Friday, October 21, 2011

Video Transcending Difficulties of Its Making

A Tyrant's Departure - Democratically Observed

Happier Times - Qaddafi with France's President Sarkozy
Muammar el-Qaddafi’s death in Sirte on October 20th brought an instant glimpse into the world’s medieval past – with a death seen as initially sudden, then as grotesquely paraded as any execution centuries ago in Elizabethan Tudor England might have been. Being hung, drawn and quartered could have been a more formal way of dying than that finally experienced by Muammar el-Qaddafi, as witnessed in intricate, ghastly detail on the internet (and seen briefly on the New York Times before being withdrawn). Terrible images, jaggedly observed by phone video, somehow suggested, in one contradictory sequence, that Qaddafi was being cradled as any casualty of war, but with his death imminent, so serious were his visible head wounds. The former Libyan leader’s shining, profusely shed blood, lit by sunlight falling on the careening vehicle in which the Colonel was being transported, suggested the final assault on his life had occurred only minutes before. But as the chaotic, shuddering camerawork deteriorated to something below sub-competence, did the Libyan leader’s head then seem to move slightly to indicate he still lived? The camera then panned away to a meaningless, blurry traveling shot of rapidly receding sand accompanied by a sound track of crackling gunfire, heard against frequent Arabic cries proclaiming the greatness of Allah, apparently from an ecstatic young man with a pronounced gap between his front teeth, whom we later glimpse several more times. As the camera's angle swerved further away from  the vehicle, the youth’s cries were drowned out by more gunfire from automatic weapons. (Has anyone else noticed that insurgents, especially during the Arab Spring, seem to have inexhaustible supplies of bullets, so fond are they of firing triumphant volleys into thin air.) This phone video, shot with as much discrimination as the random aerial gunfire, now slowly panned back and addressed the stricken leader who raises and inspects his bloodstained hand. Attempting to pause this chaotic footage did not help in my understanding of the ex-President’s dire predicament, but the video did succeed, with its crude visual style, in making me realize I had witnessed a shift in history - a tyrant’s departure, rendered with none of the skill we have come to expect from renowned conflict photographers such as David Dare Parker , Don McCullin and Steve Dupont for example. There was, however, an impressionistic veracity that was difficult to question. Here was death, democratically rendered by phone video (as indeed it had been throughout the Arab Spring) with no concern for sentimentality, cinematic skill or even rudimentary composition. For more coverage of the video and the public's response see Even so, the sequence was still profoundly shocking, transcending any ‘compassion fatigue’ we may feel for arenas of global suffering in general - and this once seemingly intransigent conflict, in particular. This unvarnished footage conveyed the death of a leader, one of several Middle East rulers who have made a habit of publicly shooting their own dissident citizens - but this time killed by his own subjects. “Those who live by the sword …shall die by the sword … ”  wandered into my thoughts, for a moment. But in the rawness of its video witness, this unforgettable sequence amplified the reality of his passing and made an ongoing human tragedy more real. The savagery of  revenge meted out to Qaddafi also suggested that perhaps a dispassionate, painstakingly legal trial would have been more beneficial in the long run for Libya - instead of an impatient, brutal death delivered with such obvious relish by his opponents.
Text Copyright Robert McFarlane 2011


  1. Merci à vous pour cet article (pour ce que j'en ai pu traduire et comprendre), j'ai ressenti et je ressens encore les mêmes impressions; thibault

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