Thursday, October 20, 2011

Justice and the Death of Muammar Gaddafi

Recent events in my life have led me to remind myself of a core truth, one that we tend not to think about or try to explain away, but which remains nonetheless - there's no such thing as natural justice. Justice is a fiction invented by humanity to keep society running, just like the concept of a punishing afterlife came about so that people could take comfort in knowing that even if someone dodged the law in life, they would pay for it in death. But there's no justice in death... there's no justice anywhere except where we make it. Nothing in the world, in and of itself, is fair. Nothing is just. It just is. This was one of the themes behind "The Platinum Desolation."

That's what came back to me when I heard the news this morning that Muammar Gaddafi, erstwhile dictator of Libya, has been confirmed killed in the fall of the last loyalist bastion of Sirte - and with his death comes the effective end of the Libyan Civil War, but of a stench of dictatorship that has been in the air since 1969, the brightest bloom yet of the Arab Spring. Whether the new government of Libya will be able to keep a strong hand on the tiller, or whether this will only expose another country to instability and terror, it's too early to say. Nevertheless, what upset me the most is that Gadaffi is dead - shot in the legs and head and not, as first reported, taken into custody.

Because he's escaped. The victims of Gadaffi's forty-two years in power will only be able to find a hollower justice now. There'll be no trial for Muammar Gadaffi, no judgement, and no sentence passed down - there'll only be the people left behind in his wake, struggling to build up what they can, while he went where no justice can ever follow. It's a road that's been impressed with the footprints of many dictators - Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Kim Il Sung, and so on - but that's the hard thing, isn't it? Dictators, by their very nature, are polarizing figures; what sort of justice would Gadaffi have gotten if he'd been brought to it - would it have been a trial like Nicolae Ceausescu's?

Is justice really justice when the result is self-evident? Would justice really have been done if Gadaffi had lived to be brought to trial, or would it be, like in the case of Ceausescu or Saddam Hussein, vengeance under a different name?

Those questions, I think, are way beyond my pay grade - and the themes that underlie them will be debated back and forth for as long as there are humans to wag their jaws at one another. But there's not even a show of justice here, just death - and I still don't like it.

I found this circa 1986 "Khadaffy Duck" T-shirt at a store in Toronto's Kensington Market in 2003. It hung in the kitchen of my last apartment for three years. It is finally, finally topical.

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