NEW YORK – Yussif Ali did not mind waking up at 2 a.m. this morning to come from his native Boston to Dag Hammarskold Plaza, next to the United Nations, to support a world leader he respects.
"I set aside two doctor appointments today to come see [Moammar] Gadhafi's first time visiting the United States. To me, he's a hero," the union carpenter said.
While many Americans associate Gadhafi with the terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988, (Libya formally admitted responsibility for the attack in 2003), Ali and hundreds of others who gathered across the street from the U.N. on Wednesday have a very different view of the Libyan leader.
|Bebeto Matthews / AP|
|Supporters of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi watch a broadcast of his address to the United Nations General Assembly at Dag Hammarskold Plaza in New York on Wednesday.|
"I'm a black American and taking lives of innocent people is wrong and unforgiveable and I see no excuses," said Ali, who has been a member of The Nation of Islam for more than 25 years. "But I don't believe Col. Gadhafi gave anyone a direct order. You have a lot of radical people you can't control."
An imposing phalanx of hundreds of Nation of Islam supporters dressed in dark suits flanked the walkway that led to a podium at the end of the plaza. A large JumboTron television had been set up to allow those assembled to watch Gadhafi's speech to the U.N. General Assembly.
After the speech, many left inspired, including Abdush Shahid, a police officer from Newark, N.J. "This is the beginning of the history of Africa. Under the leadership of Gadhafi we begin to unify under one banner." Shahid was clear that he was not a member of The Nation of Islam. "I am a Sunni Muslim, and there is no separation – we are all brothers." Shahid believes Gadhafi as a leader who is unifying millions of Africans and their descendants into one community.
On the other hand Earl Dickinson, a 75-year-old retired tractor trailer driver who also traveled from Newark, had a much more practical reason for supporting Gadhafi. "He gave $2 million to [Louis] Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam." Dickinson said it was Gadhafi's support and connections which helped Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam since 1978, expand his organization and disseminate his message.
In fact, Farrakhan met Gadhafi at Libya's mission in New York on Tuesday to welcome him ahead of his first ever appearance at the U.N. after 40 years as the ruler of the oil-rich North African nation.
And Alonzo X, a serious and mature-looking high school senior, traveled from Connecticut to witness the Libyan leader's U.N. speech. When asked whether they received any payment or remuneration for coming, Alonzo and others said they volunteered to come to New York as soon as they heard the news of Gadhafi's visit. "I wasn't paid to be here," said the young man in the somber suit. "God is paying us."