Even Gaddafi deserves compassion


No Mercy: The Final Moments of GaddafiPresident Barack Obama declared that 'justice has been done' when he announced to the world on 1 May that America's most wanted man, Osama bin Laden, had been killed.

There's no doubt he was echoing popular sentiment in his own country. That's what politicians do. But it wasn't true. Justice had not been done. Indeed the chance that bin Laden might one day face justice in a court of international law was lost with his assassination by US agents in Abbottabad.

Early Friday morning Australian time, Obama gave the corresponding speech for the death of the Libyan tyrant Muammar Gaddafi. To the extent that the two deaths are comparable, the Gaddafi speech was more truthful than the bin Laden one. Obama did not so much as mention the word justice.

His matter of fact message was simply that Gaddafi is dead, and his death 'marks the end of a long and painful chapter for the people of Libya, who now have the opportunity to determine their own destiny in a new and democratic Libya.'

The sombre tone was appropriate, as was his implicit distinction between the Gaddafi regime and Gaddafi the man. The regime was odious, while the man undoubtedly suffered from some form of mental illness that had unspeakably tragic consequences for the people of Libya.

He was human and deserved a degree of compassion. Obama did not spell this out but made it clear that he was welcoming the demise of the regime rather than that of the human being behind it. 

What is worrying is the jubilation of Libyans themselves. It is understandable, but it leaves no room for compassion for the man, whose state of mental torture caused so much pain. On Friday morning Al Jazeera was reporting that Gaddafi had been further humiliated when his lifeless and bloodied body was dragged along a road. Over the weekend it only got worse as we read that his body was on display in a commercial freezer at a shopping centre.

The celebratory nature of the response bodes ill for the future of national unity, in that Gaddafi supporters will continue to feel antagonised rather than included.

United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon was resigned to the reality that 'In the coming days, we will witness scenes of celebration as well as grief for those who lost so much'. But he stressed it is the time for all Libyans to come together because 'Libyans can only realise the promise of the future [through] national unity and reconciliation'.

If, in any sense, Libyans believe they achieved justice with the death of Gaddafi, it will certainly be lost if national unity fails.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Michael Mullins, Gaddafi, Obama, Osama bin Laden, Libya, Ban ki-moon, national unity



submit a comment

Existing comments

What a waste of an article. Even a graduate educated person like myself can see the 'white supremist' bias on every line of your article.

R.I.P Gaddafi you died as a hero!

Malik Khan | 24 October 2011  

This is an interesting take on the death of Gaddafi. Does it imply that we can assume that all murderous tyrants who make life an intolerable nightmare for thousands of people are the sad victims of a mental illness? (Margaret Thatcher in the Faulklands, George Bush in Iraq, for example). If this is so it augers well for Eternity where, no doubt, The Great Compassion will absolve all miscreants on the basis of mental illness and welcome them to His table. It might be that death for Gaddafi was indeed a great and compassionate justice in that he could not consequently suffer perhaps for years in soul-destoring captivity subject to torture and hopelessness. The great injustice to me is that he was not brought to trial. I am sure the Creator will dispense justice and compassion in His judgement. I wonder if such a thing as eternal punishment does exist or alternatatively that we can all plead undiagnosed mental illness as the cause of our bastardry to others of God's creation and receive that in the hereafter characterised by eternal reward at God's table?

john frawley | 24 October 2011  

An excellent article showing a deep level of pastoral concern & compassion. I was chastised by colleagues when I suggested that we ought to pray for Osama bin Laden and his family at the morning office the day that his death was announced: somehow I think that we have missed something fundamental in our Christian tradition if we cannot even show love to sinners - not to negate the atrocities committed by these characters - but "vengeance is mine" says the Lord. Thanks for a great article, Michael.

Mathew Crane | 24 October 2011  

Good article. thanks. I fear that the Libyans may have deposed one leader and they may get a leader and government even worse than Gaddifi. I hope not.

Trent | 24 October 2011  

This was a stimulating article. What immediately popped into my mind was the question about his family who so strongly supported him -- did they have the same mental illness.....I think not. Did Hitler warrant compassion because of mental illness...Stalin? Although my feelings on this subject of Justice and Gaddafi are far from clear, I suspect that any thoughts I have, and any thoughts Mullins has, are universes away from comprehending the immediate human response of people so profoundly and dreadfully injured in mind, body and soul by cruel dictators. I'm sure those bullets and degradations towards Gadaffi were responses to rape, murder, torture of loved ones. Calm evaluation of human rights and conciliatory national futures simply would -- and I think, could not -- come into it.

Jane | 24 October 2011  

Obama is the president of a nation that prides itself on its almost daily killings of convicts, that, as Mullins says, murdered Bin Laden, that also murdered one of their own citizens who also doubles as an agent of terror against the USA and, along with the entire West, was more than happy to deal with Gaddafi while the oil flowed and the business dealings rolled on.

Hardly an ethical nation or president in the first place, although, in fairness to both, hardly unique in the world.

I wonder about those who cry for Gaddafi, like Hilary Clinton, and others who are 'concerned' about the manner of his death.

No doubt they would also have been horrified at the deaths of Mussolini and Ceau?escu?

Or, should the North Koreans ever wake up to their leader, the public demise and humiliation of that 'tortured soul'?

Given that we live in a world of hypocrites and double standards regarded as international norms, it seems entirely appropriate that Gadaffi should die in the manner he seems to have done.

Death by cross-fire seems a bit limp for the man and it is far more likely that it was cross fire, from cross people.

Let that be a lesson for those who aspire to despotic rule.

Harry Wilson | 24 October 2011  

Compassion NO, justice YES

Beat Odermatt | 24 October 2011  

Michael Mullins is undoubtedly a good editor for Eureka Street. Hia statement that Gaddafi "undoubtedly suffered some form of mental illness" undoubtedly shows Mullins' questionable accuracy as a psychiatric diagnostician. I am unable to understand Christian people who find it difficult, if not impossible, to accept that some people choose evil actions above just and humane actions. Surely the extremes of the human personality are good and evil, with a myriad of choices of action in between the two?

caroline Storm | 24 October 2011  

There's something so very simple, clear cut, clinical and ever so 'just' about the ancient Lex Talionis. It's the unforgiving response of tribal law to the unforgivable. And it's so comfortable to root one's eschatology in the dispassionate 'Sic semper Tyrannis' when thinking about the Gaddafis of this world. That's the easy and ever so pragmatic option - taken, it seems, by the tribesmen. The hard one, for those with the stomach, is that of Christ and the scandalous counter-logical imperative of his Gospel: no sin is unforgivable; no one, regardless of whatever crime(s) should be consigned to humanity's garbage dump. Justice untempered by mercy and compassion is not justice at all but a mere convenience.

David Timbs | 24 October 2011  

With several of the earlier commentators, I query Michael's assertion that Gaddafi suffered from a mental illness. I recognise that this is possible, but on what basis does Michael offer this "undoubtable" assertion?

I hope this is not an over-reach of compassion for the tyrant. Can our understanding of history stand similar revisions for past tyrants, including Mao, Hitler, and Stalin to list only the first three names that come to mind from the 20th century?

However, what is most galling in the international protestation about the apparent extra-judicial killing of Gaddafi is the extra emphasis this killing has received compared with the accusations of being Gaddafi's mercenaries levelled by the "liberators" against the hapless African migrant workers who didn't flee the country.

How many African migrant workers now suffering as accused mercenaries under the "liberators" does it take to get equal international concern as the killing of this one tyrant?

Ian Fraser | 24 October 2011  

Others have picked up nicely on the unfortunate use of the word, 'undoubtedly'. Yep, most of us reckoned he was mad, in the layperson's sense of the word. But did he do the dreadful things he did, live the horrible life he lived because he was mad or because he was nasty? Did the illness cause the evil-doing, or was he ill and coincidentally evil - just another horrible person who happened to be mentally ill? (If, indeed he actually was mentally ill.) And what kind of illness? Psychopathy? Narcissus Complex? Depression? Well, probably not depression. The other worrying remark ...'whose state of mental torture caused so much pain...' really must be challenged. What evidence is there that he suffered from mental torture? None. Not a shred. Give me strength. And just one more thing. The word 'deserved' has been much-used and abused, especially in recent years. Has it been redefined? Surely Gaddafi got what he 'deserved'. And it was merciful, really. Imagine how horrible it would have been for him to have had to face up to incarceration and trial, and eventually, if the trial had taken place in Libya, the mental torture of waiting, day after day,for the firing squad?

Kate Ahearne | 25 October 2011  

Mad dictator syndrome again. Of course you couldn't possibly understand him, Michael, but nevertheless you do accept him because he was a human. How very generous. No, I don't think so. Gaddafi was just a man who carried within his heart all the demons of Hell - just like all men do.

DavidSt | 25 October 2011  

Yes, this is not acceptable. Only Libyans can say anything on their beloved president - Muammar Gaddafi and not anyone as commented by US President Barack Obama.
R.I.P President Muammar Gaddafi

Godfred Mutagwaba | 25 October 2011  

Hello Godfred. Are you joking? I don't understand. Please declare yourself. Where can we find other remarks from you that might give us a better idea about where you're coming from?

Kate Ahearne | 27 October 2011  

To rejoice or not to rejoice - that is the question. It is the same question asked when the question of capital punishment is raised. There is a tendency to look to the horror of the crime or the odiousness of the criminal. Whereas one has to look to the self and ask - would i want to live in a country that practised judicial killing? Would I want to live in a country that rejoiced so blodthirstedly in the demise of their erstwhile leader? No - I would not be proud or feel safe in either place.

Graham Patison | 27 October 2011  

I have read the reactions to this article and find some of the language offensive. Whether you agree with Michael or not he is entitled to his view as you are to yours. And my view: whether Ghadaffi was insane or not, and whatever he did or did not do to others, is it right for a human being to be butchered in revenge?

Sue | 28 October 2011  

It seems quite likely that Gaddafi was suffering some mental illness, and therefore warrants our sympathy. That sickness, however, was visited on his people and the whole world for several decades.

An economically efficient and logistically practical, resolution of this situation has occurred.

I am certainly not qualified to comment on the 'justice' of this happenstance; I do note, however, that when a cow is slaughtered, we can all be assured that our hunger will soon be salved.

David Arthur | 29 October 2011  

Similar Articles

Gillard's grotesque people smuggler sledge

  • Binoy Kampmark
  • 04 November 2011

So-called people smugglers are often penniless teenagers who are simply a link in the chain for those who are seeking legitimate asylum. The Government's new retrospective law will punish such individuals for an act that was legal at the time it was committed.


What matters in Qantas confrontation

  • Brian Lawrence
  • 01 November 2011

The Qantas industrial dispute is likely to make a major contribution to the history of Australian industrial relations. The important issue is whether Qantas should have been required to threaten substantial damage to itself and to the national economy before it could gain access to arbitration.



Subscribe for more stories like this.

Free sign-up