Following the death of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, all major world news media carried photos and video of his bloodied corpse. There was no doubt in my mind about the authenticity of those images - I saw the man up close several times during his lifetime, both in Tripoli and in Moscow.
However, the fact that Gaddafi's body has now been hidden away may raise some doubts among others. Leaders of the opposition National Transitional Council (NTC) announced Friday that the location of the toppled Libyan dictator's grave would be kept secret.
Gaddafi is to be buried according to Muslim tradition. Unlike Osama bin Laden, the former Libyan leader was killed by his fellow Muslims, and it is highly unlikely they would have violated Islamic burial rites.
No trial for Gaddafi
To conspiracy theorists, the disappearance of Gaddafi's body makes the whole affair all the more dubious. Russian ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, for one, said that the story about the former Libyan leader's death was a sham. I didn't take his remarks seriously at first, shrugging them off as a publicity stunt ahead of Russia's parliamentary elections. But it soon became clear that Zhirinovsky is not alone.
Even some Russian diplomats admit, off the record, that this might be a well-orchestrated show. Indeed, U.S. State Secretary Hillary Clinton showed up in Libya just one day before Gaddafi was reported dead. And Libya's rebel leaders began trumpeting their triumph well in advance.
These circumstances bring to mind the discrepancies surrounding Saddam Hussein's capture in Iraq in December 2003 (some of the photos, for instance, showed a palm tree in the background, the color of which was unusual for the season). Saddam took even longer to hunt down than Gaddafi - nine months. But once caught, the former Iraqi leader was put on trial and then executed by hanging. Gaddafi, by contrast, was gunned down without trial, and there is evidence that he was shot to death after having sustained other gunshots. Saddam spent the final part of his life hiding in a bunker, whereas Gaddafi never stopped fighting.
From palace to battlefield
The fact that quite a few members of the Russian political elite doubt the veracity of Gaddafi's death shows there is a high degree of distrust for the West, especially the United States.
Some Russian politicians and political analysts simply find it hard to believe that a ruler with tremendous authority and wealth could spurn opportunities to flee to safety when attacked, choosing instead to face his opponents on the battlefield.
Yet, all my Libyan acquaintances believed Gaddafi when he said he would fight till the end. "That's the ending we've expected," a former Libyan ambassador to Russia, Amir ali Gharib, told me after the announcement of Gaddafi's death. "It was a question of when not if."
This view is shared by Russian diplomats serving in Libya, including Ambassador Vladimir Chamov, whom President Medvedev recalled from Tripoli just a few days before the start of NATO's air strikes in March this year.
Gaddafi would fight to the last breath, people who knew him argued. Mediators are said to have proposed - concurrently with the issuance of an international arrest warrant - that Gaddafi consider the possibility of surrendering. This is not the best way to get someone to cooperate, obviously. But the main reason Gaddafi refused to surrender was his firm belief that the war against him was illegitimate and that the country's civil war would not have broken out without the support of the foreign intervention.
Gaddafi's Bedouin dignity
Gaddafi ruled Libya for some 42 years. He came to power as a 27-year-old military officer in a coup to overthrow King Idris, who was undergoing medical treatment abroad at the time.
The revolution proved to be a piece of cake, but there were great risks involved. The coup was followed by the closing of U.S. and British military bases, and the expulsion of numerous Italian businessmen.
Gaddafi understood that he had enemies inside and outside the country who were plotting to kill him. But he laughed in the face of death. He was in love with life but not afraid to die.
In Sicilia's Mafiosi quarters, a figure like Gaddafi would be described as a true Sicilian, someone who'd rather die than compromise or lose face in the eyes of his inner circle and his clan.
The CIA were well aware of this trait of Gaddafi. Few American politicians doubt that the man was killed near his native town of Sirte on October 20, 2011, along with one of his sons, Motassim, and former defense minister Abu Bakr Yunis. It was here, in Sirte, that Gaddafi was born into a poor Bedouin family 69 years ago.
Back in the 1980s, American investigative journalist Bob Woodward, well connected with the U.S. special services, highlighted the unpredictable and stubborn Libyan colonel's Bedouin dignity. According to Woodward, the discrimination that Gaddafi faced as a student because of his Bedouin origins, both from urban Libyans and Libyan expatriates, resulted in his contempt for elites, allegiance to the Bedouin community, and a sense of solidarity with the oppressed.
In one if his interviews, Gaddafi remarked: "I grew up in a pure environment, free from the infections of modern life."
Gaddafi's vision of death
Psychologists explain Gaddafi's strongly pronounced sense of dignity by the fact that he had spent his childhood and youth in poverty (of the family's six siblings, he was the only one to have been sent to a Muslim school in Sirte and then to a military college). A self-made man, he achieved most things in his life without any outside help or connections, and this added to his conviction that he was destined for greatness.
Rumor has it that fortunetellers had predicted a violent death for Gaddafi and he learned to live with this thought. Being a deeply religious as well as emotionally unstable person (some Western psychiatrists suspected he was slightly schizophrenic), he saw death only as the passage from one form of existence into another. "I often laugh at life," he once said in an interview.
Anatoly Yegorin of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Oriental Studies introduced me to one of Gaddafi's short stories, in which an astronaut experiences a profound emotional shock on returning to Earth and seeing it changed beyond recognition. Eventually he commits suicide.
In this story, entitled "Death," Gaddafi says people should not be afraid of dying but must try to resist it as long as they can. At a certain point, though, resistance becomes futile and Death, "a man on horseback with sword unsheathed," comes "gently, like a seductress." And in the last minute we must surrender to it.
Anyone who doubts Gaddafi fell while fighting his enemies should read the story. No one who wrote a story like this could flee or surrender. And the fact that the country's new leaders have decided to keep his grave a secret indicates that the war in Libya is not over, and that Gaddafi is more frightening in death than he was in life.
*Yelena Suponina is a Moscow News political commentator and a Middle East scholar.
The views expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.