Fri 21 Oct 2011
There is a phrase in Latin that seems to have been invented for the free fall of dictators in this year’s Arab Spring. Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi mentioned it when commenting on the death of Libya’s Qaddafi. Sic gloria mundi transit: the glory or fame in this world is fleeting. The man once styled the king of African kings is dead; long live an alternative to the agony and bloodshed that military coups and foreign meddling create. The killing of Qaddafi is a celebration for those who were brutalized during his regime of more than four decades and understandably so. But vengeance and reprisals need to be transit, in the Latin sense, as well. The focus of positive hate must be to change the system of corruption that allows any single person to have such absolute power. Countries do not need dictatorial “fathers” and citizens are not children to be ordered about or slaves to be disposed of at the whim of a self-styled master.
There is a deeper lesson in the Latin phrase, a poignant reminder that Rome had its Nero and Caligula. Every age and every place has its would-be masters, who have a tendency it seems to become delusional when there are no checks on their ability to control wealth and weaponry. The Abbasid caliph Mansur, for example, attempted to exterminate his main opposition of Shi’a who questioned the legitimacy of his caliphate. The story is told that after his death, his annointed heir and son al-Mahdi found a locked room in which there were carefully placed the mummified bodies of all the prominent Shi’a men that his father had killed, each with a name plate attached; all of this monstrous monument enmeshed in a trove of gems, precious jewelry and dinars. The gloria of the Roman Empire and of the Abbasid Empire (and the list goes on and on and will never end) is fleeting in hindsight, but not, of course, to those who fell victim to the brutalities or lived to mourn the atrocities.
All eyes are on Libya now to see what will come out of the ashes of a madman’s playground. Hail to the Libyan people but hell to the would-be caesars…
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