Yesterday, BBC Radio Five Live disgraced itself on Libya.

When BBC radio presenters creepily dwell on the ‘disturbing’ way Gaddafi met his end as if to show they ‘care’ or are graciously reminding us all of higher civilised values, they show only their contempt for Libyan suffering - and their stunning ignorance of the world outside their cosy studios.

Libyans celebrate the death of a man who was a monster.
Charles Crawford
On 21 October 2011 10:25

Yesterday BBC Radio Five Live disgraced itself.

As the news and images of Gaddafi's bloody death started to circulate on the Internet BBC presenters scrambled to find an angle different from the obvious one, namely that at long last a repulsive dictatorship had been toppled and that this was a good thing. 

Easy! “Some people" were finding the images of dead Gaddafi “disturbing". Was this an act of "vengeance"?

Think about the subliminal insinuations going on here. The very questions posed are leading us to the notion that the moral content of the historic collapse of the Gaddafi regime is defined by the sensibilities of Western middle-class people who don't like looking at dead bodies.

And/or that vengeance itself is something disreputable and unworthy, to the point of calling into question the whole uprising against Gaddafi and (of course) Western support for it. Cameron lied, Gaddafi died!

We know in fairly good detail the extent of the depravity and cruelty of the Gaddafi regime over four decades. We are unlikely to know precisely how he met his end. Options include:

He was shot on the direct orders of someone senior in the new Libyan leadership after news of his capture got to Tripoli

He was shot under a general order that if captured he should not be kept alive

He was shot by accident in some sort of scuffle

He was shot by someone enraged that different members of his family had died or been tortured under the Gaddafi regime

He was shot by someone who saw that Gaddafi was in extreme pain from his earlier wounds and decided to put him out of his misery

One way or the other, different Twitter and other voices are now being heard expressing revulsion or concern at the way Gaddafi died. Surely he should have had a fair trial? If this is the new Libyan-style democracy, God help Libya! Oh, and we aren’t so ‘democratic’ either – we sell arms to tyrants!

What’s malevolent about this whole line of thought is that it is detached from any sense of process, of cause and effect and how societies develop over time.

Gaddafi had 40 years of almost unchallenged personal power and latterly huge oil revenues. He could have used some of that power to impart to Libyans core principles of fair trials, fairness, moderation and equity. Instead he peddled brutality, vulgarity and stupidity on a colossal scale, at the same time helping all sorts of terrorist groups to murder people elsewhere.

The costs of this sort of behaviour compounded up over a long time, not least in the way Libyans themselves looked at what he represented. It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that every Libyan will have had a family member unlawfully brutalised by the Gaddafi regime at some point in the past 42 years.

How could an end to this madness come other than violently? Our own liberal values evolved over centuries with plenty of executions and torture along the way. Why should Libyans after this horrendous experience be somehow immediately expected to show or even know anything about the self-restraint and sensibility of the average BBC Islingtonian?

When ordinary Libyans confronted him with massed demands for a change of course, Gaddafi reverted to violence again, and in a last gesture of defiance or self-delusion decided not to try to flee into exile. He chose to kill Libyans to try to stay in power. Making a last stand he was killed himself.

How precisely that finally happened is essentially irrelevant and unimportant. It says precisely nothing at all about how Libya will develop in the years to come. Yes, it would be bad if anyone the new government disliked was summarily shot. Is that really likely to happen? No.

Take the supposedly worst-case scenario, namely that a direct order for his death came from the Libyan leadership to those who had captured Gaddafi. What in fact is so bad about that? Maybe the new Libyan leadership took the view that after all the horror it would be much better for Libya to end the Gaddafi story there and then, rather than go through laborious Milosevic-like wrangling over international or national justice and a trial dragging on over months if not years.

Yes, the images of Gaddafi were ‘disturbing’ to people in the UK who have had the good fortune to go through life seeing almost no victims of violence. But there are different levels of ‘disturbing’ going well beyond the BBC chattering classes’ imagination.

Think about the impact on the relatives of Gaddafi’s victims if they had had to watch him on trial for months on end, spitefully trampling on the memory of those victims as his preening human rights defence lawyers earned millions.

Conclusion? When BBC radio presenters creepily dwell on the ‘disturbing’ way Gaddafi met his end as if to show they ‘care’ or are graciously reminding us all of higher civilised values, they show only their contempt for Libyan suffering - and their stunning ignorance of the world outside their cosy studios.

Charles Crawford was British Ambassador in Sarajevo, Belgrade and Warsaw. He is now a private consultant and writer: He tweets at @charlescrawford   

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