What's In Gadhafi's Manifesto?

Moammar Gadhafi's Green Book is the Libyan leader's economic, social and political manifesto. First published in the 1970s, it was intended to be required reading for all Libyans. Now it's being burned by demonstrators in Libya as Gadhafi's grip on the country loosens. Host Melissa Block talks with Dirk Vandewalle, a professor at Dartmouth College and author of A History of Modern Libya, about what's in the Green Book.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

One target of the Libyan protesters' wrath has been a book - "The Green Book" written by Moammar Gadhafi in the 1970s. Protesters have gleefully burned copies of "The Green Book" in bonfires and smashed concrete statues representing it.

(Soundbite of cheering)

BLOCK: Libya scholar Dirk Vandewalle has read all three volumes of "The Green Book" in both Arabic and English.

And, Professor Vandewalle, why don't you explain first why it's so hated in Libya?

Professor DIRK VANDEWALLE (Dartmouth College): It is hated because it represents the very essence of the Gadhafi regime, and that is - here you have three slim volumes, in a sense, written in a way that, I think, most Libyans could not even begin to comprehend, but that was obligatory in any public setting, at school. And so you could not get away. This was, in a sense, the holy words of the leader, of Gadhafi. It came to symbolize everything that Libyans hated about the regime in Libya.

BLOCK: Now, when you say that Libyans couldn't begin to comprehend it, could you comprehend it? As a professor and a scholar of Libya, as you read it, is there any coherence to his thinking here?

Prof. VANDEWALLE: I must admit it's very difficult to understand in part because it really is not a coherent thought if you compare it, for example, to "The Little Red Book" of Mao and so on where you get at least a consistent argument. "The Green Book" contains really a set of aphorisms more than a completely thought-out integrated philosophical statement.

BLOCK: Well, give us a sense of what Moammar Gadhafi had to say in "The Green Book."

Prof. VANDEWALLE: Well, one of the things, for example, that he says is mandatory education is coercive education that suppresses freedom. To impose specific teaching materials is a dictatorial act. You know, when you think about that, that makes very little sense at all.

But in a sense, he was trying to destroy any normal and system of educational standards, social standards that in any way would allow individuals to identify with each other within a society so that there would not be the kind of opposition that could coalesce against him.

BLOCK: He had things to say in "The Green Book" about women and about men.

Prof. VANDEWALLE: Indeed, he did. He talked about women. He said like men, first of all, they are human beings, but according to gynecologists, women, unlike men, menstruate each month. And since men cannot be impregnated, they do not experience the ailments that women do.

While quite obviously - but I'm not sure in a sense what that really had to do with the overall philosophy that he was trying to project.

BLOCK: It was good of him to set us straight about that, I suppose.

For a young person growing up in Libya, would you be trained to spout these thoughts of Moammar Gadhafi?

Prof. VANDEWALLE: Well, to just give you one example, usually, when television came on in the afternoon in Libya, it would open up with a citation from "The Green Book." So in a sense, it was everywhere. It was on public television. It was on the radio. It was in the schools. Children had to read it. You simply could not avoid it.

BLOCK: In fact, I was reading about a building in the city of Benghazi, in the east, a center devoted to the study of "The Green Book." Would that be common across Libya?

Prof. VANDEWALLE: That was extremely common. As a matter of fact, one of the major - what they called a research institute at the time - and Libya was "The Green Book" center in Tripoli.

And at "The Green Book" center, every single speech, every utterance that Gadhafi ever made was carefully collected, and then, they had commentary on "The Green Book." So not only were they actually propagating the "Green Book," but they were also interpreting it in multiple volumes that were then distributed throughout Libya.

BLOCK: If a Libyan were to be heard publicly criticizing or commenting or disparaging the "The Green Book," what would the punishment be?

Prof. VANDEWALLE: Well, it could range all the way from being seen as a small infraction, perhaps the person was young or so on. But certainly, if you were somebody that was close to the political system, it could have led certainly - almost automatically to your losing whatever position you had in Libya and perhaps mean incarceration, because criticism of "The Green Book" was really seen as criticizing the ideology of the leader and in a sense criticizing the ideology of the leader was really opposition.

BLOCK: Is there one quote from the book that strikes you as sort of the essence of what Moammar Gadhafi is all about?

Prof. VANDEWALLE: Well, there is one very pithy couple of sentences that have always struck me for a long time as being essentially Gadhafi. Freedom of expression, Gadhafi says, is the right of every natural person, even if a person chooses to behave irrationally to express his or her insanity. And that in a sense, to me at least, encapsulates Gadhafi more than anything else he has ever written.

BLOCK: I've been talking about Moammar Gadhafi's "Green Book" with Dirk Vandewalle. He's author of "A History of Modern Libya" and associate professor of government at Dartmouth College.

Thanks so much for being with us.

Prof. VANDEWALLE: My pleasure.

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