Gaddafi Speaks to His Base

by Translation Guy on March 2, 2011
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When it comes to psycho-killer clowns, Gaddafi is world-class. Sure, John Wayne Gacy was creepy, but the guy was strictly an amateur compared to a professional killer like Gaddafi. It’s a wonder what can be accomplished with air assets directed against unarmed protesters. As the body count soars, Gaddafi offers the kind of ratings draw that brings great clatterings of journo jackdaws and our fleeting attentions. So we watch this man, the struttings and frettings of this poor player before the digital backdrop of his bloody antics, offered up by his victims in real time on Twitter and Facebook. Surely there is method in his madness, some sense in his message, but Gaddafi defies translation.

No quiet exit for this tyrant, not to be hustled off stage by old cronies like Mubarak in Egypt. Gaddafi is taking on the world. But not alone. His most precious resources are those loyalists who still follow him. All his words must be to rally those henchmen still true.

“Muammar Gaddafi’s attempt to save himself through his dubious speaking abilities [last week] looked like ‘vintage Gaddafi,'” reported Adam McDowell and Adrian Humphreys.

“‘Who in their right mind wouldn’t be glued to that charade? That’s Gaddafi’s style, you expect that kind of rhetoric,’ said Arezki Daoud, publisher of the Massachusetts-based North Africa Journal.”

“’The non sequiturs, the paranoid conspiracy theories, the anger — if it weren’t so tragic, we could laugh at it,’ said David Schenker, director of the program on Arab politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.”

“But Nasser Wedaddy, civil rights outreach director for the American Islamic Congress, warned: ‘People think of Gaddafi as this buffoon who is acting on impulses and whims. There’s some truth to that.'”

“’But through the years,’ continued the former resident of Libya, ‘Gaddafi has been a master of manipulating media. He uses his buffoonery … to get media attention, which he craves. And a lot of his talking points, which he has recycled through the years, are designed to appeal to his support base, [to portray him as] the guy who’s confronting the big powers in the world.’”

“’I think he was talking to himself,’ said Mr. Daoud of The North Africa Journal. ‘The few followers are very dangerous and very powerful. They’re essentially a trained security elite.’”

So is this new media campaign working? Figures can’t be confirmed, but the body count mounts, which means that, while UN diplomats may be jumping ship, someone is still punching in at Gaddafi, Inc. And all Libyans have gotten the message, just the kind of promise Gaddafi is likely to keep. “Everything will burn.” (The Libyan mission is right around the corner, and reports say that Gaddafi’s green flag still flies and has not yet been replaced by that old Libyan tripart, banner of the revolutionaries over the mission. I’ll check it when I get the chance.)

Oliver Miles, Arabic speaker and former Ambassador to Libya, commented in the Guardian about the problems non-Arabic speakers have with making sense of Gaddafi. “Col Muammar Gaddafi’s speeches this week will have struck many viewers as crazy and perhaps pathetic, with their overblown rhetoric, theatrical delivery and furious calls to arms against the ‘drug-takers’ who oppose him.

But the speech on Tuesday [last week]―broadcast live on television from what looked like a ruined garden shed―brought huge crowds out into the streets celebrating into the early hours with music and fireworks. Oratory is out of fashion with us… But Mr Gaddafi is also a bad joke throughout the Arab world outside Libya.” Miles believes this is due to Gaddafi’s inability to communicate in Modern Standard Arabic. Gaddafi speaks almost exclusively in Libyan dialect, which is not always intelligible to Arabic speakers farther afield. “Add to that, for 40 years or so there has been no-one around to tell Mr Gaddafi to shut up. He speaks without notes and says the first thing that comes into his head.” Libya’s sorrow. How much longer will it go on?

P.S. A few days ago, I got talking about the Jasmine Revolution sweeping the Arab-speaking world with a Moroccan cab driver, a very erudite and articulate guy who set me straight. “What you’ve got to understand about this thing is it’s not ‘if,’ it’s when. All these guys are going down, and we will all be free.” Sounds like a plan.

I’m sure there are many other non-Arabic speakers out there like me who wish they had a better handle on what people are saying about the revolutions of 2011 in Arabic.

0 Comments

  1. Pingback:Gaddafi Speaks to His Base : : Translation Guy | arablives

  2. May says:

    This guy needs some help… wow!

    • Ken says:

      Yeah, as in helped out of office. Looking pretty grim as I respond.

  3. Me says:

    How is this related to translation or language?

    • Ken says:

      Elites use different language to talk to different audiences.

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