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Libyan Writer Ghoma

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Saturday, 8 December, 2007


By: Ghoma

        Must be something with the Tent that most normal humans don't see. It takes quite some determination, insensitivity to weather, or a humongous amount of tawdry exhibitionism, to dumb down protocol's haggling into, what amount to, pure drollery. It's mind-boggling schmendig! Who wants to sit in a tent in the middle of December in northern climates such as those of Lisbon, Madrid, and Paris? Why insist and be ready to go through such troubles, when the Colonel will be traveling to those places as a guest, more likely he'll be shuffling around to his hosts's quarters and meeting points, and not the other way around? So for what purposes and for whom the Tent is going to be pitched? As a stop-over digs for Qaddafi and his entourage's breaks between their shuttles and presumably busy schedules? If so will this be enough to justify the shenanigans? Or what's behind the whole thing which reason was unable to fathom! Attention grabbing by any means, by hook or crook. If not by personal charm, quick wits, and good deeds then by mere weirdness and sheer quirkiness. Make some noise, cause some stirs and tabloids' mill will have enough grist for the mill to grind and thus the weirdo-of-Libya will get some attention and be noticed? What to expect from such a kind of head-of-state who goes around asking his hosts's permission to be allowed to pitch a damned Tent on the grounds of a castle or a hotel? Though, by now, most of the states on the planet earth knew what to expect of the loony-of-Libya, think for a moment of the logistical nightmares, the guests must be facing. Unless the Tent is of a flying-Ali-Baba type magical self-contained and ultra-wired-unit, with its own power and communication, etc., systems and supplies, providing utilities and services lines - lighting-heating, communication, and maybe water and drainage lines (or a porta- potty will do?), etc.- must be, indeed, a challenge. All such troubles for a very short period of time, max. 2- or 3-days! The question is: Why and who pays for it? And how much such a peculiar and weird habits will cost the treasures of both countries? What is so important about his visits that would justify such expenses both politically and economically? Is it worth going through all the troubles and expenses, of mobilizing and transporting, by air, whole swarms of goons and munchinks, for no other purposes but to take care of a Tent(s), a camel, and maybe a goat too, and who knows what other unheard of weird habits and exotic pets the Colonel maybe availing himself with!

        In the overall scheme of things such a quirk (a trifle!) wouldn't merit a mention if not for being a state issue. One tempted to ponder the significance of such behaviors. They may open a crack into a cultural milieu and a mindset that are becoming definitely if not at spar then at odds with both current modus operandi and expectation. If for no other reasons than to humble Libyans -as if they weren't humbled enough already!- and to remind Europeans of passed ages and lost glories. Seeing Bedouins and tents sets the clocks back for both parts: Libyans are reminded of how far they still have to climb up the ladder of civilization; to the Europeans they remind then of the Universal Expositions era when primitives with their tribal costumes, habits, abodes, and dances were part of the highlights to the attractions! Wouldn't the Libyans, with their funny attires, tents, camels, etc. fit those images Parisians still remember of their city's 1889 carnival when the Eiffel tower complemented the exotic tribes' tableaus from Africa, Amazonia, and Oceania? Who said one crackpot wouldn't make a party, Qaddafi has proven over and over again he's able to make a carnival by himself! Why the Libyan state goes along with such hooey requests and freakish practices; and to deem them worthy of its concerns which leave the guest states with no other choice but to oblige. One may question the wisdom of an individual but to challenge a state with its supposed collective wisdom is still hard to do. Though the suspensions linger, still there must be something, most earthling mortals cannot see, in such usages which, by now, are becoming a Libyan trait, a hallmark, if not a full blown registered trademark. Knock your head as much as you want but a rational explanation is not forthcoming: Is it because of the Tent's cultural connotations and historical denotation, as a reference, a distinguishing mark, etc., or just for privacy and security concerns, or all together? Hold into your seats, folks, the stuff may get juicy!

        Qaddafi may have had a bad luck of being born too late for his assumed social persona, that of being, or pretends to be, a genuine Bedouin. When adding his landing also square right at the top of a country with only a name on its side then his misfortunes were perhaps Fate's revenge. Too late, for the Ages of insignias, coats-of arms, family-escutcheons, and suchlike of the haut monde the Aristocracy and its Nobility had concocted as nick-knacks and heirlooms to distinguish themselves from the rabble, the riffraff and the hoi-polloi of their times. Luck served him badly by landing him at pyramid's top in a country which also had lacked any traditions of knighthood or courtly traditions. Upon assuming power and learning about protocols, Qaddafi may have soon realized his state's emblematic poverty, and thereof went on a campaign to invent the wheel, so to speak, as far as, the country's distinguishing markers, symbols and all the rest of State's paraphernalia in general. A daunting task! Luckily for the Colonel, he's one trait on his side: circumstances, scarcity, and bad luck have never stopped him from making a mockery out of the ordinary just as his ancestors, the Bedouins had done for millennia! Proving once again that to come late to the world stage wouldn't stop the 21st- century Bedouin-manque' par-excellence from reproducing the simulacra of the trappings which had characterized and indeed distinguished a life-style, dictated by mere necessity, and for all practical purposes had gone awhile ago with the wind. [Oil rigs have already replaced bedouin encampments, Land-rovers and Toyotas have replaced camels and caravans, foreign hard-hatted workers have been roaming the desert instead of the roving Nomads, etc.].

        True to a well-noted tendency, as one way and a mode of life disappeared, their coattails and trappings come to acquire more than the highfalutin symbolic values rather their pedestrian and mundane sentimental values, with emotional charges that exceed contents and could be comparable to those of totems and memorabilia. And in the age of mechanical reproduction, life styles and their images can be recycled easily into emblems -as Hollywood has done with Cowboys and Indians, making of them iconic symbols of daredevil and derring-do of the pioneers! Though such a qualitative jump was never automatic nor all relics make for good emblems and symbols. History, culture, circumstances and vicissitudes work their magic to siphon and filter an object into more than what it was, to become an emblem standing for something else! Qaddafi's bet that he and the Tent would embody the anthropological trove of a world outlook and its mode of living, and thus come to symbolize, not its passing but above all what it stood for: purity, simplicity, austerity, etc... These contents are being conveyed sometime subliminally or other times straight forward as when he leaves the country. However, in the current Libyan stage of being in-between, between Bedouinism and settled life (civilization), the coexistence of such diametrically opposing values may only add to confusion and collusion of behaviors and worldviews and thus aggravate further the extent of alienation and enstrangements. For, unfortunately for the Colonel, such accelerated process of historicization may have worked if Libya were in a different stage of development. That's, if Libya had truly left the age and mindset of Bedouinism entirely awhile ago and now is merely using such items as heuristics recollections to reflect upon its origins and remote beginnings. For roots, inspiration, and recharge! But the fact is, a world and a way of life may have gone by, but their cultural contents, beyond simple yearnings, still dominates the Libyan chaotic urban scenes and conditions the behaviors of the fledgling nascent, back-wooded, and watered-down pseudo-bourgeois in rather meaningless and inane ways. History, its reproduction, and make-belief collide with actual life conditions. Because without the interruption cycle(s) the images are still fresh in the living memories and have not yet acquired the status of archetypes. For, without the due temporal and developmental distances, signs have a striking physical presence that prevents them to germinate the seeds of a fecund referent(s). If these images were indeed needed, they'd have to be turned first into cultural products. Without such reworking, in the best scenario, they become mere nostalgia writ large, for an age or a way of life, though still vividly present, their assumed values -of Bedouinism-are on the way out. Thus the proposed images instead of playing the role of keeping, resurrecting , and recapturing the assumed latent attributes they may become emblems of failure of a culture in need of filling its tragic voids. The tent, the camel and the Bedouin stand as a consoling tools for some supposed lost innocence and purity! They stand for what those images connote: pride, courage; and austerity and come juxtaposed against those of today's, almost their opposite counterparts of: abjectness, apathy, and decadence. The reality of globalization comes juxtaposed to memories and images of a parochial and simpler ages -just as the images of his somewhat contemporaneous, the Cowboy, were re-fabricated and manipulated against the degradations and gaps of the age of industrialization.

        Qaddafi may have been born in a tent to a Bedouin family. But he'd left that world at an early tender age when he went to school elsewhere. Unless science will confirm there's something genetic about Bedouinism, or early childhood exposure, that determines the rest of one's outlook and behaviors, thus far Qaddafi's real inherited baggage of Bedouinism was very scant. Even if it's a fact that all the Colonel's ancestors' world consisted of, from Adam to Mu'ammer, a shabby Tent and a couple of camels, etc. Qaddafi has not lived long enough in those conditions to be inculcated with its traits and values. Granted his education was mere stint, but his joining to the only modern sector of his time, the Army has compensated for his rusticity and sealed his fate. Though there's an apparent trait of Bedouinism in Qaddafi's bent for oversimplication and trivialization, his reported dislike for urban life and comfort, the fact remains his spare outlook and peculiar behaviors were politically motivated. In other words his, Qaddafi may have roots in Bedouinism, but his role-playing of Bedouinism is phoney. Genuine or phoney,, if such a choice remained as personal, the fad would have limited effects. But when Bedouinism was appropriated and made to stand as logos of a State and its icons the repertoire for a society in the 21st-century, the it acquired an importance far beyond its history. Could it be that Qaddafi is seeking for something that would give his regime a stamp of originality and deep roots in history. But vaunting of the lineage is one thing, appropriating such legacy and giving its memories operative meanings and roles are another issue. It's worth to be reiterated once more, Libya has not progressed yet beyond the stage of Bedouinism when it could use its relics and heirlooms for iconic emblems without being taken for what it's: actual facts on the ground.

        . For the images need to float around as "neutral objets-troves" before they could lend themselves and become available for plugging in into a cultural re-workings. As long as heirlooms remain as such, mere icons, rather than what Qaddafi is using them for: products ready to be used for high functions of the State -gathering spaces or milk and food purposes- they're harmless objects. Qaddafi, when he presents himself as, the embodiment of a Bedouin in flesh, the image becomes reality. There's a blur here. The world of make-belief is colliding and getting mixed up with the actual world of acting and role playing. The line separating the symbol and the symbolized was broken. As there's quite a difference between icons and what they stood for, their original usages and intents, likewise their historical references will come short in the absence of the fermentation and pickling period. They cease to have connotations beyond what actually are and or to inspire the minute they were appropriated to become emblems to families, dynasties or states.

        The irony in the whole affair was, neither the Bedouin nor the Cowboy had played a large role as agents of history, they were both mere specks in the dusty storms of history. Victims of Nature and history's stormy course. Contrary to what their present images came to be associated with such notions of independence and freedom. Their way of life peculiarities was a happenstance: ways developed to stand against the elements far from the virtues celebrated in narratives (such as el-Kuni) or films (of Hollywood type romanticization). A Cowboy on horseback or a Bedouin in a Tent beside a camel were flaunted as the primal images of original, genuine and simpler existence. Such notions may have some impact if they'd remained at that point outside the mill of mass culture. The images of anti-state have become symbols and definers of political orders! Signs that images have overtaken the world. The art of make-belief is turning culture, once again, into mere segmented frames which are put to use for the service of some groups or individuals' manipulative schemes..

        Coming up with such an arrangement -and insisting on receiving the Libyan State's visitors in a style far more bizarre than Hollywood, Ballywood, and all the rest of the Woods combined couldn't have imagined and spun out was truly a stroke of genius. The trio's - Bedouin, Tent, camel- 'bonds are unbreakable since they're bound together as one to his shadow. A Bedouin couldn't be such without a Tent and a Camel! And as true to their logic, they've also to travel together. Neither M. Sarkozy nor the other hosts will find a wiggle room to squirm around and find an excuse. The plea of: Please, enough with such shenanigans, let's talk seriously, wouldn't work with Qaddafi! True to his Bedouin's fatalism, Qaddafi never took even himself seriously, not to mention others.

        What these icons mean and why have become the emblems of the Libyan State? One can speculate the logic of Tent was imposed by the technological doubts and backwardness to secure a space! Indicative further not only to Colonel's ability but in what he could have procured on the open or closed markets to detect his hosts' foul plays. Since Qaddafi could never be sure to control his environment to his satisfaction, in say a building where the Intelligence's could bug it easily and where his sweeping gizmos could not be depended on. Thus explain part of the improvised space-of-action Qaddafi has devised. The Tent! Portable, easily detectable, but most importantly capriciously located. Neither the Frogs nor anybody else for that matter, so far, could make a whole ground of a palace of a hotel audio-phonic sensitive. So Qaddafi can control the talk and record its minutiae without being listened to or subjected to misquoting. If that's the reason, a wiz-kid indeed? However, what such images convey and may mean to the rising generations, trying to tame the desert and find a way for the masses to scrape a living? What inspirations will give to architects, engineers, urban designers and planners?

        A burlesque character in a Tent wobbling through Europeans capitals is a memorable seen mass-media will find hard to pass. Aren't such aberrations only stereotype a culture in crisis? Expressions meant for identification become manifestations of tacky odds and ostentatious behaviors? Is this what Libyans want the world to remember them for? And how such a circus will serve their interests?

        A Bedouin in a tent, in the center of Paris, shopping for jets and nuclear technology. Ain't this irony personified or just farcical comedy? Arabs' reality in the 21st-century world! Torn between atavistic yearnings and untenable aspirations. Stuck, literally, between a rock and hard surface, between age-old and outdated culture and the need for the products of a civilization they hate to accept. Ain't Qaddafi himself has become a sign and a symptom of the Arabs' predicaments? Stuck somewhere closer to the Tent than the Nuclear Reactor! Yet peaking his head out into a world he's shown repeatedly he can hardly understand.


More Articles Written By Ghoma

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