Moammar Gaddafi’s outlandish behavior has long been a gift to comedians. Making fun of the Colonel clearly does not require much effort: all the news channel Al Arabiya had to do for their segment Gharaib Al Gaddafi (Gaddafi’s Oddities) was put together a montage of clips of the Brother Leader and his fern fly-swatter.
One of Gaddafi’s eccentricities in particular, his retinue of women bodyguards, has over the years come in for much speculation and endless ridicule. Recently on the Colbert Report, they were imagined as “choreographed waves of six-foot-tall Libyamazons spin-kicking protesters in the jaw” and likened to a Janet Jackson video. This isn’t far from how international media tends to portray them. As Lynn Harris wrote, they are seen as “a badass bunch of Lara Croft clones…They’ve been described as ‘wearing their Kalashnikovs like Gucci fashion accessories.’”
Rania Ajami’s documentary Shadows of a Leader: Qaddafi’s Female Bodyguards hoped to dash such simplistic ideas about the bodyguards, investigating “the tensions these women embody: tensions between Islam, modernization in a nomadic society, a militarist feminism and an urban dictatorship.” In an interview about her documentary (ironically interspersed with many comments on Ajami’s appearance), Ajami’s own opinion was more clearly laid out in stating that the “bodyguards are really a symbol of this new feminism that exists.”
With Libya back on the map following the uprising in the country, the women bodyguards debate and whether they are “Lara Croft clones” or “liberated women,” has been revived. Some have again taken issue with the way the “the media has been so insistent over the years on figuring the bodyguards as “Bond girls,” “Glamazons,” etc.” pointing out that “the fact remains that these bodyguards are real soldiers, trained to kill. They are not—and this apparently needs saying—a cute harem.”