Sic semper tyrannis

Among others, those were the words that John Wilkes Booth shouted as he leapt from the Presidential Box at Ford’s Theatre after mortally wounding President Abraham Lincoln.

Over the more than a century and a half since that day in 1865, political figures from Presidents of the United States, Kings, Archdukes, dictators of all sorts, and leaders such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. have been assassinated.

Today we have learned about the capture of Colonel Moammar Gaddafi, the deposed leader of Libya, and his subsequent death, either as a result of wounds suffered during his capture or from a subsequent gunshot. This has been the inevitable conclusion of the events begun by the uprising in Misrata in February.

The scenes shown on CNN and the BBC News Channel are of Gaddafi, alive, being taken away in a truck, and of Gaddafi, dear, sometime later. We see jubilant Libyan fighters waving their guns in the air and shooting off celebratory rounds. Other fighters are flashing the “V for Victory” sign, or boasting that they were the one who found Gaddafi in his drainage pipe hideout and dragged him out to be shot. Women and children are waving signs and ululating in victory.

Why then do I feel uneasy?

I suppose that not having lived under a tyrant I have a jaded view of deaths of tyrants. The video of Saddam Hussain falling through the scaffold’s trap door to his death was pretty awful. The death of Osama bin Laden, while not accompanied by pictures or videos, was fairly squalid as it was described. The scenes of Egypt’s Mubarak, being brought into court on a stretcher, obviously ill, aren’t very pleasant either. Going back in time a bit, the suicide of Adolf Hitler brought the Second World War in Europe to a swift end in 1945. Stalin’s apparent death was celebrated by his closest aides, until he was found to be still breathing; his end had to be hastened by a pillow (reportedly).

Death has a way of being both an ending, and a beginning. The death of Gaddafi has brought his rule in Libya to a pretty bloody closure. But is it the beginning of a new, democratic state of Libya where democratic rule of law will reign over its people? We do not know. We can only hope.

But I must confess that I do not feel easy today. I am not sad at the end of a brutal dictatorship. I am, however, sad that the Libyans arrived at this end through yet another killing. Death, whether of a child in Ethiopia or Somalia from famine, or of a dictator in Libya, or of a close friend, does not bring me any joy.

I do not mourn his passing; however, I do not take joy at the manner in which it happened.

And, lest we forget, death will visit us all, without exception. No one will live forever (nor would anyone want to, I believe). Death has taken the Colonel. However, death will take us too.

It is said that the Rt. Rev’d Mervyn Stockwood, once Bishop of Southwark, remarked on the longevity in office of various elderly priests with, “Where there’s death, there’s hope.” I think that in the Colonel’s case we can only trust that this saying was right. May all the victims of tyranny worldwide rest in peace and rise in glory.

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