Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Circle of Fire

Andrew Solomon writes an incisive essay in The New Yorker entitled 'The Circle of Fire' about Libyan politics and society under the leadership of Colonel Muammar Qaddafi. He begins with a story prevalent in Libya:

"Three contestants are in a race to run five hundred metres carrying a bag of rats. The first sets off at a good pace, but after a hundred metres the rats have chewed through the bag and spill onto the course. The second contestant gets to a hundred and fifty metres, and the same thing happens. The third contestant shakes the bag so vigorously as he runs that the rats are constantly tumbling and cannot chew on anything, and he takes the prize. That third contestant is Libya’s leader, Colonel Muammar Qaddafi, the permanent revolutionary."

The essay makes it clear that Libya is a land of incongruities. For example, it is about "the size of Germany, France, Italy, and Spain, combined, but its population, just under six million, is roughly the same as Denmark’s. Oil revenues make Libya, per capita, one of the wealthiest countries in Africa, and yet malnutrition and anemia are among its most prevalent health problems."

Regarding the title of the essay, Solomon quotes one Libyan intellectual, "We call the world close to the Leader, the Circle of Fire. Get close and it warms you up; get too close and you go down in flames. The Circle of Fire includes both reformers and hard-liners; Qaddafi likes the chaos that creates."

This excellent essay enlightens the reader about this very enigmatic country over the course of the last few decades....