The “Body” Politic
The Libyan revolution was declared successful earlier this week as news that Muammar Gaddafi, (formerly) one of the longest reigning dictators of the modern era, was declared dead, ending all resistance against the revolutionary forces. The good news was slightly tarnished by the revelation of some less than desirable actions by the rebel forces, such as the abuse of prisoners in rebel-held prisons that are not yet under control of the transitional government, but it would appear that Libya has had a successful revolution so far. The transitional government is gearing up to start elections soon, and Libyans are happy.
With any successful revolution comes some catharsis. It was revealed recently that Gaddafi was not, as previously thought, simply killed in the crossfire of the final battle in his hometown, Srite. While he may have been injured in the fight, a series of extremely graphic cell-phone videos and pictures show a clearly living Gaddafi, blood streaming down his face, being pummeled by angry rebels while pleading for mercy. Other pictures show rebels attempting to sodomize him with what appears to be a gun barrel. Numerous human rights groups have condemned the killing; Amnesty International even suggested the possibility that it could be considered a war crime. Even after the transitional government seized the body, scores of people lined up to view the body and curse Gaddafi into the afterlife.
Gaddafi committed many atrocities during his life, and it is understandable that there is much pent-up rage at him for his abuses of Libya during his reign. However, he will always have supporters, and the grave of a terrible human being can, oddly enough, become a shrine with enough time and false nostalgia. The transitional council has yet to decide on an appropriate location for Gaddafi’s grave that will not attract attention; the need for such a site is evidenced by the large numbers of tourists who are still drawn to Benito Mussolini’s grave in Predappio, Italy. Much like Gaddafi, Mussolini’s body was desecrated by angry citizens; his body was hung from meat hooks in Milan until it was buried in an unmarked grave. However, the location was not hidden very well; supporters dug up his body and hid it for many years before burying it in Predappio at the request of Mussolini’s widow. Today, Mussolini’s grave is something of a pilgrimage site for neo-fascists.
Movements are greatly strengthened by the existence of a physical shrine. It allows followers to see their beliefs manifest in both the shrine itself and the attention it draws; the movement thus stops being an idea and acquires a political body. The need to avoid this type of worship of Gaddafi years down the line is tantamount, and the Libyan transitional council would do well to make sure that they dispose of Gaddafi’s body both quickly and well.