The sneer of cold command: my encounter with Saif al-Islam Qadafi
Shortly after Mr Qadafi started his studies at the LSE it became clear that he was struggling, not least with economics. The then Libyan ambassador to the UK discreetly requested that Saif be given extra tuition, and by various circuitous routes I was approached to tutor him.
For several months I trolled into London from Buckinghamshire in the early evenings to give private tuition at his town house on Cadogan Place, Knightsbridge. But I faced an uphill battle. Saif was not, how to say this politely, the brightest of students. Not only was he totally uninterested in economics, he lacked the intellectual depth to study at that level, and showed no willingness to read let alone do course work. Worse, our tutorials were endlessly interrupted, either by the constant comings and goings of his retainers, or by his mobile phone, which rang every two or three minutes.
The task was clearly impossible, so I quit without charging a penny for many wasted hours. By the time I resigned, however, two things had become clear. First, without making it totally explicit, Mr Qadafi was expecting me to write his essays for him, and presumably to carry this through to preparing his thesis. I was not prepared to do this. Second, behind his superficial charm and polish, Mr Qadafi was very much his father's son: during hours spent in his company I saw, for the first time in my life, the nature of despotism captured so well by Percy Shelley in his brilliant poem Ozymandias:
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Saif was living proof that the sneer of cold command and the mocking hand are timeless qualities.
While I was astonished, years later, to hear that Mr Qadafi had been awarded his doctorate by the LSE, I was not at all surprised to hear on the BBC this morning that concerns have been raised about plagiarism. Corruption comes in many forms, and the fact that the LSE accepted a significant financial bequest from the Qadafi family just doesn't smell right. They know what to do.
POSTSCRIPT: Since posting this blog my attention has been drawn to this article by the LSE's Tony Giddens. What can one say? The final paragraph was ill-judged back in 2007, and with the benefit of time we can see how the author deluded himself about Qadafi, or worse, was prepared to use his reputation to pave the way for rapprochement between Britain (with its voracious appetite for cheap oil and gas) and the Libyan regime.