For more than four decades, Libya's self-declared 'Brother
Leader,' Muammar Qaddafi, has waged a brutal form of psychological
warfare against his own people, analysts say. Rebel forces have also
been shaped by that violent history.
The video clip ran late at night on Libya's state-run TV with a
warning: not suitable for children.
It was a gruesome scene that appeared to show an antigovernment
mob beating the dead body of a Col. Muammar Qaddafi loyalist in the
rebel bastion of Benghazi.
Such visceral imagery has long defined political discourse in
Libya. The roots of extreme violence stretch back to the colonial
period under Italian rule. But from the earliest years of his reign,
Colonel Qaddafi has employed violence - from assassinating
dissidents abroad to killing opponents at home - to sow fear among
Libyans and warn against dissent.
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For more than four decades, the self-declared "Brother Leader"
has waged a form of psychological warfare against his own people,
analysts say. And taking what he believes to be the lessons from the
recent dictator-toppling revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, Qaddafi
today continues to use brutal images to undermine the rebellion,
which he consider a personal affront to his near-perfect rule that
must be tackled with "no mercy."
The rebel forces, shaped likewise by that violent history, know
the power of persuasion achieved with propaganda gore, and spread
their own version.
"Our country is different from others in the world," says a
Libyan professional in Tripoli who could not to be named for
security reasons. "Here [people] are welcoming. But if you touch
them [aggressively] even a little bit, they will pound you in
The rebels hand out their own imagery of government crimes, and
say one reason for their fight is because the preponderance of
violence comes from a regime that has used violence as a tool of
control for nearly 42 years.
IN PHOTOS: Libya conflict
The validity of that view is mounting daily in news reports of
regime-inflicted violence, from eyewitness accounts of Libyan
soldiers branded traitors and killed by their own side, to apparent
evidence of serious abuses found in a burned-out police station west
The dangers are so widely accepted that even the fear of a
vengeful bloodbath by Qaddafi forces, if they routed the rebels
weeks ago, was enough to prompt a US- and European-led military
Decades of brutality
At the same time, government officials distribute their own
atrocity videos, of acts carried out by rebel "terrorists" who must
be hunted down - in the words of Qaddafi - "alley by alley."
"Libyans have had a very rough time over the last century or so,"
says George Joffe, a Middle East and North Africa specialist at
Cambridge University. "Under the Italian occupation they saw their
numbers halved, and they just simply died off like flies in
concentration camps during the Italo-Sanussi wars, and that
certainly left a mark."
"And ... under the Qaddafi regime," says Mr. Joffe. "there has
been an extreme intolerance of any dissidence of any kind at all,
and the population has been very profoundly disciplined by the
Add the longstanding confrontation between tribes, which provides
a further reason for violence - as manifest in the execution of
those involved in a 1993 coup - and "you can see where some of this
viciousness comes from," notes Joffe.
True believers blame the rebels
For true believers, the government's application of force is
justified and always right, and Qaddafi's use of violence is no
different from any other government protecting itself from its
enemies. Libya's leader has also learned, argue some, lessons from
the pro-democracy revolts sweeping the Arab world.
Qaddafi "looks at Tunisia and Egypt, because what made Ben Ali
and Mubarak leave? …