Two days ago I went to a combined theatre performance and action meeting in the Brakke Grond in Amsterdam in support of the the Libyan migrant Ahmed Al-J. (also referred to as Ahmed Issa) who has been at the center of years of court cases and juridical and technical researches about a fatal fire on October 27, 2005 in a detention center at Schiphol airport for migrants, waiting for the result of their appeal against planned extradition. Ahmed had at first been labeled by the court as the main culprit, because of a burning cigaret in his cell that set the whole section of the center aflame an left 11 people dead. Recently he has been acquited of this charge, as a whole series of management and construction mistakes have come to light, as result of a series of inquiries and counter-inquiries. I will not further detail this case too much here as the facts are widely known by now. The incessant support for the traumatized migrants by several action groups (of which at least two should be mentioned here Migrant To Migrant/M2M and All Included), lawyers and some politicians, have had some concrete results, but the essential question of who is to be held responsible for the fact that a single cigarette in a prison-like new facility can lead to so many victims, has still not been answered in a satisfactory way. Singling out the Libyan migrant and his cigaret has allowed to keep out of focus the planners, management and local authorities who have to control the safety of this detention facility (located at Schiphol Oost, originally build to house drug smugglers captured at the airport). Many see this as a form of scapegoating.
Detail of painting (1854) "The Scapegoat" by William Holman Hunt (1827-1910) Exiled animal that bears the sins of the Jewish people (according to the Old Testament) a white goat with woolen threads between his horn like a trickle of blood, symbolizing purity, prefiguring the Messiah wearing the crown of thorns. For the whole painting and a more detailed description at the Hungarian Web Gallery of Art, click the picture...
Ahmed Al-J. who has now officially been exempted from responsibility for the death of 11 people, has found no clemency for his ordeal of the last four years (of which he spent two in prison). He has been ordained to be sent back to Libya. This in spite of the fact that he and his lawyer have appealed against this decision by the ministry for migration affairs. If he is still in the Netherlands at the moment of me writing? This I do not know.
Another depiction of a purifying ritual by driving out a scapegoat that carries the problems and sins of a community, with the goat like demon Azazel in the middle. Antique Greece knew a similar ritual whereby pre-selected persons (a slave cripple or criminal), called 'pharmakos' (Greek: φαρμακος) would be expelled from the community at the occurence of a disaster or at pre-configured days of purification. The word 'pharmakos' later became a term for a healing potion or drugs, hence 'pharmakeus' and nowadays 'pharmacy'. At the right end a recent poster of the Free Ahmed Isa campaign, which reads: Schiphol keeps on burning (blows the fuses). "Thus the goat will bear al my faults.." Ahmed Isa scapegoat. Campaign Free Ahmed Issa.
Back to the theatre evening where three short performances were given, each of them by one actor in a monologue form. One by an Iranian migrant with a dance like performance about three generations of men being called into wars, especially referring to the mass slaughters of the Iran-Iraq War. Another, an attempt to give some insight in the inner soul of the protestant christian former Minister of Justice Donner who had abdicated because of his formal responsibility for the burned down detention center and is put on stage trying the Catholic system of confession to find redemption. The last actor was a descendent of a maroon tribe of run-away black slaves in the former Dutch colony of Surinam, who did a sort of ‘winti-pré’ (Surinam form of voodoo) about the officialdom hypocrisy embedded in the idea of “Dutch free citizenship.”
After these performances there was a modest attempt at discussion and a question what could or should be done. This brought into my mind a series of recurring odd associations during the last months and weeks, with Libya as a binding factor.
Here we had an absolute non glamorous, low profile most probably economic motivated migrant from Libya who had had lots of bad luck and had been forced into unwanted infamy and fame (Ahmed always have tried to keep his face hidden when entering court, and has tried hard to keep any picture of his face out of the newspapers). While elsewhere another Libyan – also both infamous and famous – Gaddafi (*) has been stealing again the international news shows. After having been re-introduced on the international stage, late 2007, by French President Sarkozy his star has been rising again. Sarkozy maneuvered the French state oil and energy company ELF/Total in a successful barter with Gaddafi exchanging wrongly accused Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian medic for new Libyan energy supplies and other favoring economic contracts.
It took another year before another President, Silvio Berlusconi, could not resist the historic opportunities and the money and energy reserves of Colonel Gaddafi and invited him for yet another reconciliation visit. The ‘acte the presence’ of the Libyan leader was once more overwhelming, but what stroke me the most was his show with a historical photograph pinned on his uniform, next to the battery of color-codified military medals, rubbing Italy’s colonial history straight in the face of its actual president at the very moment of his arrival. Then, shortly after, Gaddafi popped up as a guest at the G8 meeting and had a tête-à-tête with British prime minister Gordon Brown. Again a barter was made, this time a rightly accused and convicted countryman of Gaddafi, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, the Libyan convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, who in exchange for a Libyan energy deal, was abducted from the independent nation of Scotland – where he did his twenty years prison sentence – to be flown back to a glorious reception in Tripoli as a lost national hero.
Welcome party at Tripoli airport of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, one of the Lockerbie terrorists convicted to twenty years of imprisonment, relieved from prison for humanitarian reasons as he has a terminal stage of cancer on August 22, 2009. Gaddafi commented to the international press on the British prime minister and the Scottish parliament, calling the freeing "a courageous humanitarian gesture."
All these events and the images of them displayed in the media got connected in my mind – against all odds – with the case of the Libyan migrant in the Netherlands, who will await no happy crowds, who may need to fear for his well being once returned to his country. Visions came to me, in that Amsterdam theatre, where the question was posed what could be done for Ahmed Al-J…. I saw Ahmed being picked up by the Libyan leader with all his post-revolutionary pomp, the humiliation of the Dutch authorities, the oily business deals that would certainly be made on the side…. and a need arose to visualize all this, if it would not happen in real, to have it at least performed as a concrete fantasy on my and your screen… and some derivations following the history of the historical photograph pinned at the uniform of Colonel Gaddafi….
It is ex-minister of Justice Piet Hein Donner (middle left) who has the honor to accompany Colonel Gaddafi (middle right) during the inspection of the guard at Schiphol Airport, commanded by new strategic NATO commander Jeroen van der Veer (left foreground), with in the far left corner Profesor Pieter van Vollenhoven (chairman of the Transport Safety Board and member of the royal family) with his camera ready, to see to it that everything is handled correctly. Van der Veer wears the traditional green beret of the Dutch marines in his new military role at NATO, after having served with Royal Dutch Shell for three decades, last as Chief Executive Officer. Donner, who resigned in 2005 as minister of Justice after the fire in the Schiphol Detention Center that left 11 people dead - but was taken back in grace shortly after for another role of Minister of Social Affairs- wears the governmental decorations of repeated service to the nation, the 'orange earmuffs' (with the inscription: "non audi et alteram partem"). Van der Veen - in expectation of energy arrangements at the side - has instructed a multi-national battalion to unfold the standards of ENI, TOTAL and Shell as a subtle hint for the Colonel that nothing is for free in this world. The center of attention Ahmed Al-J. - the man who has recently be acquited from the charge of being responsible for the the fatallities of the detention center fire - does not attend the ceremony yet . He is waiting in his residence at the Schiphol Oost Detention center for the Colonel and his cortege arrive through the high security gate and to finally deliver him from Dutch state hospitality.
You are invited to study the above high resolution picture in all its details by clicking on it; a new window will open that allows you to have both an overview and also to study the details by clicking once more, which will show the picture full size; if possible try to enlarge your browser window to the maximum size; if needed use the sliding bars of your browser to pan through the big size tableau picture.
Gaddafi had pinned a color photograph of the Schiphol fire of the year 2005 to his uniform in a demonstration that for him the wounds of the neglect of migrant detenees by the government of the Netherlands still run deep. Gaddafi later told the journalists that this tragedy was "a cross for the Dutch Nation" without making any allusions to a tragedy that could have been called 'his own cross': the Lockerbie disaster of 1988 with its 270 casulaties. Happily minister Donner was still wearing his earmuffs at that moment, so a direct diplomatic embarrassment did not occur. Gaddafi has used similar emblematic tactics during his recent historical visit to Italy in June 2009, where he pinned to his uniform a historical photograph of Omar Al-Mukhtar, the Libyan resistance fighter during the colonial era who was hanged by the Fascist military government in Tripoli, a picture that showed Al-Mukhtar in chains at the time of his arrest in 1931. Click photograph for a full size view.
Ahmed Al-J. - for years consequently keeping his privacy with minimal means - waiting at the gate of the Detention Center for Migrants Schiphol Oost (nicely refurbished after the disaster of October, 25 2005, with protective high fences and electrical wires), being confused about where and what is the inside and outside of Dutch Control Society. Click the picture for a full size view.
June 14, 2009 Italian prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Colonel Gaddafi at Ciampino airport, Rome. A step to turn several pages of the past, from the Italo-Ottoman War from 1911-194 (which war saw the first aerial bombardments in history with bombs thrown by hand by Italian pilots on human settlements), the fascist occupation and colonization of Libya in the thirties and forties of last century and the American air strikes on Tripoli and Benghazi in 1986 in retaliation of Libyan (at first alleged and hard to prove) involvement in a series of terrorist attacks in Europe in the previous years (Achille Lauro cruise ship hijacking, Rome and Vienna airport attacks, West-Berlin disco visited by American servicemen).
The photograph Gaddafi was wearing at his arrival in Italy in June 2009. It shows the main leader of the resistance - Omar Mukhtar (Arabic عمر المختار ‘Umar Al-Mukhtār) (1862 - September 16, 1931) - against the Italian fascist colonization with its white supremacist violent policy that started in the year 1922. Before, there had been a period of Italian competition with what remained of the Ottoman empire in the North of Africa. A period with changing alliances between tribes and occupiers developing into some sort of civil war in the end. Omar al-Makhtar (also written as Umar...) was a Cyrenaican muslim tribesman that led for several years the struggle against Italian occupation. When he was finally captured in 1931 his importance and influence was so great that the Italian general Rodolfo Graziani choose to hang him in front of 20.000 forcefully gathered tribesmen. Good statistics of the number of victims of these decades of violence are hard to find. Some indication can be derived from the statistics on the Italian policy of area control, involving a concentration camp system in which a hundred thousand Libyans were imprisoned. Historians have estimated that more than half of these prisoners did not survive and some have labeled these gruesome events the "Italian Holocaust" (**) Click photograph for full size view.
Violence from the past needs to be acknowledged by the perpetrators of it, to purge the motivation to keep carrying this experience into the future by new violent acts. Comparisons of the number of victims, caused by one and another historical event, is seen as an amoral exercise by many. Nevertheless knowledge of the scale and impact of violence is essential for our understanding of causes and finding remedies. Several tens of thousands have found a violent death during the fascist Italian regime in Libya over two decades; 270 people died in a few seconds over and in the Scottish town of Lockerbie. Forty to sixty people are said to have died in the retaliation air strikes ordered by USA President Ronal Reagan in in Libya. The highjacked ship, airport attacks and disco bombing produced a total of approximate 20 dead. Click for full size view.
(*) Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi1 (Arabic: معمر القذافي Mu‘ammar al-Qaḏāfī; also known simply as Colonel Gaddafi; born 7 June 1942) has been the de facto leader of Libya since a coup in 1969; some of the many alternative spellings of his name are: Gadafi, Gadhafi, Qadhafi.
(**) One of my sources on the Italian violent colonization of Libya is “The making of modern Libya: state formation, colonization, and resistance …” by Ali Abdullatif Ahmida. Several pages can directly be viewed via Googlebooks.
(**) There is a dramatized rendering of the fight against the Italian occupiers of Libya in the feature movie “Lion of the desert” with Oliver Reed and Anthony Queen; directed and prduced by Moustapha Akkad in 1979, whose fate was to be killed in the hall of an American owned luxury hotel in Amman by a radical Islamic suicide bomb attack in 2005. It may be clear that this is – like almost all war movies – a propaganda film, this time from a radical Islam viewpoint with a big financial aid of the Gaddafi administration, now thirty years back.
A detailed description of the movie via a link... click the picture to go there