I believe I saw Muammar Gadaffi on my way to the Colosseum

ROMA—It was about 3 p.m. and rain was in the air. A cold wind was blowing down Mussolini’s showpiece avenue. The Via dei Fori Imperiali is the site of victory parades. The victory over the duplicitous Ethiopians. The victory over the ambitious Libyans of East and West. The victory over the ferocious Albanians.

The Roman Forum, alongside the great avenue, was relatively empty this last day of March. As each time I pass, I stopped to observe the tourists looking at the ancient Roman ruins of numerous basilicas and arches and statues extending from the Campidoglio to the Colosseum.

One group of people about 30 yards from me attracted my attention because of the horse. They looked somehow familiar. Then I spotted him amidst the small group gathered on the far side of the Forum. He looked just like the Muammar I was so familiar with from TV and the press. For one used to his former flamboyance he was rather deceptive because there were only five or six of his tough-looking Amazonian bodyguards around him. There used to be 40. Nearer him were also two sleek women in fashionable dress and several ministerial type men dressed in dark suits and ties. Hardly believing my eyes, I checked for camels. None were in sight. I compared the view of him here to the one I saw the evening before on TV. He was haranguing his people from his Tripoli bunker allegedly bombed day and night and shouting he wasn’t afraid of the West’s bombs. Ten years of wars if they wanted it, he said. Strange that there were many less ruins in the Libyan capital than here in the Roman Forum. Silly, I admonished myself, these are over two thousand years old.

Now what, one might ask, is so surprising about Prime Minister Berlusconi’s personal friend, good old reliable Muammar, visiting Roman ruins. I put on my distance glasses and studied the Libyan colonel’s unmistakable features and looked for unusual erratic behavior. He was not anything special or bizarre. The Libyan leader was dressed in civvies with a tourist flair and a straw, wide-brimmed hat with a red band. His attitude was relaxed. Almost lazily he looked in the direction the tiny guide pointed. He did not seem particularly impressed, as if he were there most every day. From time to time, he rubbed the Arabian horse’s forehead or put an arm around one of the sleek women.

Nonetheless, I confess that Muammar’s presence was puzzling. What I wanted to know first of all was this the real Muammar. Or was he just another of his famous doubles? Or was the Muammar raising his fists in the air at his Tripoli bunker a double and this one in the Roman Forum the authentic one we inhabitants of Rome are so accustomed to. I had read about the numerous Gadaffi doubles floating around Libya: one at his Tripoli bunker, another near his home city of Sirte on the Mediterranean gulf of the same name, another at his secondary bunker in the desert or at one or another residence in the deep south of his extensive country with so much oil and so few people. No wonder, I thought, the USA and Europe and Rothschild are drooling. The temptation must be irresistible. The General Assembly of the United Nations nothwithstanding.

One resolution more or less, who cares? What better humanitarian intervention exists than simply removing the whole miserable nation from Libyan hands? An artificial kind of place anyway. A bunch of belligerent Arab tribes. Always squabbling. Only a man like Muammar could subdue them. And who understands them? They don’t even know the riches they ride over with their camels. Camels, for Christ sakes! In these modern times when it costs more and more to drive our cars and heat our houses, they’re still riding around on camels, trampling their oil reserves and shooting Kalashnikovs in the air, celebrating one thing or another.

And the so-called rebels? Now who the fuck are they? Now I hear the Big 4 (Italy excluded as it deserves to be; Italy, only interested in having NATO headquarters in Naples.), the Big 4 of the good old USA, UK, la douce France and even non-participant Deutschland, duty-bound to give the so-called rebels arms so they will have the same firepower as Muammar’s forces.

Rebels, they call those belligerent tribes, the Al-Qa’eda veterans Muammar warned about from the start, maybe also some Muslim Brothers armed by Egypt, with a rumored, top secret SAS (British special troops) infiltration, who can’t decide which side is which. Oh well, why not give the rebels some arms and let them do the fighting? Then we can control them like we did the Taliban and Al-Qa’eda. One thing at a time. Well, not exactly that. For look what is happening simultaneously in Syria. Monday, I heard Assad speak: if the West wants war, we’ll give it to them, the Syrian boss warned. Oh well, let him talk. Syria doesn’t have any oil anyway. Besides, humanitarian intervention in Libya is NOT a war, they tell us daily. And neither is Iraq for that matter. After all we did bring them democracy. And Afghanistan is simply an international police action. That’s the problem with these Mohammedans. They simply can’t live in peace. They don’t know their place. And besides they lie. Always. They have to lie. I heard today it’s written in the Koran. Mohammed’s law. Holy law. I searched in my Koran but I didn’t find the admonitions that Muslims must absolutely lie. But TV said it was so. Like praying all the time, making the hajj to Mecca, trampling thousands of women and children to death just to touch a rock. To be a good Moslem you have to lie, I heard. You let these crazy Arabs get out of hand in one country and they all think they can run their own things, riding camels, shooting in the air and lying.

Hey, wait a minute! Do I see a tent back there against the wall? Yes, Allahu akbar. It is a tent! And what a racket they’re making in this national monument. They’re already hammering in the stakes. My God, it’s huge. Muammar’s tent in the Roman Forum. He swears he only needs one tent. But he’s a liar like all of them. A tent city will rise here in the Forum. After all, he does need an exile. Better here in the Forum near his friend Silvio than down in the wilds of Uganda.

I’d better clear out of here, pronto. They’ve already bombed all Muammar’s bunkers. Now the BIG 4 will have to zero in on his tents right here in the Roman Forum. On the other hand he doesn’t have to worry if he stays put here in his tent. But all the collateral damage people who live around here have reason to be uneasy.

Ah, Roma eterna! Still, if Muammar can hold out for 10 years in his desert paradise or, if need be, in the Roman Forum, the Roman empire can last forever. Viva l’Italia!

Greenville Post Senior Editor Gaither Stewart, veteran journalist and novelist who serves as European correspondent, is based in Rome. His latest book is The Trojan Spy (Callio).

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