Gaddafi, Volkswagen and the Tuareg Desert


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Last night on a walk in my neighborhood I passed a house with a Volkswagen parked in the driveway – it was a Touareg model.  The car was named after the legendary Tuareg Tribes of the Southern Sahara.  They are famous for the fighting skills, their poetry, the blue veils worn by men and their fierce independence.  The Tuareg are nomads inhabiting parts of the deserts that no one else wants or could survive in; they have managed to avoid the colonial control of all of the invaders of North Africa – the Romans, the Arabs, the British, Italians and the modern Arab rules.  They did convert to Islam, but practice a very unique version all their own.  The government of the modern states in which they live allow them a great deal of freedom and in return the Tuareg do not disrupt the government.

Volkswagen probably chose the name because of all of the romantic stories of the tribe, tales of strength in the face of adversity, mobility in the most difficult of terrain and a wild free sense of adventure.  However, there is another label the might not enhance the car’s image – savior of the evil one and protector of murders.   The latest rumor on the whereabouts of Muammar Gaddafi has him hiding out with the Tuareg; drifting in and out of Libya, Algeria, Mali, Niger and Nigeria.  They are everywhere and yet they are no where – traveling at night the camels leave no trail as the wind and the shifting sands covers every sign of their passing. Gaddafi has long fancied himself a desert tribesman living with his tribe and defying all attempts to restrict his freedom.

Over the centuries, the Tuareg have helped many fugitives elude their pursuers, they have guided many a pilgrim or merchant through the mysteries of the desert.  They have also, once they have collected the fee for their services, often slipped off into the night leaving the pilgrim, merchant or fugitive sleeping soundly by a small fire, only to wake and find himself (and yes they were all men) alone in the desert without the knowledge or resources to find his way out.  At some point, these unfortunate wayfarers succumbed to thirst, jackals or bandits and their bones litter the desert.  What an irony it would be if Gaddafi the wild man of the desert – one would suspect that even if as a young man he had the constitution to live the life of a desert nomad that after forty years of luxury and excess he is quite fit to ride a camel 10 or 12 hours at time through the desert – what an irony if that man, the iron fisted, cruel and selfish rule of Libya for 40 years was to die of thirst alone in the desert.   It is not likely to happen, but in my mind’s eye last night the image was oh, so clear and pristine.

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