As the tectonic plates of revolution amplify the pressure on Moammar Gaddafi’s regime, they burp out pieces of life—small scraps of personality that unwittingly remind us of the great oppressor’s humanity. These mementos point out our shreds of hypocrisy in the mental-moral complexes we’ve constructed that define how megalomaniacs should exist in the modern world.
A video released September 7th by Reuters reportedly features a home video (circa 2005) filmed inside Gaddafi’s Bab al-Aziziya compound in Tripoli. According to a US cable unearthed by WikiLeaks, the compound, labelled a nature area and zoo on official maps, afforded the leader a low-profile retreat: “[the] compound has facilities for banquets and other public events, but it is not lavish in any way compared with the ostentation of the Gulf oil state families or Hariri clan.”
The video, a compilation of several clips lastly around four minutes, shows two young children on a couch in an open-air tent in the compound (a billionaire dictator chooses to relax in a tent?). The young boy stirs from his nap as Colonel Gaddafi sits down and begins to laugh and make faces with his granddaughter.
A translation of the dialogue in the video is available, but we don’t need it—kisses blown by a child are universal, even if they’re being blown at a man accused of crimes against humanity.
Initially, our focus narrows to a grandfather’s relationship with his son’s children. If we didn’t know this guy’s name, we wouldn’t care. But by 30 seconds in, our minds begin to invoke reason, moving from an ephemeral response prompted by human nature to a response straining the limits of rationality. In the absence of an easy answer, we permit/validate the Colonel to feel—all humans may inherit pleasure, and Moammar Gaddafi is a human, therefore, he’s allowed to indulge the simple pleasure of family.
In the next cut, we watch as a relative awkwardly hands Colonel Gaddafi his grandson, a boy too large to be held for very long. Qaddafi lifts him under his arms, cradling him for several seconds before setting him down, only to be picked up again by another woman. We again try to quash the lurking feeling of familiarity.
It’s hard not to draw parallels between these videos and the home movies shot by Eva Braun showing Hitler’s softer moments with his beloved dog, Blondi. In these early color clips, Hitler showers affection on Blondi in a bizarrely humane fashion, symbolically revealing an otherwise missing dimension of character. If we didn’t know Hitler’s legacy, these videotapes would be normal. We wouldn’t care.
Both Gaddafi and Hitler made decisions in power (read: committed genocide) that cause viewers to interpret their breakthrough “moments of humanity” in different ways. But unlike Hitler, the morality of Gaddafi’s movies isn’t so cut and dry. Just like the kids present at Bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound the night of the raid, dictators have families too.
Three of Gaddafi’s grandchildren were killed in NATO airstrikes in May. Does our interpretation of this slice-of-life change when we’re told that Gaddafi covered the entrance to bunkers underneath his compound with a children’s playset?
Perception is tough, and morality’s even tougher, but neither is black and white.