As Libyans flood the streets of Tripoli to demand their freedom, they are winning the support of people around the world. But in August 2009, the world was outraged as Libyans flooded Tripoli to celebrate the homecoming of convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi.
Megrahi was responsible for the deaths of more than 250 innocent people aboard Pan Am Flight 103. But when he was freed in 2009, throngs of Libyans took to the streets to dance, sing, and throw rose pedals in honor of his release. Weeks later, Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi held a public celebration to commemorate 40 years in power, and Megrahi was an honored guest at the festivities.
During Gaddafi’s tenure, Libya became a terrorist state that murdered and maimed Americans, Europeans, Israelis, and countless other innocents. Gaddafi’s Libya was also a leading state-sponsor and financier of terrorist groups and terrorist regimes throughout the world.
But most Libyans did not protest the use of terrorism; in fact, experts speculate that a fair amount of Libyans supported Gaddafi’s sponsorship of terrorism against America, Europe, and Israel. It’s impossible to verify this because Gaddafi ran the country as a closed, authoritarian society. And to be sure, many Libyans opposed Gaddafi and were tortured and killed for their efforts. But most of these people were likely seeking freedom for Libya, not an end to terrorism.
Libyans presumably tolerated and supported Gaddafi’s use of terror because it was aimed at outsiders and Libya’s “enemies.” But now, as the people of Libya are overthrowing the tyrant, Gaddafi is using terrorism against his own people. While we must fiercely oppose these brutal acts, we must also remember that some Libyans supported Gaddafi’s use of terror when it was aimed elsewhere.
The Libyan government’s reaction to the popular uprising in Libya is a warning to the citizens of other terrorist and authoritarian states: if you support and allow your government to sponsor terrorism, it’s only a matter of time before your leaders will use terrorism against you.
Regimes that terrorize others will not hesitate to terrorize their own people. Terrorism is not just a threat to America and the West. It is a worldwide plague that threatens people everywhere, and it must be adamantly opposed in all circumstances.
David Meyers served in the White House from 2006 to 2009, and later in the United States Senate. He is currently pursuing graduate studies at Columbia University.