Already the public visual and physical legacies of the Qaddafi era are rapidly disappearing. The walls of Bab al-Azizya have been leveled, its inner sanctum now a meeting place for family weekend picnics, soon to be turned into a public park. The public posters of the former leader and the exhortations from the Green Book have been shredded and torn down. The Jamahiriyya's green flags no longer flutter from what is now Martyrs' Square in Tripoli. When the civil war unfolded, the omnipresent images of Qaddafi and the slogans from his Green Book disappeared, destroyed in joyous auto-da-fés on street corners and, eventually, at Bab al-Azizya, where Libyans stomped with undiminished glee on the burning images.
Instead one now finds graffiti of Qaddafi everywhere -- and soon even that will be gone. So quickly and thoroughly has the physical presence of the former regime disappeared that on a recent visit to Benghazi I desperately found myself salvaging volumes of his speeches before they were all fed to the bonfire. (Although one should not unduly worry: In the aftermath of the civil war, Libya's embassy in Washington found itself burdened by 200,000 copies of the Green Book that had been left undistributed.)
Qaddafi, the last self-proclaimed Arab warrior, not surprisingly remained defiant and uncompromising until the end. Calling himself a bedouin and a martyr, he vowed repeatedly during the uprising that he would fight to the end, for the sake of Libya and to stand up to the machinations of the West -- and he was true to his word. He said he would oppose all those who wanted to sell out Libya, much like the country's national hero, Umar al-Mukhtar, had resisted Italian colonialism. For all his buffoonery and his misappropriations of symbols, if Qaddafi had understood one thing clearly about Libya, it was that its history could be a powerful force -- something he harnessed for four decades in what turned out to be a reckless political experiment that devastated both the country and its society.
But the final pictures of the dictator possessed a less than heroic quality: Qaddafi dragged through the streets of Sirte, his beloved hometown, his bloody battered body dumped unceremoniously into the back of a pickup truck, his face twisted into a grimace of pain.
One thinks back involuntarily to the early photographs in this collection: of a young Qaddafi embarking upon his revolution, with a winning smile, brimming with confidence, so long ago before it all went disastrously and irrevocably wrong.