Colonel Gaddafi warns Europe over “turning black”

But there’s method in his madness.

The Libyan ruler, Colonel Gaddafi, has used a summit in Tripoli to warn that Europe risks "turning black" unless Libya is given £4bn a year by the EU to keep out illegal immigrants from Africa. "We should stop this illegal immigration. If we don't, Europe will become black, it will be overcome by people with different religions, it will change," he said.

He made the threat before in the summer, during a three-day visit to Italy. "We don't know what will happen, what will be the reaction of the white and Christian Europeans faced with this influx of starving and ignorant Africans," he said. "We don't know if Europe will remain an advanced and united continent or if it will be destroyed, as happened with the barbarian invasions."

Both of which sit rather oddly with his comments two years ago when, during his election campaign, Barack Obama declared his support for Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel. Then Gaddafi chided him thus:

The statements of our Kenyan brother of American nationality Obama on Jerusalem . . . show that he either ignores international politics and did not study the Middle East conflict or that it is a campaign lie. We fear that Obama will feel that because he is black with an inferiority complex, this will make him behave worse than the whites.

Instead, urged the colonel: "We tell him to be proud of himself as a black and feel that all Africa is behind him."

In the first comment, Gaddafi seems to take a rather dim view of his fellows from the African continent. In the second, Obama is hailed as a "brother" precisely because of their continental connection. So just what does the Libyan leader think?

It all depends, I fear, on who he believes is paying him sufficient attention. He has always longed to be taken seriously as a regional leader, although he hasn't necessarily been choosy about which region in particular. He never achieved the influence and dominance in the Arab world for which he hoped, so has turned his attention in recent years to Africa, which he continues to maintain can become a "country" like the United States of America.

As there is no danger of either crown being offered to him – his proposal that African states share sovereignty has had a lukewarm response – he sometimes hedges his bets by claiming both, as when he stormed out of an Arab summit in Qatar last year, declaring himself "the dean of the Arab rulers, the king of kings of Africa and the imam of all Muslims".

When I profiled Gaddafi in the NS shortly afterwards, I wrote that he was "never the irrational maverick some liked to say he was", and the former Foreign Office minister Mike O'Brien told me the colonel was "an intelligent guy . . . he recognises that the world has changed and he has to change with it".

I stand by what I said. But that doesn't mean that Gaddafi is not prone to strange outbursts (see Samira Shackle's list of his top five), nor that he is averse to playing to the populist gallery, however unlikely his supporters may be. The sad aspect of this case is that those who probably agree with him (even if they would baulk at handing over several billions to Libya) may be on the fringe in this country – but in Europe, as Gaddafi well knows, there are parties across the continent whose fears are exactly those he expressed, and which participate in government in several countries.

Mad Dog? Maybe. But canny dog, in this case, too.

Sholto Byrnes is a Contributing Editor to the New Statesman
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The surprising truth about ingrowing toenails (and other medical myths)

Medicine is littered with myths. For years we doled out antibiotics for minor infections, thinking we were speeding recovery.

From time to time, I remove patients’ ingrowing toenails. This is done to help – the condition can be intractably painful – but it would be barbaric were it not for anaesthesia. A toe or finger can be rendered completely numb by a ring block – local anaesthetic injected either side of the base of the digit, knocking out the nerves that supply sensation.

The local anaesthetic I use for most surgical procedures is ready-mixed with adrenalin, which constricts the arteries and thereby reduces bleeding in the surgical field, but ever since medical school I’ve had it drummed into me that using adrenalin is a complete no-no when it comes to ring blocks. The adrenalin cuts off the blood supply to the end of the digit (so the story goes), resulting in tissue death and gangrene.

So, before performing any ring block, my practice nurse and I go through an elaborate double-check procedure to ensure that the injection I’m about to use is “plain” local anaesthetic with no adrenalin. This same ritual is observed in hospitals and doctors’ surgeries around the world.

So, imagine my surprise to learn recently that this is a myth. The idea dates back at least a century, to when doctors frequently found digits turning gangrenous after ring blocks. The obvious conclusion – that artery-constricting adrenalin was responsible – dictates practice to this day. In recent years, however, the dogma has been questioned. The effect of adrenalin is partial and short-lived; could it really be causing such catastrophic outcomes?

Retrospective studies of digital gangrene after ring block identified that adrenalin was actually used in less than half of the cases. Rather, other factors, including the drastic measures employed to try to prevent infection in the pre-antibiotic era, seem likely to have been the culprits. Emboldened by these findings, surgeons in America undertook cautious trials to investigate using adrenalin in ring blocks. They found that it caused no tissue damage, and made surgery technically easier.

Those trials date back 15 years yet they’ve only just filtered through, which illustrates how long it takes for new thinking to become disseminated. So far, a few doctors, mainly those in the field of plastic surgery, have changed their practice, but most of us continue to eschew adrenalin.

Medicine is littered with such myths. For years we doled out antibiotics for minor infections, thinking we were speeding recovery. Until the mid-1970s, breast cancer was routinely treated with radical mastectomy, a disfiguring operation that removed huge quantities of tissue, in the belief that this produced the greatest chance of cure. These days, we know that conservative surgery is at least as effective, and causes far less psychological trauma. Seizures can happen in young children with feverish illnesses, so for decades we placed great emphasis on keeping the patient’s temperature down. We now know that controlling fever makes no difference: the fits are caused by other chemicals released during an infection.

Myths arise when something appears to make sense according to the best understanding we have at the time. In all cases, practice has run far ahead of objective, repeatable science. It is only years after a myth has taken hold that scientific evaluation shows us to have charged off down a blind alley.

Myths are powerful and hard to uproot, even once the science is established. I operated on a toenail just the other week and still baulked at using adrenalin – partly my own superstition, and partly to save my practice nurse from a heart attack. What would it have been like as a pioneering surgeon in the 1970s, treating breast cancer with a simple lumpectomy while most of your colleagues believed you were being reckless with your patients’ future health? Decades of dire warnings create a hefty weight to overturn.

Only once a good proportion of the medical herd has changed course do most of us feel confident to follow suit. 

This article first appeared in the 20 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, May's gamble

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