moment that one of our bomber pilots parachutes into territory controlled by Gaddhafi’s forces, the ante goes up. The sooner that NATO is handed over the reins and the responsibility for this latest adventure onto Middle East soil, the better. Not that I don’t applaud the fact that the rebels–ill-supplied, leaderless, poorly-trained–are on the move towards Tripoli again, thanks to accurate and relentless U.S. bombing of regime forces. It’s past time Gaddhafi was gone, but what worries me is what and who is going to succeed him.
But let the Europeans figure it out and get themselves into deep doodoo. Especially those who are so convinced that they can do their predecessors better by ignoring the ignominy of past reverses. Let Nicolas Sarkozy find his manhood on the quicksands of North Africa and at the home of the Barbary Pirates, as he is being slowly squeezed out of relevancy by the Socialists and the far-right wing parties at home. Because the longer that the French or NATO stay in Libya, the worse it will become if they don’t get the hell out once Gaddhafi is sent to The Hague. Any open-ended occupation would definitely devolve into neo-colonialism–like the failures of “nation building,” “democracy” and “containment” in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
But we’re not there yet, and Sarkozy may find that even he has limitations. We’re here in the present, with Gaddhafi’s secret police and security units abducting Libyan women in districts that oppose the government and raping them in retaliation. I saw videos of law student Iman al-Obeidi, who somehow escaped from her imprisonment at a location where the rapes took place, and made her way to a hotel crawling with Western journalists to tell of her ordeal. Unfortunately, the Rixos Hotel was also top-heavy with Gaddhafi’s operatives, both male and female, who were “minding” these potentially wayward journalists. What I saw and heard revolted me, just like when reading the accounts of black women before and during the Civil Rights Era who were abused and raped by Klansmen or their white neighbors or employers, who later told authorities that they were prostitutes or that they deserved their abuse.
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(This is how NBN TV in Lebanon showed the al-Obeidi story, which begins 7:45 into this Link TV news wrap up.)
Today, observers and participants alike are still wondering whether the whole thing was staged, or wondering whether al-Obeidi is already a dead woman for her audacity and courage. It was indeed a surreal event, something people have heard about but had never seen before their own eyes. It was certainly no mirage. For many, it was the first time that any Libyan had voiced open opposition to the regime or shown the effects of their abuse in custody, and especially in such a dramatic fashion. However, even if al-Obeidi was all that the Libyans said that she was (and later retracted), it does not excuse the actions of Gaddhafi’s minions, including the women in white who tried to put a sack over Al-Obeidi’s head. It does not matter who it is, whether it is Biafran women or Bosnian women, or women in prisons or jails here in the U.S.–or even men. Rape is a terrorist act. A hate crime. It is promoted as a weapon of terror and control to emotionally and mentally destroy women and girls–the creators of the next generation in their group or country. Particularly in Muslim countries, it relegates a female, if she survives the rape, to outsider status, to a living nether world, without honor in her own family, country or among her own people. Moreover, in some cases, it forces women to bear children that they don’t want or are ill-equipped, because of the internal wounds that they sustain from rape, to deliver a child to term.
Today there was news from another source about the fate of Al-Obeidi:
The mother of the woman who burst into a Tripoli hotel and claimed she had been raped by militiamen loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi hailed her daughter as a hero Sunday and said she had been offered money and a house by the government if she changed her story.
Aisha Ahmed, contacted by telephone at her home in Tobruk, in the rebel held eastern part of the country, said she was proud of the courage displayed by her daughter, Iman al-Obaidi, whose dramatic outburst Saturday was broadcast around the world.
“I am very happy, very proud,” said Ahmed, describing her daughter as a 26-year-old law student in Tripoli.
A government official in Tripoli who said he had spoken with Obaidi called her a prostitute and said the rape took place when a party went wrong.
Obaidi was catapulted to world fame Saturday when she burst into the breakfast buffet at Tripoli’s Rixos Hotel, where the foreign press corps is staying as guests of Gaddafi’s regime.
Disheveled, weeping, bleeding and bruised, she told reporters she had been raped by 15 Gaddafi militiamen after being detained at a checkpoint because she comes from the eastern city of Benghazi, the epicenter of the revolt against the Gaddafi regime. Before she could finish her story, security guards, government minders and wait staff violently overpowered her and hauled her away in an unmarked car.
Hasan Modeer, a rebel activist who was with Obaidi’s mother in Tobruk, said a government official had called Ahmed at 3 a.m. Sunday, asking her to convince her daughter to change her story.
“They said they will give her a new house and a lot of money and anything she wanted,” Modeer said, adding that Ahmed had relayed the message to her daughter by phone but that Obaidi had refused.
“She said, ‘I will die rather than change my words,’ ” Modeer said.
It is said that one of the assailants was the son of a high-ranking official in the regime. Five have been arrested in connection with this unspeakable crime.
However, rape has also been used by the warmongers in this country to justify interventions into one country or another, either of Americans or of the civilian population. No doubt, rape is a genocidal, terrorist weapon, but for others to use it as a pretext to a war for the ends to justify the means? That is why some are wondering whether this incident was staged, but it looks more and more that it wasn’t.
This ain’t over yet. With the West repelled over the video, Gaddhafi has more than just a PR debacle on his hands. Al-Obeidi is said to be with family members, but the bad part of this is that the security apparatus knows where to put its hands on her, and count her as just another victim of the hostilities as the rebels speed unimpeded towards Tripoli. We don’t know; at least not yet. So far, it behooves Gaddhafi to keep her alive for his own tattered reputation, and make a show of rounding up and jailing the perpetrators, who definitely have many accomplices in rape elsewhere. Later, who knows? I’d like to see this woman alive and getting better when this is over. There are probably hundreds of other women who have shared her experience of being used like toilet paper for the Gaddhafi military. I would feel better if Iman al-Obeidi were spirited away by her family members and/or those sympathetic to the rebels under the very noses of these killers to a safer location, and wait out the storm until she can stand up in the dock and accuse her rapists.