Saturday, April 16, 2011

Know Thine Enemy

There is perhaps no better way to get a handle on a leader than their writings. Lenin was prolific, with works such "What is to be Done?" and "The State and the Revolution" laying the basis for the Bolshevik uprising. Kennedy's "Profiles In Courage" highlighted instances where lawmakers took courageous stands, and gave a window into the kind of legislator he might become. And Hitler's "Mein Kampf" and Mao's "Little Red Book" (which was actually a collection of his sayings) have been studied and analyzed endlessly.

More recently, in this country, it has become de rigueur for any politician with ambitions on the national stage to follow suit and pen a tome that sets out their views and operating principles. That's not to say that all are up to Bartlett's Quotations standards. Take Tim Pawlenty's "Courage to Stand," in which he talks his interactions with the prior governor of Minnesota: "The hockey player and wrestling fan in me would have some taken pride in surviving a Jesse Ventura smackdown." It's hardly Churchill, but it's what we've got.

In that vein, much has been made of the Green Book penned by our current thorn-in-the side, Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi (or Ghaddafi or Khaddafi... it might be easier to agree on a joint UN Resolution with some teeth if we could first agree on a way to spell his name). A manifesto of revolutionary thought, it was an instant bestseller in Tripoli. Of course, this top-of-the-charts performance was helped along by the fact that if you didn't have a copy you were tortured and executed, but why quibble?

But perhaps we're looking at the wrong book. Turns out that the good Colonel, after finishing a round of Scrabble with his flunkies (you have a lot more options if every "q" doesn't require a "u") indulged his fancy as a writer of fiction as well. So maybe the CIA should stop poring over cell phone intercepts and coded military traffic, use their one-click ordering option on Amazon and get a copy of his thoughts and essays, "Escape to Hell and Other Stories."

It seems that several years ago the Libyan strongman found time between plotting terrorist activities and extorting millions from oil companies to be a bit more literary than practical. Not quite post apocalyptic, his collection offers ruminations on how we are flirting with disaster through our treatment of the planet. His views of modern society represent a throwback to a simpler time, when thieves got their hands cut off, when there was no running water, when electricity didn't all make us lazy pigs. Or from his point of view, the good old days.

He is unafraid to take on the ills of the world. For instance, he writes about a rival country that is sickened by "individualism and rampant capitalism." This morality tale centers on a fictional place called "Amelica." Author's note: any resemblance to countries living or dead is strictly coincidental.

As for modern society, he pens an allegorical fable about a man who rockets into space. It proves to be an epiphany, and, on his return, he comes to understand how technology has caused the downfall of society. It causes him to consider drastic action. Called "The Suicide of the Astronaut," and written with characteristic subtlety, the man in the story, proceeds to... No, I shouldn't: I don't want to spoil the ending.

Say what you will, Qaddafi also appears to have a real flair for sentence construction. A sample: "The earth is the lung through which you breathe, so if you destroy it, you would have no way to breathe." Another: "The city is a sea, full of flotsam and snails. The snails are people." Hemingway-esque,don't you think?

Critics haven't been so kind, at least those that won't be flogged for their opinion. (The Libyan Ledger called it "a masterpiece"). Alan Smithee, writing in Entertainment Weekly, said "May we suggest a stint at Tripoli's Writers' Workshop to brush up on, say, plot, character, dialogue, tone, and coherence?" Still, Smithee does say he comes out favorably when compared with other well know observers of the human condition:  "He reminds one of Dennis Miller, albeit slightly funnier."

Still, as an aspiring writer myself, I appreciate my fellow scribe's efforts, if not the end result. With that in mind, if you drive by our place you might take note of the Bedouin tent in our front yard and the camel tethered beside it. These days, I'll take inspiration wherever I can find it.


Marc Wollin of Bedford has never knowingly supported terrorism in the pursuit of a story. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, the Scarsdale Inquirer and online at

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