“What did I ever do to you?” came the plea. “Do you know right from wrong?” Most people have now seen the clips of Colonel Gaddafi being dragged to his death, frazzled and bedraggled like some low-life drag queen wearing yesterday’s makeup. Can I be alone in feeling sympathy for the man? It’s not that he didn’t deserve the red-hot poker treatment the mob seemed intent on delivering, as he tried to claim. No doubt he perpetrated worse atrocities in his secret prisons, not to mention Pan Am 103. The lynching may have been rough justice, but it was justice all the same. Still, I can’t help feeling his pain more than that of his victims; I imagine myself as him, not them. We never actually saw those victims, of course, and sight incites pity. But the fact remains that I’m particularly moved by the fall of evil men—Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic, Bernie Madoff, they all do it for me. Maybe I’m just a maniac. After all, “there but for the grace of God go I” is an odd sentiment to have in these cases unless you’re actually thinking of becoming a dictator. But I think what really touches me is the thought of Gaddafi, the archetypal freedom-fighter turned tyrant, undergoing in those final fraught moments what Aristotle calls anagnorisis, the recognition of one’s true situation. Just as Oedipus discovers himself to be the son of his wife and the murderer of his father, so Gaddafi, his uncomprehending pleas answered only by truncheons and fists, trapped in a hell of his own making, must have finally fallen upon a terrible self-knowledge. Or maybe I’m just projecting.


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