Like most of us on the West Coast, I awoke yesterday morning to news that Muammar el-Qaddafi had been killed in Surt by rebel forces and/or a NATO airstrike. I admit my heart jumped for a moment, pleased as I was to contemplate a Libya no longer wracked by civil war or the bizarre and weirdly personal violence perpetrated by its mercurial dictator. Then, later in the day, I clicked on a slide show to the side of Qaddafi's NY Times obituary and saw the photo of his lifeless body. Yep, that looks like him, all right. Another, disquieting pair of feelings struck me: sympathy and sadness. I didn't want to feel sympathy for this monster of a despot. And yet, viewing this battered wreckage of a human life, it struck me once again that the loss of life--any life--is sad. Qaddafi's death may save thousands, and I'd hesitate ever to argue that the sacrifice of his life was worth it. I'd say it was. But however delusional and destructive he was, he was a human, too.
Today, news headlines report that Qaddafi's body is being preserved pending an investigation into the circumstances of his death. International observers have called for an inquiry into whether he was killed as a result of the airstrike or other military engagement (an act of war) or summarily executed (vigilante justice). Again, I find my emotions conflicted. Much of me wants to say it doesn't really matter. He was a terrible, terrible man. Despite the sadness of losing any human life, he needed to removed forever from hurting his people, and his death has accomplished that. However: I hope for a world that protects human life under universal principles of justice. It perches us upon a slippery slope to argue that justice can be overlooked in one case because the individual involved is reprehensible. If we want to rise above the type of brutality that characterizes the reigns of dictators everywhere, we must place ourselves upon a higher pedestal.
Libya faces a golden opportunity to create a new society forged upon justice and good government. I pray they can accomplish what they have set out to achieve.