GADDAFI, Odd & Funny Facts: From Piccadilly Circus to Secret Pen-Pals…

Posted: October 23, 2016 in (All Things) CULTURE, HISTORY (From a Certain Point of View)
Tags: , , , , , , ,

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As a few days ago marked the fifth anniversary of the murder of Muammar Gaddafi, I decided to mark it with a more low-key, fun-ish look back at Libya’s former national figurehead.

A more serious piece on the life and character of one of the most controversial world figures of the 20th century will follow in a few days, which I’d been working on for some time but hadn’t been able to finish in time.

In the meantime it occurs to me that while people mostly write very serious things – good or bad – about Gaddafi and his era, and much of it centers unfortunately on his brutal death and the horrific events in Libya from 2011 to now, it might be nicer for a change to look at a few of the more lighthearted curiosities and tidbits from Gaddafi’s monumental and controversial life. And, given how odd and epic a story his life was and how eccentric and odd a figure Gaddafi himself could be, there are quite a few curious or interesting facts or stories to pick from.

Recounting such trivia perhaps helps to humanise the man and prevent him from being presented only as an archetype, a symbol or a caricature.

Here then are some of the most curious, funny or otherwise interesting little bits of trivia I’ve come across about Muammar Gaddafi over the years.

For example, Gaddafi had a Jewish pen-pal who lived in Brooklyn.

Louis Schlamowitz had actually begun writing to Gaddafi way back in the 1960s and the letters only stopped in 2011 when the foreign-backed uprising in Libya began, at which time the Brooklyn-based florist was 81 years old. What is remarkable, and kind of endearing, about this story is that Gaddafi always wrote back, maintaining this pen-pal correspondence for decades. “He was a good pen-pal,” the elderly florist said. “I felt it was very nice of him to take the time to write back to me, because I’m nobody special.”

Mr Schlamowitz, who also exchanged letters with Marylin Monroe and Richard Nixon among others, said his correspondence with the Libyan leader aroused suspicion from the FBI and American agencies who visited him to ask what he was playing at.

A Christmas card from Gaddafi, written around 2000, thanked Mr Schlamowitz for his “friendship through the years”.

Gaddafi spent time in England as a student in the sixties. In April 1966, he was sent to Britain for training; spending time undergoing military training in Dorset and Kent and an English language course at Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire.

One of his instructors from this time called him “hard working, conscientious” and “an amusing officer”, adding that he was an avid reader of books and also enjoyed playing football. Gaddafi disliked England, however, and later claimed that British Army officers had racially insulted him on a regular basis. He also claimed to have found it very difficult adjusting to the country’s culture. One wonders, with hindsight, whether these experiences might have had some impact on his later attitude towards the Colonialist powers, Britain in particular. The experience may have also caused him to retreat more into his Arab identity and his desert roots.

 
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There is a very amusing picture (above) of the young Gaddafi walking around Piccadilly Circus in 1966, dressed in traditional Bedouin robes, while two English old ladies look on, bemused.

Um, yes, he appears to have had a major crush on former US Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice. He apparently did keep a photo album filled with pictures of her. Rice later claimed to have been fully aware of Gaddafi’s interest in her from their personal interactions. He once claimed he was “very proud of the way she leans back and gives orders to the Arab leaders.” I guess the heart wants what the heart wants.

And yes, like Augustus in Ancient Rome, he also decided to rename the months. February was ‘Lights’, August was ‘Hannibal’ (that other great, mythic ‘hero’ of Libyan history, who had waged war on the Romans).

Gaddafi contributed towards Welsh independence.

Gaddafi donated funding to Welsh independence party Plaid Cymru. The Libyan leader was known for his financial support of ‘liberation movements’ and oppressed groups worldwide: from Mandela and the ANC to the Maoris in New Zealand and Aborigines in Australia, the Black Panthers in America, the IRA, the PLO, the Sandanistas in Nicaragua. etc. It appears that, included in this long list, was Plaid Cymru in Wales.

This is confirmed in an upcoming book by Plaid Cymru activist Dr Carl Clowes, who recounts his visit to Libya in the 70s and Gaddafi’s donations to the party. “Libya had the best health and education systems in the whole of Africa,” he says, recalling his delegation’s visit to the country. He suggests Gaddafi’s donation to Plaid Cymru was motivated by his general desire to disrupt the ‘Western Imperialist’ status quo.

Gaddafi is credited with having supposedly invented the ‘world’s safest car’.

The ‘Libyan Rocket‘, which looks like a sleek, futuristic vehicle, is said to have had a collapsible bumper, the ability to travel miles with flat tires, and a device that can cut fuel supply during accident to avoid fire. It was never mass produced, as the 2011 Libyan Civil War derailed the project.

 
Gaddafis-Rocket-Safest-Car-2
 

There are obviously a bunch of apocryphal stories about Gaddafi, which we don’t know whether they’re true or false. One of these, for example, concerns the idea that the young Gaddafi had bunked with Muhammad Ali in London in the 1960s. Supposedly, sitting on Ali’s bed, the young student had talked about his plans for future revolution. ‘Watch, one day you will see,’ Gaddafi had allegedly said, while a half asleep Ali had (supposedly) reacted “Sheeet, you crazy!”

I’m guessing this probably didn’t happen; but it’s a fabulous story. We do know that Ali did visit Libya as a guest of Gaddafi some years later.

And yes, he once, in a fit of anger, proposed to ‘abolish’ the nation of Switzerland – and yes, that’s probably the funniest Gaddafi story there is.

No one knows his date of birth. The circumstances of Gaddafi’s birth, fittingly enough, have the almost prophetic air of something out of scripture or myth. The son of an impoverished Bedouin goat herder, Muammar Gaddafi was born in a tent near Qasr Abu Hadi, a rural area outside the town of Sirte in the deserts of western Libya. Curiously, Gaddafi’s date of birth is not known for certain, as his parents were Nomadic Bedouin and were illiterate and did not keep birth records.

Education in Libya was not free at that time (though it would after Gaddafi took power), but Gaddafi’s father funded his son’s education despite the great financial difficulty. During the weeks, Gaddafi slept in a local mosque, having no home, and at weekends he walked some 20 miles to visit his parents in their traditional dwellings. Reportedlty bullied for being a Bedouin, he was nevertheless proud of his identity and was said to have actively encouraged this same pride in other Bedouin children.

But he wasn’t embarassed by his humble roots, and in fact emphasized it wherever possible. Despite his increasingly odd and ostentatious dress-sense, he was also always keen to emphasise his humble Bedouin roots and would therefore receive dignitaries in his signature sprawling white tent, which he erected wherever he went: Rome, Paris and, after much controversy, New York, on a Westchester estate in 2009. Everyone from Tony Blair to Vladimir Putin (pictured below) would have to enter the tent if they wanted to meet with the Libyan figurehead.

 
gaddafi-putin-tent
 

He was inspired in part by Abraham Lincoln…

As a young man and student, he later claimed to have read voraciously on the subjects of General Nasser and Egypt, the French Revolution of 1789, the works of Christian Syrian political theorist Michel Aflaq and, interestingly, the biography of Abraham Lincoln. “Lincoln was a man who created himself from nothing without any help from outside or other people. I followed his struggles. I see certain similarities between him and me,” he said in a book published by The Pittsburg Press in 1986 called Gaddafi: The Man the World Loves to Hate.

Nelson Mandela named one of his grandchildren after Gaddafi.

After Mr Mandela became South Africa’s first black president in 1994, he rejected pressure from Western leaders – including then-US President Bill Clinton – to sever ties with Gaddafi, who had in fact largely bankrolled his election campaign. “Those who feel irritated by our friendship with Gaddafi can go jump in the pool,” Mandela had said. He added pointedly, “Those that yesterday were friends of our enemies have the gall today to tell me not to visit my brother Gaddafi.”

 
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In 1997, Mandela awarded Gaddafi the highest official honour in South Africa in recognition for his support of human rights and the struggle against Apartheid.

While many of the monuments or landmarks associated with Gaddafi have been destroyed or torn down since his death, and many of the cities and urban developments he supervised the building of have been devastated by NATO bombing or left in ruin, various monuments or sites associated with or in honour of the late Libyan leader still stand outside of Libya.

Examples being the Gaddafi Mosques in Tanzania, Kampala and Uganda, as well as Pakistan’s biggest sports stadium, the Gaddafi Stadium (in Lahore). There is still ongoing debate in Pakistan as to whether the country’s most illustrious stadium should be renamed or should remain as Gaddafi Stadium.

 
gaddafi-stadium
 

Yes, one of the oddest and most eccentric things Gaddafi ever did was to create his elite, all-female bodyguard unit, the Amazon Guard. However, despite some salacious claims in Western media about the nature or relationship between Gaddafi and the women, it was always claimed that each of the female bodyguards was a virgin for life. I have no idea if that’s true; and the Amazonian Guard really was one of the strangest, most baffling, things Gaddafi ever came up with. Following the downfall of Gaddafi and Libya, the fate of many of the women was unknown, but photographic evidence existed to suggest that some of them were hunted down by Libyan rebels and brutally tortured and murdered.

Just weeks before Western media was calling Gaddafi a war criminal, brutal tyrant and accusing him of massacring civilians, Gaddafi was the frontrunner for Amnesty International’s ‘Human Rights Hero, 2011’ award. It will be a thousand years before someone goes from ‘Human Rights Hero’ to ‘brutal war criminal’ as quickly as that again.

And yes, Gaddafi had proposed ‘SATO’; a ‘NATO of the South’ that would be set-up in opposition to NATO and would’ve been constituted by African and South-American nations forming a mutual defense initiative. It sounds facetious, but he may have had a serious underlying point about the imperialist North-Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the need for an equal and opposite organisation.

No one knows where Gaddafi is buried.

After his brutal murder in October 2011, his body was kept on display for weeks before eventually being buried in an unmarked grave at an unknown location to prevent his tomb becoming a shrine.

________________

A more serious, bigger piece to mark the fifth anniversary of Gaddafi’s death, which was meant to go up on the 21st, will appear here in the next few days. Meanwhile, you can read all older Libya posts here.

 

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Comments
  1. M Semet says:

    I saw photos of him as a young man, and I must say he was very handsome back then. Believe it or not, Joseph Stalin was a looker in his younger days too, before the torturing and political banishments started to happen. It’s a real treat to see photos of them in their “salad days”. David Cameron, on the other hand, always looked charmless and inbred, even back then. He’s lucky his familial connections and money are enough to overcome his obvious physical shortcomings. My apologies for being so physically shallow, but I guess that goes with the territory of having working eyes 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ray032 says:

    Very interesting reading. Thanks for putting it together.

    Maybe you have not seen this video? Tripoli looked like a beautiful City before NATO destroyed it creating another failed State.

    None of those Western Leaders that took part in the destruction of Libya would have the balls to move through the streets of their Capitals like Gadaffi does without fear of his people.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, I referenced this same footage in the book I put up on the Libya intervention.
      Tripoli was a stunning city; I recently came across a report that it is now ranked as the fifth most ‘unlivable’ city in the world – which is just extraordinary, considering what it was like less than six years ago.

      Like

  3. Mark says:

    More, not black and white thinking. How hard it is, not to wildly swing. To judge, especially nation leader-types. You’re producing an ongoing and fitting document on Gaddafi’s Libya, that continues to show-up the West’s hypocrite politicians and their media. Shown up for what they are. These posts testify against them, and dare those who go along with the simplistic deception, to come and read here. Not sure how much material like this is online but this compilation stands in the way of the incontrovertible lies. Must comment, if ever I read of the ‘humanitarian intervention’ deception and include one of yours as a link.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Mark. I covered Libya a lot because I’ve done a lot of reading/viewing/studying on the Gaddafi era, ever since I stumbled on a book about Gaddafi in my grandfather’s house when I was a teen.
      Appreciate your support. An understanding of what really went down in the Libya intervention has spread over time, to the extent that I now suspect more people disbelieve the official explanations than those who do still believe them. Which is good; it doesn’t change the horrible reality of what happened, but the truth is better out than in.

      Like

  4. ray032 says:

    Came across another video on Libya yesterday and shared it on my FB news feed with this intro,
    “Propaganda is loosely defined as actively trying to put your own view across, and have others accept it, so we are ALL propagandists in that sense.

    The problem is which propaganda is True and which is False, and who can recognize the difference?

    I just came across this True to my mind propaganda, which raises very serious issues and reasons why we should not trust Western news media without question? It’s an old adage, “Truth is the 1st casualty of WAR” These Days, the US is bombing 4 countries in the Middle East without calling it WAR, and they don’t want too many people to question it, and where it is bringing this world?

    CanaDa took part in the destruction of prosperous Libya under Gadaffi. If there will be any Historians left the way this world is developing in OUR generations, they would not look approvingly on it.

    The juxtaposition of Obama saying NATO is bombing to protect civilians, and seeing the dead and wounded Libyan civilians killed by the American-Canadian-NATO bombing, is heart wrenching for those who still have a heart. It was not surprising to hear a FOX news personality callously say there are no American boots on the ground and AMERICAN lives are not being lost, as if Libyan lives have no value. That’s how much American POWER cares for innocent civilians in other Countries.

    The President did see clearly though, even with his false, lying propaganda. Everything he said would happen, if NATO did not remove Gadaffi in a standard American style orchestrated regime change “before it happened,” DID HAPPEN, but only AFTER the US started the bombing.”

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yep, absolutely. I wouldn’t be too hard on Canada for Libya though – it was only one among forty Western nations bombing that country back to Third World status. Though that doesn’t really let them off the hook, I guess.
      If you get the chance to ever read or download the book I put up on the Libya intervention, I went into how ridiculous – to the point of being non-existent – the decision-making process was for most of the countries that joined in the bombing. There were governments, it came out later, that didn’t even have a vote or discussion on it. They basically just got a message from Washington saying ‘we’re bombing’ and they all just went along with it and joined in.
      There was a Norweigian pilot who was involved in the bombing and later recounted the nature of it: they were being told to just bomb anything that looked important or valuable.
      I stand by the assertion that the Libya intervention was the crime of the century (so far): though, the way this century is going, I’m sure there will be just as bad – or worse – things to come.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. truthisstrangerthanfiction says:

    Très interessant ! The Bedouhin tent story is almost incredible – almost as though Moses himself were in town and accepting audiences with world leaders.

    Gadaffi is also credited with investing Libya’s petroleum revenues to build infrastructure that would convert Norh Sahara desertic lands into rich arable farms.

    The attacks on Lybia occured at the opportune moment when trade sanctions were lifted and Armand Hammer’s Occidental Petroleum was just about to bring Libyan crude back to the market; How convenient for the Gulf States that those efforts were hampered by Gadaffi’s removal.

    Like

    • Yes, well the Gulf States seem to have a magic knack for always getting what they need, somehow or another.
      Yeah, the tent thing was just standard policy for him. It wasn’t just at home; he took the tent with him when he went to any foreign countries too, including New York.

      Like

  6. There is a clip on this RT item at 0:57 which I have never seen before. It is from the now infamous “we came, we saw, he died” interview and it appears to me that she is watching video on her phone of Gaddafi’s murder. I find interesting as she is clearly horrified but trying very hard not to show it. What do you think?

    Like

    • Well, if she’s seeing footage of the murder, she *should* be horrified. I don’t know – the fact that she laughs afterward suggests to me that she wasn’t watching actual footage of the capture, but was probably just looking at a written message or headline. No one could see that footage and then laugh about it – I don’t like Hillary, but I don’t have that low an opinion of her that I think she’d laugh gleefully at footage of someone being murdered by a mob. She is human, after all.
      I don’t know. Back to you – what do you think?
      Also, did you catch the Michael Moore show on Hillary? Possibly worth looking up, if you didn’t: it’s interesting, but kind of baffling in places too.

      Like

  7. I am haunted by the details of his death …

    Like

  8. […] the fifth anniversary since his brutal murder in Sirte, this seemed an appropriate time – as promised – to reflect on the life and character of one of the twentieth century’s most interesting and […]

    Like

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