If you have ever wondered how people who take money from evil dictators rationalize their behavior and deceive themselves about what they are doing, you should go read a recent Atlantic article by Jacqueline Frazier describing her experiences with one of the Great Loon’s sons, Saadi Qaddafi.
Frazier helped out on one of Saadi’s projects—a free-trade zone in Libya. She quit as the civil war escalated, but stayed in touch with Saadi as a friend. News of Muammar Qaddafi’s death emerged just as Frazier was visiting Saadi in Niger to persuade him to cooperate with an Interpol arrest warrant.
Before I could figure out how to break the news to Saadi, though, the job was done for me. I heard footsteps outside, and walked to the window in time to see a group of Nigerien guards go over to him, their heads hung low, to deliver their condolences. He nodded a thank-you, then returned to sitting exactly as he had been before, staring straight ahead. A few of the Libyan boys who were staying at the compound had by now gathered at his feet. The wind rustled the trees and sprinkled the mattresses with dead leaves, but no one moved.
Saadi spent the rest of the day like this, sitting motionless, as people came and went, paying respects. Outside the compound, the world cheered the death of a tyrant. But here, in a small walled compound in Niamey, Niger, the man who had died was a father.
For all its naive sympathy (“I hurried downstairs and across the grounds to where Saadi was sitting. I didn’t want to tell him that his father had died, but I had to make sure he didn’t see these pictures”), it’s a creepy article and never quite seems to engage with the horrors and evils in which Frazier collaborated as she took money to help the Loon family degrade, torture and oppress their country a little bit more effectively.
Dancing with dictators is weird. On the one hand they appear to be regular human beings. But dark shadows loom in the background. Saadi Qaddafi is no doubt a complicated man with a range of virtues and vices. Like Carmella Soprano or Albert Speer, he didn’t simply embrace the evil he served. He struggled, he made excuses, he lied to himself, he hoped for the best.
And of course he worked to charm, beguile and bribe various people to collaborate with him as they all pretended they didn’t know about the secret police, the corruption, the brutal oppression taking place just out of sight. It would all be so different once the free trade zone was finished!
Whether it’s poor writing, poor editing or a simple lack of character and intelligence, Frazier’s account makes her look both brainless and complicit—more Eva Braun than Leni Riefenstahl. Kinder editors would have killed it, but perhaps kindness to Qaddafi enablers isn’t high on the priorities of the Atlantic staff.