The international firestorm over Scotland’s decision to free Libya’s Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi shows no sign of abating, nor should anyone have expected it to. Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill will be making a statement to that country’s Parliament. His appearance isn’t expected to be pretty.
The decision to send the only person convicted in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing home to Libya was, one expects, not taken lightly. However, on the international stage, there are charges a trade deal was made to free Megrahi, and there are calls in the US for a boycott of Scottish and British goods and tourism.
No one can predict if such action will be taken, and if so, what its effect will be. Yet for me, and the city in which I live, the entire weight of the Scottish decision and Libya-US relations has taken a decidedly personal turn.
That’s because there’s word that Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi is considering a stay in Englewood, NJ, the city I call home. Qaddafi is due to speak to the UN next month, Englewood is about 10 miles as the crow flies from midtown Manhattan, and the Libyan mission to the UN owns a home in town.
As you might imagine, news of Qaddafi’s possible visit has touched off a wave of anger in Englewood’s large Jewish community. Many here consider him a continuing sponsor of terrorism, no matter what the rapprochement between Libya and the US in recent years. Residents cite as proof of Qaddafi’s imminent arrival frantic renovations currently going on at the little used property .
Of course, there’s little that can be done to legally stop Qaddafi from using the property while he’s in the US.
There are issues regarding international diplomacy, and the State Dept. doesn’t as a rule publicize where foreign leaders reside during visits. Qaddafi reportedly wanted to pitch a tent in New York’s Central Park, but that request went nowhere.
Already there are calls from some to “burn the house down”, which is at best stupid and at worst could merit a visit from authorities.
Certainly if Qaddafi does come to my town, I’d expect protests, large and vocal. Englewood is a diverse small city, and as such would tolerate a stay by Qadaffi, but certainly not in silence. And that’s as it should be. As Americans, we have the right of free speech and should show our outrage that a convicted murderer can return home to a hero’s welcome.
To the extent that Muammar Qaddafi condoned and organized that show of support, he should be the subject of protests, in Englewood, NJ and at the UN. If he chooses to stay among us, he’s got to hear us as well.
Isn’t that the American way?