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The Lynching of Libya

NEW YORK – Many would say that Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi got what he deserved. Live by the sword, die by the sword.

The Libyan tyrant happily allowed his opponents, or anyone who annoyed him, to be tortured or killed. So it seems only right that he died with summary violence. After being hunted down in a dirty drainpipe, he was displayed like a bloody trophy before being battered and shot by a lynch mob. And it happened in his hometown of Sirte. This is primitive justice, to be sure, but how else could justice be done to a mass murderer?

Yet there is something deeply disturbing about a lynching, regardless of the victim. Even as cheering crowds in Sirte and Tripoli were rejoicing at the despot’s death, others voiced doubts over the manner of his humiliating end. The French public intellectual Bernard-Henri Lévy, who had promoted the Libyan revolution with a strong dose of narcissistic showmanship, wrote that the lynching of Qaddafi “polluted the essential morality” of the people’s rebellion.

One might quibble with this description. As in all violent revolutions, the morality of the dictator’s opponents was never entirely without blemish. The rebels, who reduced Qaddafi’s birthplace to rubble, were in some cases as ruthlessly brutal as the men against whom they were fighting.