Friday, May 04, 2007
The HIV trial in Libya, part 6 (last): Why most Libyans believed the official story
This image, which I copied from AngloLibyan's blog, seems to be very popular in Libya. At http://lonehighlander.blogspot.com/2005/04/case-441999-story-of-bulgarian-medics.html, Highlander shows it being used by demonstrating HIV-infected Libyan children. The author and copyright status of the image are unknown to me. I'll be grateful to any reader who informs me about these details, so that I could give credit and ask for permission. UPDATE: The author is Mohammed Izwawa (thanks to Suliman who informed me, see his comment to this post; the name seems to be spelled also Ezwawi). I cannot find Mr. Izwawa's e-mail; if he is reading this and disagrees with his work being shown here, he can post a comment or e-mail me (mayamarkov at gmail dot com) and I'll remove it.
This amateur psychological "study" is the last part of my sequel about the trial in Libya; the previous parts are, respectively, at http://mayas-corner.blogspot.com/2006/09/hiv-trial-in-libya-part-1-infection.html, http://mayas-corner.blogspot.com/2006/09/hiv-trial-in-libya-part-2-victims.html, http://mayas-corner.blogspot.com/2007/03/hiv-trial-in-libya-part-3-tale-of-two.html, http://mayas-corner.blogspot.com/2007/03/hiv-trial-in-libya-part-4-how-infection.html and http://mayas-corner.blogspot.com/2007/04/hiv-trial-in-libya-part-5-discussing.html.
This part was the most difficult for me to write. Remember Diogenes who took a lantern to search for The Human? Anyone who tries to explore the hidden spaces of human mind needs a lantern, for he is likely to find little light where he is going. Moreover, because I am not a Libyan and my people differs from the Libyans in many respects, the intended recipients of my message will most probably dismiss it as mere bigotry. I have even considered omitting this part and letting Libyans, one day after they set aside their more serious problems, to search their souls themselves. However, such a bright future seems unlikely to come, so I'll end my sequel as planned. I won't try to make this post concise - let it be as long as it gets.
Why do most Libyans agree with the official version that the AIDS epidemic in Benghazi was caused intentionally? I think some really believe it while others only claim to believe. So we have two groups to consider.
1) Libyans sincerely believing in intentional infection
The official story that the infection was deliberately spread, especially in its original CIA-Mossad version, seemed so absurd to me that I wondered how could any sane adult believe in it. Even a 12-yr old, I thought, would laugh and say this is a good idea for a video game. However, we must remember what Einstein said, "Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe." Recently, one of my relations said to me she believed cures for AIDS, plus all types of cancer, were discovered but drug companies were hiding them in order to sell their current expensive and inefficient products. At the same time, a popular TV host (Milen Tsvetkov, for Bulgarian readers) was launching a hysterical campaign against immunizations because of the rare but severe complications of some vaccines (I wish him to see the video at http://www.kevinleitch.co.uk/wp/?p=538). So stupidity is by no means a Libyan patent. However, in a normal society different views are freely expressed and so you have many different types of stupidity, instead of one dominating. The situation is different in a dictatorship, where you are brainwashed round the clock by the official propaganda and have very limited access to alternative information sources. Of course nobody knows better that the Libyans that the TV speaker's "Good evening" is the only part of the news likely to be true, but humans cannot live in informational vacuum, so most of them finally succumb to propaganda. In this context, it is noteworthy that Qaddafi's version isn't very popular among Libyan expatriates who live in normal informational environment. To cite some examples, Hannu, Suliman, 7mada and Smokey Spice reject it.
Let me give a small sample of official Libyan propaganda. As Suliman mentioned in a comment to my earlier post, Libyan sources, without giving the full text of Dr. Montagnier's in-court testimony, claim that it "was damning to the case of the accused" (http://mayas-corner.blogspot.com/2007/01/what-made-libya-at-end-of-2006-similar.html). (This reminds me of the joke about Napoleon who said in his afterlife, "Soviet propaganda is a great thing. If I had it, nobody would ever know I had lost the Waterloo battle.") An even more fruitful approach is using the infected children and their families. Remembering how useful was for the anti-Vietnam war propaganda the image of a single napalm-burned child, you can figure out what can be done with more than 400 young victims. An example can be found at http://anglolibyan.blogspot.com/2007/03/wisams-story.html. The mother of an infected boy claims that "Sanjaka the Bulgarian old nurse" (presumably Snezhana Dimitrova) has given him an unauthorized shot: "I saw with my own eyes Sanjaka injecting a syringe in to my son's drip, when the nurse noticed that I was looking she got scared and quickly hid the syringe, I asked her what was that medicine for and told her that he is not supposed to have any medications at this time... Yes I saw her inject my son with my own eyes." I'll duscuss later the families' claims and their reflection on other Libyans, let me now just mention that if the story is true, this woman should be telling it not in a newspaper but in the court. As should be expected if the defendants are picked randomly, the evidence linking them to the infected children is very thin. It is in fact so thin that a mother who could testify to have actually seen nurse Valya Chervenyashka inject her child was a key witness and it was a blow for the prosecution when she died of AIDS. (It is another question that only in the twisted reality of totalitarian Libya a nurse in a children's hospital can be charged with giving shots to children - what actually was she expected to do to earn her salary?)
Another reason for Libyans to believe in intentional infection is that they regard the Benghazi epidemic as a world precedent. It seems that the intra-hospital infections in other countries and the importance of unsafe transfusions and injections for spreading the disease are still unknown to most Libyans. Indeed it is in human nature, when something awful happens to us, to think we are the first and only ones in the world hit by it (and realizing that thousands or millions other people have suffered the same is an important part of recovery). But in this case, the propaganda also helps. See e.g. http://anglolibyan.blogspot.com/2007/02/unite-for-children-unite-against-aids.html. At the top of a continent devastated by AIDS for decades, Libyans are being told that theirs is "a real tragedy that the world never experienced before", "no crime ever committed was as horrible as this crime that was committed against our children", "there is no crime worse than this crime". And once you believe that the Libyan epidemic is unique, you will require a unique explanation. Only if you are outside Libya, the question "how bad is this case in comparison to the AIDS disaster in Africa as a whole" may come to your head (Suliman's comment to the same post).
I think that, despite my conviction that unwanted behaviour mustn't be excused in order not to be encouraged, I have almost excused the Libyans for believing the unbelievable. However, a seemingly small but very important detail remains: the personalities of the accused. One day, when the Q-man's rule will be just a painful past, the Libyans will have to deal with the question, "Why did our dictator choose exactly this story to sell to us? He implicated CIA because he knew we hated America; logically, the Americans had bombed us. He implicated Mossad because he knew we were anti-Semites; well, almost everybody was at that time. But why did he choose as scapegoats foreigners, mostly white, mostly women? Did he think we were sexists, racists and xenophobes? And was he right, after we believed him so easily?"
I think it isn't a coincidence that of the seven accused medics, five are women and the only one acquitted is one of the two men (Dr. Zdravko Georgiev). Witchhunts in Europe also targeted mainly women. It seems that cultures repressing sexuality tend to see something satanic in women. This applies not only to young attractive women but also to others who aren't much of a temptation, so this phenomenon is puzzling to me. Possibly someone else could try to clarify it.
The impact of racism and xenophobia is easier to explain. They had been inherent to human even before he evolved into human proper and although restrained today, they are still here and raise their ugly heads every time when something bad happens. Earlier this year, Atanas Predov, a Bulgarian guest worker in Spain, died of methanol intoxication. His relations didn't believe this to be the cause and requested an autopsy which revealed that both kidneys were missing. It was concluded they had been taken for illegal transplantation and this had caused the man's death (source e.g. http://www.sofiadnes.com/modules.php?m=news&nid=24783 in Bulgarian, http://p083.ezboard.com/Bulgarian-Victim-of-Criminal-Organ-Removal-in-Spain/fbalkansfrm11.showMessage?topicID=1325.topic in English). Significantly, no one of the Bulgarian comments I've seen questions the idea that Spanish doctors kidnap Bulgarians from the street and kill them by removing their kidneys for transplantation. In the early 1990s, many Bulgarians objected foreign adoptions out of fear that the children would be used as organ donors. A Bulgarian journalist, mentioning that such fears are popular in many countries despite the absence of proven cases, described this is a modern technological version of an immortal myth - that our children are kidnapped or killed by foreigners. Indeed, the parents of at least two missing Bulgarian children believe, without any serious reason, that the children have been kidnapped and taken abroad (you can read about one of the victims at http://savestin.exactpages.com/).
Taking the above into account, imagine how bad could the situation be in Libya, where the Others are all the time demonized by the official religion. Indeed, one of the reasons why I hate Islam is that it uses, and enhances in order to use, every single built-in defect of human nature. To help the demonization, Libyan prosecutors have accused the Bulgarians also in illicit sexual relationships, distilling alcohol, drinking alcohol in public and illegally transacting in foreign currency. To the Western mind, it seems absurd that additional minor charges are allowed to obscure such a grave case. However, within the if-it-moves-forbid-it Koranic philosophy these charges are not minor. As an anonymous commentor explained at http://mayas-corner.blogspot.com/2006/11/alfa-roma.html, a woman wishing to have sex with a man other than her husband is not a human sinner but a monster able to do a first-degree child murder or any other outrage without even hesitating. The currency transaction seems to imply a violation of the Koranic ban on interest and prove that the accused are extremely greedy people able to do everything for money.
The belief of so many Libyans that the accused medics deliberately infected their patients does more than moving the anger away from Qaddafi's health care establishment. It affects the collective Libyan psyche. Without this belief, the siblings and classmates of the infected children would vow to become AIDS researchers and find a cure; instead, now parents are vowing to join al-Qaeda and seek revenge. Such pledges reveal what is going on in people's heads and for that reason, although very unlikely to be fulfilled, may help us predict the future.
2) Libyans trying/pretending to believe
While many Libyans sincerely believe the official story about the Benghazi epidemic, many others just try to convince others, and usually also themselves, that they believe it. Of course, trying to accept something you don't really think means personality split. I've mentioned that not only patients with schizophrenia but also most of the so-called normal people are a combination of two or more incompatible personalities. You don't agree? Haven't you asked yourself why you so often cannot predict how a well-known person will behave in a certain situation? This is because, even if you have been around him for 20 years, you have no way to know which of his personalities you'll be dealing with. But let's return to the question why Libyans claim and try to believe in intentional infection.
Compassion is a burden for the soul. Therefore, if a person is suffering and we cannot (easily) help him, we tend to brush compassion off by convincing ourselves that he brought it upon himself. In other words, we are inclined to blame the victim. E.g. when some years ago in my city a 16-yr old girl was shot dead by a policeman as she was leaving a bar with her boyfriend, a surprising number of people reacted by saying that good girls don't go to bars. In the Libyan HIV case, I am sure that if the infected patients were adults, much more time would pass before linking them to the hospital. Everybody would think they had contracted the disease by illegal sex or drug use. But because children are infected, and infected not by HIV-positive promiscuous mothers but by medical procedures, the Libyan society has to feel compassion for the children and their families. This is already a burden. It would be too much of a burden to pity, apart from the children, also a bunch of tortured and gravely accused foreigners. So people feel better to think that the defendants are guilty. And logically, the more abuse and undue imprisonment the medics are forced to endure, the stronger will be the psychological need of ordinary Libyans to consider them guilty.
In fact, subjects of a dictatorship tend to blame every victim of the regime. When the Communist rule in Bulgaria was dismantled in 1989 and we first enjoyed freedom of speech, I was surprised to see how many Bulgarians believed in the guilt of political prisoners. (In fact, there had never been a strong anti-Communist opposition in Bulgaria and most "political prisoners" were jailed for offences such as wearing a wrong kind of clothes, speaking Western languages, listening to the BBC, telling quite innocent jokes about the regime and the dictator, or for nothing at all.) My friend explained this widespread opinion. She said, "People just feel compelled, after not entreating for the prisoners, to believe in their guilt." I replied, "But who would dare to entreat? We had justified fears for our own safety!" My friend said, "Few can think like you, because people hate regarding themselves as cowards." I call this phenomenon "survivor syndrome". It surely helps people to live under a dictator without feeling depressed all the time, but slows recovery after the dictator is toppled. The survivor syndrome means that the more atrocities a dictator does, the stronger will be the motivation for his (surviving) people to whitewash him and blame his victims. We are observing this very clearly in Iraq.
There is also another, more noble reason for Libyans to convince themselves in the medics' guilt. This is the sense of solidarity with the parents of the infected children and the wish to believe everything they say. Let me discuss this important issue in more detail. The initial article in the La magazine cited a number of parents who accused the hospital staff in rudeness and incompetence but expressed no suspicion of malicious intent, neither pointed to medics of a particular nationality. Of course the parents, most of whom had accompanied their children at the hospital, shouldn't believe very easily in the official version. E.g. some of them are likely to know that their children haven't been treated by any of the accused medics (the defense team revealed that such infected children exist by simply comparing the dates when the patients were treated at the hospital and the dates when the defendants were on duty). However, at a later stage the parents very actively supported the version of intentional infection and called for death penalty and huge compensations. Of course some of them, desperately needing somebody(anybody) to blame for their tragedy, found relief in seeking revenge against the accused, while others, even if not quite believing, would want the Bulgarians sentenced in order to receive compensations from Bulgaria (or its Western allies). These parents have every reason to think that Qaddafi will not agree to give money for their children and they have more chance to get the sums needed for treatment from a foreign source. They cannot think too much of justice and abstract truth and so on, the need of their infected child comes first.
After a court session last August when none of the defense witnesses appeared (I've blogged about this at http://mayas-corner.blogspot.com/2006/09/nothing-new-in-libya.html), Idris Laga, father of an infected child and chairman of an association of parents of the infected children, was delighted about the witnesses' absence and said it proved the prosecution thesis was correct. A more sophisticated person would express regret that the witnesses hadn't appeared to say their phony testimony and have it disproved, but we must be glad that Mr. Laga said what he said, because his words show us something important: the parents of the infected children aren't interested in fair trial and disclosing the truth, on the contrary, they will make every effort to obscure it. After de Oliveira et al. published their article in Nature claiming that the epidemic started before the defendants arrived to the hospital, Mr. Laga stated that the scientists "were not authorized by the kids' legal guardians to obtain samples" (Suliman's comment at http://mayas-corner.blogspot.com/2007/01/what-made-libya-at-end-of-2006-similar.html). With other words, we won't allow blood samples to be taken from our children because their analysis could prove somebody not guilty and so make his execution more difficult!
The cynic would also mention that the guardians (most likely the parents) seem too well informed about their rights for people fresh out of a dictatorship, so hasn't anybody instructed them? Indeed, in the above lines, I portrayed the parents as free people acting on their own free will, which is hardly justified. Remember the mother who allegedly saw nurse "Sanjaka" inject her boy (http://anglolibyan.blogspot.com/2007/03/wisams-story.html)? Let me cite the comment of Libyan-American Hannu, mother of four: "I am very skeptical of the story and the extent of truth in it. First, the fact that it was published in a Libyan newspaper takes away from its credibility. I got to the part "... when I saw with my own eyes Sanjaka injecting a syringe in to my son's drip..." and that's where I realized the Libyan propaganda behind the story... It is a fact that some of those families are being coaxed by the Libyan authorities to lie and distort things in exchange of false never-fulfilled promises. Who's to blame them!" Mickey Grant, who made a video about the case, has first-hand information that the families are indeed coaxed: "No journalist I know of has ever been allowed to do real interviews with the families of the children. I went to Rome where many of the children were being treated for that purpose and I found that the only way the families could participate in an interview was if a Libyan Agent was present and they were too scared to do that." (http://anglolibyan.blogspot.com/2007/05/what-is-real-number-of-libyas-aids.html; there you can see the video, too).
Some Libyans may think that while it is unfortunate that innocent people have been abused by the Libyan state the way they were, it is a good thing to force the West to pay for the children's treatment (especially after the Libyan government seems reluctant to pay). Indeed, demanding ransom after taking hostages is a much more reliable way to obtain money than appealing to people's humane feelings. However, what might benefit the families (because, while much of the money will surely go astray, some will serve its purpose) is a long-term PR disaster for Libya. I don't think that in our globalizing world somebody can afford not to care what others think of him. "How many Arabs does it take to change a light bulb? None. Arabs just sit in the dark and blame it on the Jews. Same thing with the HIV infection, but this time they blame foreign medics." This is the best of several samples of the "war declared on Libyans on the Internet", cited by AngloLibyan (http://anglolibyan.blogspot.com/2007/02/who-is-michael-sheilds.html). What should be more worrying for Libyans than these Web insults (apparently work of Bulgarian teenagers) is what adults are thinking, typically without saying it in public. The whole affair reinforced one of the worst steretypes about Arab Muslims - that they contact Westerners mainly in order to extort money from them at any cost. I advise Libyans always to stick to the claim that the demand to Bulgaria/West to pay for the children's treatment is solely Q-man's policy never approved by the majority of Libyans. Without true opinion polls, nobody can ever prove the opposite. Those who make voluntary fund-raising campaigns for the children should never imply that the West has any responsibility for the children's plight, either by conspiracy to infect them or by sanctions. Instead, a point should be made that these children are innocent victims of Qaddafi's health care system which, after allowing them to be infected in the first place, now refuses them adequate treatment, although Libya has enough money to afford it (esp. after lifting the sanctions).
And last, after discussing the most noble reason for Libyans to claim to believe Qaddafi's story, let me mention the least noble one: Islamism, i.e. taking to heart the Koran's demand to force Islam down the throats of non-Muslims. While Islam makes a person prone to sincerely believing bad things about the Others, Islamism includes deliberate lying in an effort to denigrate the enemies and so obscure their evident moral superiority. After the Islamists blame the West for their own crimes (Sept. 11) and for natural disasters (the tsunami), how could they resist to blame it for a man-made AIDS epidemic? Among the Libyan diaspora, I've observed almost 100% correlation between expressing firm belief in the medics' guilt and being Islamist (I prefer not to give links, because the aim of this post is not to attack my opponents personally). Within Libya, Islamism doesn't seem very popular... with one important exception: the city of Benghazi.
As I mentioned before in Part 2, strong feelings against the Qaddafi's regime existed in Benghazi even before the epidemic and were reinforced by it. However, the Q-man handled the crisis in a way I reluctantly admire. Knowing well the Islamists' minds, he knew that they were hating him but were hating much more the white infidels, especially the women (similarly to the Iraqi Islamists who, while disliking Saddam, love to hate America and its supporters). All he needed to do was to divert the anger and hate to appropriate objects. After that, interviewed ordinary Benghazeeans praised the Leader for helping the infected children receive justice and not caving in under Western pressure. Of course they couldn't say in front of the camera that they hate Qaddafi, but I had the feeling that the praise was at least 70% sincere.
This is why I am angry at the Benghazi residents. Unwilling or unable to use properly their brains because of heavy Islamist prejudice, they wasted their courage in vain and achieved less than nothing. Instead of being real danger or at least a thorn in the ass for Qaddafi, they became useful pawns in his game. When criticized by Westerners, he can always point at them and say, "You may dislike me but do you see the alternative? People ready to torch buildings because of a cartoon, people whose most cherished dream is to resurrect the 7th century." In the case of the AIDS outbreak, Qaddafi is responsible (though indirectly) but he manipulated the Benghazeeans so successfully that now he is more popular among them than before! Like an Iraqi who admires Saddam despite having a brother killed by the regime (linked and discussed by Sandmonkey at http://www.sandmonkey.org/2007/02/02/lmao/), Benghazi residents now admire the true murderer of their children. Indeed, Qaddafi gained so much from the whole affair that some Libyan expatriates, following the "Who benefits from this?" logic useful in disclosing many crimes, suspect that he caused the Benghazi epidemic intentionally, with or without the accused medics' participation!
I wouldn't want to end this post with such a bleak picture, but so be it, for even the worst truth is better than false hopes. In conclusion, I'd advise Libyans, when going to a hospital for intravenous injections, to ask what syringes and needles they'll need and buy them beforehand. And of course also to use condoms when making unauthorized love.