Is Gadhafi a Martyr?

Is Gadhafi a Martyr?

CRIMINAL OR MISUNDERSTOOD?: Even in death, Gadhafi has his defenders.

In the aftermath of his death, some are wondering whether the late Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi will be remembered as a martyr instead of a mad tyrant.

Fellow dictator Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, for instance, expressed anger over the death of his friend. “They assassinated him. It is another outrage,” he told reporters. “We shall remember Gadhafi our whole lives as a great fighter, a revolutionary and a martyr.”

Some have pointed to the free health care and subsidized housing in Libya as evidence of Gadhafi’s compassion, as well as his financial support of other African nations. “Mr. Gaddafi was a dictator, but he was a benevolent dictator, whether you like or dislike him,” said French journalist and blogger Moe Seager. “And he gave millions to black African health, educational and agricultural projects.”

But in addition to his support of impoverished nations, the Libyan leader was also known for funding a variety of notorious outfits. In fact, his government was implicated in the financing of many controversial militant groups, including several associated with terrorism.

Earlier this year, Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan defended his friend Gadhafi and criticized President Obama and the United States for supporting the Libyan rebels. “It is a terrible thing for me to hear my brother called all these ugly and filthy names when I can’t recognize him as that.”

With a controversial friend like Farrakhan as an advocate, it probably isn’t a total shock to hear some African Americans sympathizing with Gadhafi’s plight and speculating about conspiracy theories in the wake of his death. In the comments section at the black news site NewsOne.com, for instance, one reader declares, “Any Black person who celebrates the ‘death’ of Muammar Gaddafi has to be a product of western media propaganda.” He goes on to argue that Gadhafi was a strong benefactor of other African nations, and concludes by implying that Gadhafi’s ouster and death were the result of a CIA plot.

It’s easy for most of us to take for granted that Gadhafi was an international criminal whose multitude of vicious sins had finally caught up to him. But it’s interesting to note that not all Americans subscribe to that view.

And so, the question lingers: Was Gadhafi a misunderstood revolutionary or a cruel tyrant? The smart money is on the latter, but your answer most likely depends on your personal view of the media, international relations, and America’s role in the world.

Voice of the Hispanic Christian Vote

Voice of the Hispanic Christian Vote

THE AGENDA OF THE LAMB: When it comes to the Hispanic community, Rev. Samuel Rodriguez is challenging both 'the Donkey' and 'the Elephant' to rise above the usual politics.

Rev. Samuel Rodriguez represents tremendous vote-getting power for a demographic that could sway the 2012 election: the ethnic Christian vote. A Sacramento-based pastor and the founding president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, he’s known for his efforts to see that Hispanic Christians have a political voice.

But rather than using his influence to propel a particular political party or candidate, Rodriguez wants to use it to mobilize the Hispanic Christian voter base. “I want the candidates to endorse us and our position, not the other way around,” Rodriguez said.

Since starting the NHCLC in 2001, Rodriguez has become the “go-to guy” for political and religious leaders looking to partner with Hispanic Christians.

In August, he was a speaker and honorary co-chair for The Response prayer rally organized by GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry — causing some to speculate that Rodriguez would throw his support to Perry: “Getting Rodriguez on board with The Response is a coup d’état that should have Democrats shaking in their boots,” Grace Wyler wrote in the Business Insider.

But Rodriguez said he isn’t going to endorse anyone, and his involvement in The Response wasn’t a political statement. He said the agreement behind the prayer rally was that it would not be political.

“My commitment is to engage the Hispanic community in prophetic action, swaying them from apathy,” Rodriguez said. “I’m not committed to the donkey or the elephant. I’m committed to the agenda of the Lamb.”

Still, even as Rodriguez strives to walk the middle road, he generally appears to lean conservative. This makes his recent challenge to the Republican presidential candidates to clean up their rhetoric on immigration even more significant.

UrbanFaith recently spoke with Rodriguez about the issues and values that resonate with the ethnic Christian community and their growing political influence, as well as the challenge of confronting the anti-immigrant mood that has settled over the Republican Party. The interview, edited for length and clarity, is below.

UrbanFaith: Looking at what’s playing out in the political field right now, from President Obama to the rising GOP candidates, what could be the impact of the minority Christian vote?

Rev. Samuel Rodriguez: The ethnic Christian vote will play a significant part in the 2012 election. It’s more energized and mobilized than ever before. The reason is that we really want to see a righteousness and justice agenda, that’s both John 3:16 and Matthew 25, that represents our Christian value system in a way that is comprehensive. It’s not the agenda of the donkey or the agenda of the elephant that really resonates. As a Christian, I’d encourage all African American, Hispanic and other ethnic minority groups that are Christian to vote our Christian faith. Those values transcend any and all other values.

What do you mean by a ‘righteousness and justice agenda’?

That’s an agenda that supports and defends the values that are biblical, values that help the family continue to be the institution where God glorifies himself. Biblical values of life, reconciling those with horizontal values of biblical justice, like fighting poverty, addressing issues of education, confronting racism, human trafficking, sex trafficking, injustices throughout the world.

We have a prophetic voice as the church. Our prophetic voice is both vertical and horizontal. We speak both to the church and to the community. We’re both righteousness and justice, we are sanctification and service, and we are both Billy Graham and Martin Luther King Jr. We have to speak with anointing, moral clarity, integrity, and above all we have to speak with love and passion.

What are some of the key issues important to minority voters right now?

First would be the economy. The poverty rate in the communities of color, especially the African American community, continues to increase in a very aggressive manner. We have Latinos and African Americans confronting an economic reality that we as communities have been confronting for decades. So the level of anguish in communities of color is greater than in the general community.

In addition to the economy, we’re looking at education, high school drop out rates over 50 or 60 percent. That means over half of the kids of color never graduate from high school. This is an epidemic that needs to be confronted sooner than later. Right now, we’re ignoring it. That increases the propensity for the proliferation of gangs, teen pregnancy, fatherlessness, so many other social ills that are totally weighted to the lack of educational mobility.

Third is the issue of the family. How do we strengthen the family? How do we address the number of fatherless homes in urban centers in communities of color around our nation? So we need to strengthen the family in order to push back any social ill that I mentioned previously.

You’ve said before that the Republican Party needs to change how they’re handling immigration to get the Latino evangelical vote. Is that still a major factor too?

Oh sure, the Republican Party has done a terrible job in reaching out to the Latino community, by embracing an immigration reform stance that’s not just anti-illegal immigration — it seems to be very anti-immigrant. And that’s the problem. On the other hand, the Democratic Party has equally failed the Hispanic community on the immigration issue. We had a Democratic majority in both houses and a Democratic president. They made us a promise that they would pass immigration reform and they did not. So the Democratic Party did fail the Hispanic community, and the Republican Party has alienated the Hispanic community. Both of them are going to have to repair the breach in order to engage in the election.

I recently wrote about the ‘Rainbow Right,’ or African-, Hispanic- and Asian-American Christians who are becoming conservative despite being part of a racial group known for a liberal bent. Is that a trend?

I don’t embrace the nomenclatures that try to pin us on the right or the left. I’m committed to the agenda of the Lamb. The donkey’s not going to own me, and the elephant’s not going to own me. This Rainbow Right idea, it is what it is. There must be a Rainbow Left, right?

African Americans defended Proposition 8 in California, even more than Hispanics and whites. How can African Americans, in one ballot, be successful in November 2008 in protecting the biblical definition of marriage in the state of California, and they also vote for Obama in the same day? Does that make them Rainbow Right African Americans? No, it’s because the African American community and the Latino community have values and we’re not going to stick to the marching orders of one political party.

The moment you see African Americans say, ‘There are certain things in the Democratic Party that don’t resonate with us, and we’re going to push back,’ and that they embrace ideas that are conservative values — I don’t think it’s justifiable to deem them as the Rainbow Right. It’s just African Americans, Hispanics and Asians saying, ‘We don’t like to be held hostage by any political party.’ It’s a political moment of emancipation.

That’s powerful. I’d love to see more African Americans in the Republican Party, and I’d love to see more Asians in the Democratic Party. My point is, I’d love to see diversity in both parties. But I would love to see communities say, the idea of voting one party line for the rest of my life — I don’t think I should be subjugated to that. We should vote the candidate according to the values that they hold near and dear.

‘You Cannot Kill My Soul’

‘You Cannot Kill My Soul’

UNPREDICTABLE FIGURE: Moammar Gadhafi in 2009. He ruled Libya for 42 years.

In the modern pantheon of the world’s dictators, Moammar Gadhafi stood apart. Far apart.

Erratic and mercurial, he fancied himself a political philosopher, practiced an unorthodox and deadly diplomacy, and cut a sometimes cartoonish figure in flowing robes and dark sunglasses, surrounded by heavily armed female bodyguards.

He ruled Libya with an iron fist for 42 years, bestowing on himself an array of titles, including “king of culture,” “king of kings of Africa” and, simply, “leader of the revolution.” It was as an actor on the world stage, though, that he showed his gift for unpredictability. President Ronald Reagan called him “the mad dog of the Middle East.” Anwar Sadat, the late Egyptian president, once said Gadhafi was “either 100 percent crazy or possessed of the devil.” Others thought he was both.

When Gadhafi took power in 1969, he embraced an adventurist foreign policy, championing his dream of a utopian, Islamic nation that would span northern Africa. He eschewed both communism and capitalism and called his political system jamahiriya, or “republic of the masses.

He soon evolved into an international troublemaker: His Libya funded guerrilla groups, built a nuclear weapons program and launched terrorist attacks on the West _ including the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Then, as the United States began hunting terrorists worldwide, he did a diplomatic U-turn, making oil deals with the West and providing back-channel help for American spy agencies battling international terrorists.

It was the “Arab spring” uprising against tyrants in the Middle East that ignited an internal rebellion against Gadhafi, turned his regime into a NATO target and led to the end of the reign. On Thursday, in his hometown of Sirte on the Mediterranean Sea, it was over. He was 69.

Rise of a Revolutionary  

The only son of an illiterate Bedouin herder, Gadhafi was born in a goatskin tent about 20 miles from Sirte and spent his early years living the life of desert nomads. His father scrimped and borrowed to send his son to a nearby Muslim school. It was there that Gadhafi listened daily to a Cairo radio station that carried speeches by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, a pan-Arabist and leader of the independence movement in the Arab world.

“We must go into the army,” Gadhafi told his classmates. “That is the only way to make a revolution.”

He was 14 when he led his first demonstration in support of Nasser, and by the time he was 19 he had taken the first step toward formulating a plan to overthrow the corrupt, pro-Western regime of Libya’s King Idris by entering the Royal Military Academy at Benghazi.

Gadhafi surrounded himself with fellow conspirators and imposed the same moral standards on them that he demanded of himself: abstinence from tobacco and alcohol, no womanizing or gambling, prayers five times a day. In 1966, he studied armored warfare tactics in Britain, where he learned to speak English.

On Sept. 1, 1969, Gadhafi, a 27-year-old signal corps captain in the Libyan army, and his group of “free officers” overthrew Idris, who was out of the country, in a bloodless coup. Gadhafi himself went to the state radio station to broadcast the news to the Libyan people.

LEADER OF THE REVOLUTION: Egyptian President Gamal Abdal Nasser (right) with the young Gadhafi in 1969.

“Give us your hands. Open up your hearts to us,” he said. “Forget past misfortunes and as one people prepare to face the enemies of Islam, the enemies of humanity. … We shall resurrect our heritage. We shall avenge our wounded dignity and restore the rights which have been wrested from us.”

He moved quickly in an effort to change Libya overnight. He ordered the closure of the United States’ huge Wheelus air base _ negotiations were carried out amicably between Washington and Tripoli _ and the evacuation of British military bases. He expelled 20,000 Italians and nationalized most of the oil industry. Nightclubs and casinos were shuttered, alcohol was banned, and unmarried women who became pregnant were flogged and sent off to reformatories.

Angered by the amount of time his bureaucrats spent reading newspapers and drinking coffee, he had most of the desks and chairs removed from government offices. The bureaucrats were not fazed; they took to reading their newspapers leaning against the walls and brewing their coffee on the concrete floors.

During his first full decade in power, Gadhafi was a popular leader. He invested some of the nation’s $50 billion in annual oil revenue in developing agriculture and building schools, hospitals and housing.

In the 1970s, Gadhafi developed his so-called Third Universal Theory. It was his blueprint for a socialistic welfare state in which there would be no laws, no money, no government, no private enterprise. The leader — Gadhafi never called himself president — published this philosophy in a slim volume called The Green Book.

He managed to attract a group of leftist scholars to Libya in 1979 to debate the wisdom of “The Green Book,” though most impartial observers found it most noteworthy for its naivete and lack of depth. One example from its text: “Woman is a female and man, being a male, does not … get pregnant … (and) is not liable to the feebleness which woman, being a female, suffers.”

Gadhafi detested communism as much as capitalism, distrusted the Soviet Union no less than the United States and had little use for the moderate Arab states. In 1984, displeased with his North African neighbors, he sent one of his planes to bomb the state radio station in Sudan and, it is widely believed, one of his ships to sow mines in Egypt’s Gulf of Suez.

Some critics dismissed Gadhafi as mad, and pointed to unsubstantiated reports of frequent mental breakdowns. Others believed he was simply obsessed with his self-proclaimed assumption of the mantle of Nasser’s pan-Arab movement, which had lost its credibility elsewhere years earlier.

Whatever the explanation for his behavior, he was a man who marched to his own inner voice, convinced that he was the only Arab in step with the times.

A Schizophrenic Ruler

It was during the late 1970s and ‘80s that Gadhafi’s reputation at home began to suffer serious damage. He began to crack down on dissent, banning strikes and stifling the media. He banned private enterprise and Western literature, and his agents assassinated government opponents at home and abroad.

Known by many names, including Colonel and Brother Leader, his attempts at economic and political reform also withered as the government became increasingly decentralized. Libya was largely run by local “revolutionary” committees that were inept and corrupt.

Despite the troubles at home, Gadhafi began to cause mischief further afield, giving money to guerrilla groups and reportedly attempting to stage coups against other African leaders. Libya was swiftly earning a reputation as a dangerous, rogue state.

He was linked to an attack on a Berlin disco frequented by U.S. soldiers that left two servicemen dead and prompted Reagan to bomb Libya in 1986. Two years later, Tripoli was implicated in the bombing of the Pan Am 747 over Scotland. Abdel Basset Ali Megrahi, an alleged Libyan intelligence officer, was convicted in 2001.

Gadhafi agreed to pay nearly $3 billion in compensation to families of the airline bombing victims. Megrahi was released from prison in 2009 for medical reasons, drawing criticism in Britain that a deal with Gadhafi had been struck to protect European businesses and trade.

The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 startled Gadhafi. Worrying that his own regime could be in jeopardy, he denounced weapons of mass destruction and offered to open his nuclear program to international inspectors. The move helped ease economic sanctions against Libya and put Gadhafi in the spotlight as leaders such as British Prime Minister Tony Blair visited Tripoli in 2004.

“It was strange, given the history, to come here and do this and of course I am conscious of the pain that people have suffered as a result of terrorist actions in the past,” Blair said of his meeting with Gadhafi. “But the world is changing and we have got to do everything we possibly can to tackle the security threat that faces us.”

President George W. Bush announced the gradual restoring of diplomatic relations between the United States and Libya. Condoleezza Rice visited Libya in 2008, the first secretary of State to make that journey in more than half a century. A U.S. diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks suggested that, although Gadhafi avoids making eye contact, he was a voracious consumer of news and was eager for the chance to “share with you his views on global affairs.”

Still, Gadhafi, who had survived attempted coups and assassinations, retained his swagger. He pitched tents during his travels abroad and periodically railed against the imperialist West.

In a vintage 90-minute-plus address to the United Nations in 2009, he called the 15-member Security Council the “terror council” and quipped that anti-terrorism measures in the U.S. were like “being a prisoner in the Guantanamo camp, where there is no free movement.”

Meanwhile, diplomats traded gossip about the reclusive leader’s habits. Other U.S. diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks suggested that he was a hypochondriac who was afraid of flying over water, often fasted on Mondays and Thursdays, and loved flamenco dancing.

Beginning of the End    

Things weren’t going well for Gadhafi in Libya, though. His political and economic reforms were seen as ruses by a population stifled by repression and limited opportunities.

In recent years, the country had watched schools, hospitals and other institutions built by the oil money fall into disrepair. His son Seif Islam “implicitly criticized” his father’s regime, according to one U.S. cables published by WikiLeaks.

Gadhafi himself blamed his government for corruption but it was largely seen as posturing.

The eastern part of the country around the city of Benghazi, a long-simmering anti-Gadhafi stronghold, grew more restive. Major tribes, the key to power in Libya, grew increasingly wary of him. Gadhafi had lost his touch with manipulating clan loyalties with money and power.

Meanwhile, the antics and lavish lifestyle of his family, which diplomatic cables described as providing “enough dirt for a Libyan soap opera,” became more of an embarrassment. His son Mutassim, Libya’s national security adviser, paid Mariah Carey $1 million to sing four songs at a private party in the Caribbean. There were reports that Mutassim was among those killed along with his father Thursday.

A 2008 U.S. diplomatic cable titled “Thug Life” describes Gadhafi’s strained ties with Switzerland after his son Hannibal was arrested in Geneva on charges of abusing servants.

The final rebellion against Gadhafi was years in the making, and it burst forth in a wave of uprisings against autocrats and kings that swept North Africa and the Middle East earlier this year.

SOLIDARITY FROM AFAR: In March, Libyan expatriates in Dublin, Ireland, protested in support of the "Arab Spring" rebels back in their native country.

Gadhafi underestimated the rage against him as protests in eastern Libya flared across the country. Rebels pushed toward Tripoli from the east and west and battled his beleaguered army and band of mercenaries.

The leader’s vicious assaults on his own people _ his forces fired antiaircraft guns at civilians and shot worshipers near mosques _ stunned the world. Much of the military and many Libyan diplomats and officials abandoned him as tens of thousands of people died.

As the revolt spread over the ensuing months, Gadhafi became increasingly cornered. North Atlantic Treaty Organization bombardments of government military forces strengthened bands of poorly equipped and ill-trained rebels.

‘Until the End of Time’    

Yet, the leader remained defiant. Addressing thousands of Libyans in Tripoli’s Green Square in July, he threatened to dispatch Libyan suicide bombers to Europe in relation for the NATO bombings. “I told you it is an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” Gadhafi said.

He disappeared from public view, releasing video speeches until finally, as rebels closed in, transmitting only audio messages from hiding.

“I say to Crusader cowards, I live in a place you cannot reach,” he said during one broadcast. “I live in the hearts of millions. … If you kill my body, you cannot kill my soul.”

All along, he was unmoved by calls for his ouster, arguing that his authority transcended any official title.

“Moammar is not a president to leave his post,” he said. “Moammar is leader of the revolution until the end of time.”

The White House & Black Unemployment

The White House & Black Unemployment

Obama Is Stepping Up His Game

As Republican presidential candidates continued to rumble their way across the country, the Obama administration stepped up its game this week, publishing a Pathways to Opportunity report that outlined what the administration claims to have done and intends to do to get the unemployed back to work, and engaging with voters on the economy.

While President Obama embarked on the American Jobs Act bus tour, The Root hosted a live-streamed discussion Thursday with White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett and outgoing Domestic Policy Director Melody Barnes about poverty, and African American poverty in particular.

Jarrett and Barnes mostly repeated talking points from the report and promoted the jobs act as they fielded questions from a live audience and from Twitter and Facebook.

Jarrett said Republicans want to see the president fail, but the jobs bill isn’t about him. “This is about what’s good for our country,” she said.

Barnes said the president is resolved to keep pushing Republicans to pass the bill, but the senate rejected a scaled down version Thursday and the Associated Press reported that Democratic support for the measure is dwindling and “future votes on individual pieces of the measure … aren’t likely to fare better.”

Americans Are Fed Up With Government

To make matters worse for the incumbent president, a new Gallup poll suggests that Americans are more fed up with government than with business.

“Americans are more than twice as likely to blame the federal government in Washington (64%) for the economic problems facing the United States as they are the financial institutions on Wall Street (30%),” Gallup reported.

Why Now, Mr. President?

The Root’s Cynthia Gordy asked Jarrett and Barnes why the report and the jobs act are being introduced now.

“We decided to draft the report in many ways to respond to questions about what we have done,” said Barnes, before recounting ways she says the administration has been addressing poverty issues from “day one,” including the 2009 economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act, expansion of tax credits, summer jobs for youth, and health care reform.

“We’ve been working on this since we set foot in the White House,” said Barnes.

Barnes on Getting Out of the Hot Seat

Barnes also confirmed reports that she is leaving the administration at the end of the year to spend time with family and pursue private sector opportunities.

Asked what the most significant policy she developed is, Barnes said choosing would be like picking one child over another. Even so, she said she is especially proud of her work on education and described early, primary, and post-secondary education as a three-legged stool upon which to build success.

To illustrate her point, she recounted how her father went to college on the GI bill while she was a little girl and fondly recalled sitting next to him as he studied at the library. She also said her maternal grandmother worked in a tobacco factory and that her mother went to college on a scholarship

“Education changes lives; it changes communities,” said Barnes, as she expressed wonder at how it led to her own ascent to the White House.

Earlier she had recounted how “little old ladies at church” would tell her how proud they were of her, but would balk at the scope of her domestic policy task.

Jarrett affirmed Barnes’ passion, commitment, drive, and “second to none” breadth of policy knowledge. “If I go much further, we’ll both start crying, so I’m going to stop,” said Jarrett.

Is Obama Backing Away From People of Faith?

UrbanFaith asked (via Twitter) what the administration is doing to support the faith based groups that are filling in service gaps, and if the president is backing away from these groups? The broadcast ended before the question was answered, but the Democratic National Committee announced yesterday that it had hired Rev. Derrick Harkins, senior pastor of Washington D.C.’s historically Black Nineteenth Street Baptist Church, as its new director of faith outreach so, at least from a political standpoint, he appears ready to embrace them.

The Middle Class Is Recovering?

Meanwhile, at a Virginia stop on his bus tour, President Obama sounded positively conservative when he said, “It’s going to take time to rebuild the kind of America in which everybody has a fair shot, everybody is paying their fair share; where responsibility is rewarded; where the deck is not stacked against middle-class families.” He also claimed that the middle class is growing, solid, and secure again.

Is Obama Avoiding Black Communities?

But an article at Politico about tensions between the president and California Rep. Maxine Waters contrasted the Congressional Black Caucus’s summer jobs tour with Obama’s efforts, noting that he has largely avoided stops in Black cities and neighborhoods.

The Psychology of Black Unemployment

Setting aside the politics of Black unemployment for a moment, the North Dallas Gazette published a compelling article Thursday about its psychology. In it, University of Michigan Sociologist Alford Young Jr., Ph.D. said the stress of constantly thinking about supplementing insufficient income “provides an interesting spin on the long-standing notion that Black people, particularly lower income folk only live for today.”

The article said challenges remain, but researchers “retain their optimism for the future in part because of the past resiliency and creativity of the African American community.”

What do you think?

Has the Obama Administration avoided African American concerns or has the president done what he could in a political and social environment that rarely prioritizes them?