No tears were shed for Muammar Gaddafi when we assembled for hen-cleaning this morning. However, it has to be said that most of us were uneasy about the manner of his death having seen footage of a gloating mob kicking and beating him, not to mention stealing souvenirs from his still-alive body. There can be little doubt that he was then summarily executed, all of which tells us something about those who served in the so-called rebel army. Call us old-fashioned if you will but we believe in a rather more formal form of justice.
But the fact remains that the ghastly dictator has gone and Libya is ‘free’. Now comes the tricky part, for the temptation will be for new-age military heroes such as David Cameron to place troops on the ground the moment it becomes apparent that the Islamist fighters, who comprised the bulk of the revolutionary army, begin to exert their new found authority. Most of them were previously in the al-Qaeda-linked Libyan Fighting Group and have made little secret of their desire to see Libya embrace Sharia law as the cornerstone of its new system. There will in due course be a battle royal between them and the secular liberals who long for western-style democracy. Whether the battle becomes one of words or deeds remains to be seen.
Either way, national cohesion will prove problematic; Libya is an enormous country, four times the size of Iraq, and difficulties in communication serve to entrench local sympathies and attitudes. Its people are deeply tribal and several tribes – among them the Warfalla, one of the largest – remain loyal to Gaddafi. Add to all this the fact that many of Libya’s cities are now awash with weapons as a result of arming the citizenry in its fight against the old regime and the further fact that the new government’s divided security apparatus will struggle to exert control over factions which have already made clear that they do not accept the composition of the interim government. Ominously the al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri, the successor to Bin Laden, yesterday promised to champion the “Libyan jihad”.
I found myself nodding when listening to Rees-Mogg on last night’s ‘Question Time”. He welcomed the downfall of Gaddafi but expressed total opposition to further involvement in this or any other war. He made the point that there is no longer a British empire, and we have to end our pretentions of still being a major player on the world stage. He clearly recoiled from suggestions from the audience that we should now move in on Syria and other equally appalling regimes. We haven’t the resources, we haven’t the right.
If Mr Rees-Mogg has read the new book published by Jeremy Paxman he will have realised that he is not alone in his thinking. Paxman’s ‘Empire’ examines what once ruling the world has done to the British. Our imperial history, Paxman claims, is no more than the smell of mothballs in a long-unopened wardrobe. Britain is now in irresistable decline yet we still wear plumed hats, award ourselves Orders of the ‘British Empire’, and have monarchs who drive in golden carriages. Noithing wrong with any of that provided we are not caught up in delusions of grandeur.
Incidentally, ‘Empire’ contains many horrific examples of the way our ancestors behaved during those long-gone glory days. The accounts of our handling and treatment of slaves quickly disperse any notion that at least we were once great in the truest sense of the word. Of course we are far from the only nation with a chequered history, but we do seem to be the only one that imagines deep down that we can still rule the world with a gunboat, always assuming that we still have one.
We were right to help the Libyan people but we would be well advised to step back now. If we escalate our involvement we will almost certainly be drawn into yet another conflict with no end. Do we really want another Iraq or Afghanistan? Is it our responsibility? Instead of focussing on foreign shores, and decidedly dubious, partners David Cameron should perhaps give attention to the horrendous mess into which we have plunged.
It is not of course just our distant shame of Empire that we should prefer to forget. It is a relatively short time since Blair literally embraced Gaddafi and followed that up with a further six visits. Small wonder that, however unfairly, some leading Americans argue that the role we play is a cynical one. As is theirs of course.
So farewell Gaddafi and, if we have any sense, farewell and good wishes to Libya!
CRICKET; WE AREN’T AS GOOD AS WE IMAGINE!
Next to hens, cricket occupies pride of place in many a codger’s heart, and we were delighted by the performance of our one-day international team during the latter part of the summer. I confess that we tended to regard the Indians as a busted flush, a victim of the new Cook-led all conquering England stars.
Now we are suffering a rude awakening. Yesterday India won the third match in the five match series being played in India, and although the England performance was an improvement over the first two thrashings we still had no answer to Dhoni and the rest.
Hindsight is of course a great gift but some of us did question the inclusion as wicket-keeper of Kieswetter, the exclusion of Anderson, and we were unhappy about the growing tendency toward so-called sledging.
There is still every reason for optimism but hopefully our feet are back on the ground. Whilst there we should concentrate on beating our opponents rather than abusing them!