Lebanon is a great place to pick up the linguistic ticks of the region's – hopefully still falling – dictators.
And I owe it to Alexandre Najjar to raise in the literary section of the French-language L'Orient Le Jour the weird parallels between Gaddafi's novels and short stories and some of his latest ravings. Saddam wrote the execrable Zabiba and the King. Old Syrian General Mustapha Tlass wrote about 40, some close to being anti-Semitic, along with a deeply embarrassing set of poems for Gina Lollobrigida. They write books, these guys, you know.
But back in the 1990s, Gaddafi – and you can forget his weird Green Book – came out with a series of stories which were later translated into French. Bound as a single volume, they were entitled – hold your breath, folks – Escape to Hell, Death, the City, the Village, the Land, the Suicide of the Cosmonaut, the 'Backward' People, and Others Stories from a writer called Muammar Gaddafi.
Well, I did warn you. And if you think the Green Book is lunatic, these stories are raving. At one point Gaddafi tells his readers: "Come then, let's come to the collapse of Christianity when the people realised that they were being lied to by the people who had told them that Christ was crucified for their sins… It was trusting in this belief, that the Christian states have massacred millions of people in the world and Christ pardoned them in advance!!" Christ's crucifixion was a historic lie, Gaddafi decided.
But it gets better. In "The City" and "The Village", the good colonel decries city life and urges his people to return to their roots. "The city is a hell, not a place of happiness. The city is the graveyard of all social life … a grinder to destroy its inhabitants" – which is pretty much what his army is now trying to do to Misrata, Ajdabiya and all places east. "Flee the city … The city-dweller has no name, no first name, no hope of improvement. His first name is the number of his apartment. It's the number of his telephone." And so on, and on. Gaddafi doesn't like cities, does he? That's why likes to live in a tribal tent. "Don't kill the land," he adds, "because then you will kill yourself."
In "The Cosmonaut", it gets even weirder, when our favourite author imagines a space traveller meeting a peasant and then committing suicide "because there is no work for him on earth". As Alexandre Najjar cruelly points out, Gaddafi then asks "a highly philosophical question". He asks if death is male or female. He waffles on, too, about the father of the prophet Joseph, about the Haj pilgrimage and Friday prayers and communism – which he concludes is not dead "because it was never born". The Russian revolution of 1917 was merely a copy of the 1789 French revolution. "Lenin and Stalin were only disciples of Robespierre and Danton."
But wait, there are two passages that cast a dark cloud over his attempts to kill the February revolution in Libya. "Refuse to turn your children into rats who go from madhouse to madhouse … from gutter to gutter." This is the same man who called the insurgents rats who would be sought out alleyway by alleyway and house to house and room by room a few days ago. At the end of this extraordinary volume, Gaddafi raves on that "the hour of action has sounded" – precisely the same words he used in his crazed address when reading in Tripoli from the Green Book.
So don't say we weren't warned. Force is irresistible, he announces. "I love crowds like I love my own father." These stories are studied with quotations from the Koran, suggesting that the thoughts of the Prophet might be compared to the thoughts of the Libyan "Guide". In Lebanon's An Nahar newspaper, a Libyan even dared to compare Gaddafi to the great Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran. Fortunately, a living Lebanese poet, Charles Chehwan, wrote a sulphurous reply in which he described Gaddafi an "an illiterate Bedouin obsessed with ecology". But a warning note here. I fear that Arabs love a leader who wins. As a well-known politician text-messaged me this week, "Robert, I am amazed by the brigades of Kadafi [sic]. They look stronger than the Afrika Korps."
The Gaddafi volumes were originally published by a former French ambassador to Libya. Did he read them, I wonder? Did Lord Blair of Isfahan carry any briefing papers on his infamous visit to Tripoli, suggesting that Gaddafi was not eccentric but absolutely dotty and advising him to read some of this nonsense? Actually, Blair went a bit dotty in the end but at least he blessed us with only one book (so far, I fear).
And who, I ask myself, was it in the early 1920s who published a volume in German which many people laughed at and thought both boring and mad? By their books, I suppose, thou shalt know them.