The Arab Spring continues to prove the truth of a simple fact. All people, no matter who they are, where they’re from or what they believe, have at least one thing in common: We, as humans, all wish to be free. While it’s generally reprehensible to celebrate the death of a human being, I think the death of Col. Moammar Gadhafi, the late caudillo who had oppressed the Libyan people since 1969, is an exception.
Before his death, when he was no longer the country’s unquestioned leader, Gadhafi became a symbol. To the long-suffering Libyan people — and, by extension, to the people of other Arab nations — he stood for all the oppression, all the violence, all the crimes against humanity, all the evils perpetrated against his countrymen in an effort to hold on to his absolute power. As he and his sons systematically pillaged his country’s natural resources for personal gain (including a personal Airbus A340 and a stake in the prominent soccer club Juventus), Libya’s economy suffered. As he and his sons tightened their hold on the political system, all opposition was silenced.
Gadhafi’s death is, by metonymy, the death of those oppressive conditions. While he remained alive and free, the specter of tyranny remained, lurking in the shadows and haunting the memories of all those who had lived through his rule. When Libyans saw the photos of Gadhafi’s bloodied body, they did not see a dead man; they saw the death of autocracy and, with it, the rise of Libertas from the ashes. They were free to do the most foolish — but the most powerful — of things: to dare to hope that now, maybe now, after so many years of destroyed aspirations, they would be able to taste the joys of freedom.
“There are moments when the will of a handful of free men breaks through determinism and opens up new roads,” Charles de Gaulle once said. The Arab Spring is one of those moments: It’s the manifestation of the angry will of brave men who believed there was something more than being crushed under the boot-heels of autocrats. It was men like Mohamed Bouazizi — men who dared to believe that they deserved to be free — who decided that enough was enough and catalyzed the popular uprisings that have begun. The people of the Arab Spring have channeled their frustration into action.
With Gadhafi’s death, the people of the Arab Spring can justifiably celebrate a victory. Now that Libyans have cleansed the stain of oppression from their political landscape, there is, for the first time, truly a chance for democracy in that country. However, Gadhafi’s departure also serves as proof to dissenters in other countries (for example, Yemen) that no matter how long a single man has served as an obstacle on the path to freedom, it’s possible to oust him from power.
It may be wrong to celebrate the death of a human being. But Col. Gadhafi’s death is different. When I say I’m glad he’s gone, I’m not rejoicing in the mere fact that he has died; I’m rejoicing because liberty has a chance. I’m rejoicing because even though I don’t know whether the efforts of Libyan rebels to install a democracy will succeed, I know it’s possible. I’m rejoicing because people who were had been denied basic human rights now have a chance to secure them. I’m rejoicing on behalf of those who believed that there had to be something better — those who dared to be free.
Patrick Toth is a sophomore in Morse College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.