Oh, This Is Just Blissful

From A Proposal for Expanding the Dialogue around the Ideas of Muammar Qadhafi [pdf available through this page]:

2: Additional Expert Visits The project will include further visits of key experts for direct conversations with Muammar Qadhafi. For example:

• Benjamin Barber will return to clarify several questions from previous conversations with Muammar Qadhafi, including the problems with the Western term ‘civil society’ which suggests a separate, autonomous sphere separate from the sovereignty of the people.

• Lord Anthony Giddens will visit to deepen understanding of the merits and problems of direct democracy vs. representative democracy

• Frank Fukuyama remains very enthusiastic about the project and could be invited for a future visit to talk further about the challenges of direct democracy and Libya’s approach.

• We will also arrange additional visits by new experts. We have had positive preliminary conversations with Professor Cass Sunstein (Constitutional Advisor to Barack Obama) and others.

H/t CB.

The Webbs on the Show Trials

In honour of Anthony Giddens’ fine essay from the New Statesman in 2006 on “The Colonel and his Third Way“, I repost my favourite passage from the second edition of the Webbs’ Soviet Communism: A New Civilisation — the edition for which, famously, the question-mark was removed from the book’s original title:

“To many people in Great Britain, the outstanding feature of the record since 1934 is the series of trials of highly-placed Soviet citizens for high treason. That so many men in high official positions, mostly active participants in the revolution of 1917 and some of them companions of Lenin, should have committed such crimes has seemed to Western observers almost incredible. That in the course of the customary private investigations prior to the judicial trials the defendants should one and all have made full and detailed confessions unreservedly repeated in open court of the guilt not only of themselves but also of their fellow criminals seemed to raise the tragic story to the fantastic madness of a nightmare; it seemed that the confessions must have been forced on the prisoners by torture or the threat of torture.

“A distinguished Irishman hints that what needs explanation is the British procedure in criminal prosecutions, which differs so remarkably from that of all the other nations of Europe. In his view, the conduct of the prisoners in these Russian trials is in full accord with the Russian character. In England, our friend remarks, a prisoner indicted for treason is practically forced to go through a legal routine of defence. He pleads not guilty; his counsel assumes for him an attitude of injured innocence, demanding legitimate proof of every statement and setting up a hypothesis as to what actually happened which is consistent with the prisoner’s innocence. The judge compliments the counsel on the brilliant ability with which he has conducted his case. He points out to the jury that the hypothesis is manifestly fictitious and the prisoner obviously guilty. The jury finds the necessary verdict. The judge then, congratulating the prisoner on having been so ably defended and fairly tried, sentences him to death and commends him to the mercy of his God.

“May not this procedure, which seems so natural and inevitable to us, very intelligibly strike a Russian as a farce tolerated because our rules of evidence and forms of trial have never been systematically revised on rational lines? Why should a conspirator who is caught out by the Government, and who knows that he is caught out and that no denials or hypothetical fairy tales will help him to escape – why should he degrade himself uselessly by a mock defence, instead of at once facing the facts and discussing his part in them quite candidly with his captors? There is a possibility of moving them by such a friendly course: in a mock defence there is none. Our candid friend submits that the Russian prisoners simply behave naturally and sensibly, as Englishmen would were they not virtually compelled not to by their highly artificial legal system. What possible good could it do them to behave otherwise? Why should they waste the time of the court and disgrace themselves by prevaricating like pickpockets merely to employ the barristers? Our friend suggests that some of us are so obsessed with our national routine that the candour of the Russian conspirators seems grotesque and insane. Which of the two courses, viewed by an impartial visitor from Mars, would appear the saner?

“Nevertheless the staging of the successive trials, and the summary executions in which they ended appeared strangely inconsistent with the other actions of the Soviet Government. It must have been foreseen that this whole series of trials, the numerous shootings to which they led, the publicity and popular absue of the defendants which the Government apparently organised and encouraged, and especially the malignity with which Leon Trotsky, safe in far-off Mexico, was assailed, would produce a set-back in the international appreciation which the Soviet Union was increasingly receiving. The Soviet Government must have had strong grounds for the action, which has involved such unwelcome consequences.”

Source: Soviet Communism – A New Civilisation by Sidney and Beatrice Webb (Victor Gollancz, 1937), Postscript to the second edition.


I think Mahmood Mamdani’s essay in the LRB is well worth a read. I say “I think”, because I don’t really know a great deal about the history and politics of Sudan, or what’s likely to make things better or worse in Darfur in the near future. But it seemed interesting to me, in a gloomy kind of a way.

The People’s Car

Here’s a transcription of the English-language display that accompanies the exhibit of Colonel Gaddafi’s Volkswagen Beetle in the Tripoli Museum:

Vehicle, Volkswagen
Property of 2nd Lt- Moammar Ghedaffi
Veh. Reg. No. 23398 LB
Date 6/4/1967This vehicle has been part in serious events astonishing surprised travelled thousands of kilometers crossed valleys plains villages cities rural zones lanes and avenues. All over the country during ember years which Moammar Ghedaffi lived underground in a journey of 4000 days of clandestine activities.

This vehicle has carried manuscripts, secrets and men.

It was kept under closed watch, controlled observation, hot pursuits and investigations by oppressive military and security services of the defunct regime.

More than one warrant and more than an enquiry have been launched about it in several regions from Benghazi to Brega from Abugrem to Sirta, Tripoli, Sebha, Deran Zarwia and Beida.

This vehicla suffered failures, collision courses, incidents, halted journeys in difficult circumstances and hard times full of dangers that waylay it.

In more than once, carrying instigating circulars, such as the circular distributed by the Leader himself in Tripoli streets on behalf of workers calling the masses to rebel and revenge. At other time, transporting organisational and ideological pamphlets to build and inspire the free Unionist Officers.

It was embodied the simplicity in confronting the Mercedes-Benz car which has incarnated clamor haughtiness and false arrogance.

There were great differences between both cars, while the Volkswagen was rolling up time and distances to bring closer the salvation day, the Mercedes was moving between right club, gambling halls and military bases by agents of the Italians, Americans and British in the defunct regime. All paid from the Libyan people’s wealth. The people were suffering from poverty, oppression, sleeping on the ground, and protecting themselves from heat and cold by zinc panels under yoke of an agent regime that had lost sovereignty, will and legitimacy. Whereas it infiltrated to the country from abroad in the darkness under the cover of charlatanism, heresy and perversion under the protection of colonization.

This car as simple, normal and popular as it is shall be one of the flagrant public eye witnesses about the journey of four thousand plays clandestine action.

Glory to the Revolutionary Moammar Gheddafi, Leader of the Great El Fateh of the 1st September 1969.

Department the Morale Guidance.

Couldn’t have put it better myself.


I’m back.

A group of us academic types were off in Libya last week, seeing things like this, this, this, this and this, seeing all kinds of images of Colonel Gaddafi, and eating lots and lots of Libyan Soup. (Recipe by Delia here.)

It was all splendid.

And we all seemed to manage to cope for eight or nine days without booze admirably, and with no funny and/or distressing side effects.

Life Imitating Art

Over the last few days we were off in Morocco visiting the archaeologists who were playing “Mafia” (scroll down to “here’s how Mafia works”) and digging up the lower slopes of the site at Volubilis; hence no blog activity. And I learned that there’s something slightly strange about walking across the tarmac with your beloved at Casablanca airport to get onto the plane that will take you North.

In any case, I wasn’t at all tempted to stay behind with a French police officer.