This week marks the fall of a regime that has existed throughout my entire life. After 42 years of dictatorial rule, Muammar Gaddafi has been toppled as leader of the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya – better known as Libya.
Throughout Gaddafi’s time in power, Libya was linked to gun running, state sponsored terrorism and support of terrorist organisations. The country was strategically bombed in an attempt to destroy weapons caches, subject to international sanctions and literally became a pariah in the west.
In recent years, Gaddafi renounced terror, managed (with the support of the British Government) to free the Libyan citizen imprisoned in a Scottish gaol for the Lockerbie bombing and even assumed the position of head of the United Nations Human Rights Commission.
Yes that’s right, Libya was the chair of the United Nations Human Rights Commission, even though NATO justifies its current military engagement in Libya on the basis of human rights abuses!
Unfortunately, as a younger man I was witness to some of these abuses first hand. In my early 20s I spent some months in Libya, working on the construction of a conference centre in Gaddafi’s home town of Sirte.
I saw a repressed citizenry, haunted by secret police and state informants, indoctrinated with a pathological hatred of America and a fear of their own government.
When Gaddafi came to town, the army would ‘round up’ the locals to provide a spontaneous show of support for the dear leader. Those who didn’t jump, shout and celebrate to a standard befitting a colonel were jabbed in the back with military weapons. The implication for continued non-performance was very clear.
Of course it was only men who were in the crowd.
There were no women to be seen, anywhere at any time. The closest we came to seeing a female form was the burqa-clad silhouettes drifting along behind their ‘master’. Teenage girls were nowhere to be seen and we were advised that, upon reaching puberty, they were locked away until a suitable marriage could be arranged.
Notwithstanding the inexcusable brutality of the Gaddafi regime, to me, this subjugation of women to the status of chattels was one of the most offensive of his domestic rule. I regret to say that such treatment of women is not confined to Libya alone.
There are repressive regimes throughout the world where women are treated in a similar fashion. In some, our soldiers are fighting for their emancipation while in others, too often we turn a blind eye or mouth banal platitudes about the despicable practice of female genital mutilation (FGM), honour killings, modern day slavery and the denial of basic rights (like allowing women to drive).
If it took 42 years for the West to take action to support the toppling of a murderous dictator – after rewarding him with the chairmanship of a key UN committee – what chance do we have of making a difference in all these other nations?
Well, we can start at home. We should be prosecuting the culprits responsible for the hundreds of women reporting to Australian hospitals with cases of FGM every year. We should have zero tolerance for the arranged marriages forced upon some young Australian women and we should be scathing in our condemnation of familial or cultural denial of the equality of women to men.
Unfortunately, for many who support the ‘equivalence of culture’ theory, to act against repression of this kind at home would be to question their commitment to the divisive creed of multiculturalism.