RSS
Surprise! Gadhafi has always been a bad guy
Some Westerners have conveniently short memories. One website is determined to remind them of their past mistakes
David Frum
David Frum
W

hen Libyan diplomats resign in protest, you have to wonder: Who did they think they were working for? Moammar Gadhafi was just as much a terrorist and murderer three months ago as he is today.

Yet perhaps Gadhafi's Libyan employees have an excuse: What other choices did they have?

There is no similar excuse for Westerners who took Gadhafi's money and served his regime. One tireless Western journalist determined to hold these people to account is Tom Gross, who runs a Mideast media analysis website.

During the past few days, here are some of the people Gross has called out:

The director of the London School of Economics, Sir Howard Davies. Under Davies's leadership, the LSE collected some $2.4 million in donations (1.5 million British pounds) from the Libyan dictator. At the same time as he was accepting Gadhafi's money, Davies was advising the Bank of England and the British Foreign Office on UK-Libyan relations. In December 2010, Gadhafi addressed LSE students by video conference.

As LSE was building this remarkable institutional relationship with Libya, half the LSE's academic board was urging an academic boycott of Israel. Gross quotes Davies's explanation: "The biggest donor to the school in the past year is George Soros, who of course is of Jewish origin. We operate, I believe, a very balanced view." How much of what is corrupt in modern British life is contained in those two sentences!

Gross also has called out the members of the board of the Gadhafis' charitable foundation, including Sir Richard Roberts (winner of a 1993 Nobel prize for medicine) and the American academic Benjamin Barber. (Both of whom resigned from the foundation's board this week.)

Gross also has remorselessly reproduced the fawning words of Sarah Leah Whitson, the head of Human Rights Watch's Mideast division: "But the real impetus for the transformation [of Libya] rests squarely with a quasi-governmental organization, the Gaddafi Foundation for International Charities and Development. With Saif al-Islam, one of Gaddafi's sons, as its chairman, and university professor Yousef Sawani as its director, the organization has been outspoken on the need to improve the country's human-rights record. It has had a number of showdowns with the Internal Security Ministry, with whom relations remain frosty. Saif al-Islam is also responsible for the establishment of the country's two semi-private newspapers, Oea and Quryna... it is impossible to underestimate the importance of the efforts made so far."

By the way, "semi-private" newspapers in Libya mean those owned by the Gadhafi family directly, not by the Libyan state.

Perhaps you have heard of the American foreign policy long-beard Steven Walt, co-author of The Lobby, a book arguing that U.S. foreign policy is controlled by a cabal of, ahem, Zionists?

Tom Gross does not forget him either, quoting from one of Walt's posts at ForeignPolicy.com: "The remarkable improvement in U.S.-Libyan relations reminds us that deep political conflicts can sometimes be resolved without recourse to preventive war or 'regime change.' One hopes that the United States and Libya continue to nurture and build a constructive relationship, and that economic and political reform continues there. (I wouldn't mind seeing more dramatic political reform — of a different sort — here too.)"

You might think he'd be tempted to tee off from here, but Gross is the master of the light touch, adding only a speaks-for-itself question: "The need for political reform in Libya is parallel to the need in the United States?"

Nor will Gross forget the fact that Libya was elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council with 155 votes. Nor that Libya was allowed to chair panels at the Durban II conference on racism. Nor that Libya used its position there to silence victims of Libyan torture, with the acquiescence of the other members of the council, as shown in this shame-making clip on Gross's website.

Reporting on Western and especially European policy toward the Middle East can be maddening and frustrating. Oil-rich dictatorships and monarchies are cosseted and flattered — even as Western critics demand Gandhian standards of tolerance and forebearance from democratic Israel, surrounded by exterminationist enemies.

Tom Gross, son of one of England's most eminent literary critics, the late John Gross, never surrenders to impatience or exasperation. He delights instead in reporting unexpected news, such as that the "Zenga Zenga" theme song of the anti-Gadhafi rebels is a mix produced by an Israeli musician.

And then this topper to his punchline: Embarrassed by the revelation of the Jewish origins of their anti-regime music, the rebels have responded by taking up the chant: "Gadhafi, you Jew." 

Even as they stagger toward civil war, Libyans can still apparently agree on something after all.

If you're not reading Tom Gross on the Middle East, you should be. And if you are a philanthropist looking for a practical way to support better understanding of the world's most volatile — and most frequently misrepresented — region, Tom Gross's important work can use more support. 

EDITORS' PICKS

THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER

Subscribe to the Week