THE NOTION of a human-rights prize named for Moammar Khadafy may sound like a bad Monty Python skit. But there is such a prize, awarded by the Libyan dictator’s government. And even now, after Khadafy sent fighter jets and army troops against his own people, at least one prize recipient who should know better has declined to return it.
In December, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan accepted the “al-Khadafy International Prize for Human Rights,’’ which came with $250,000 and praise for Erdogan’s “distinguished service to humanity.’’ Erdogan is the leader of a democratic government in a country with close ties to the United States. In recent days, Turkish civic groups have called on Erdogan to return the prize — and to be as outspoken in behalf of Libya’s people as he was in supporting the Egyptian protests against Hosni Mubarak. But Erdogan says that “returning the award is out of the question.’’
Erdogan’s reluctance to disavow Khadafy takes more substantive forms as well. He has opposed sanctions on the regime. And he publicly slammed US and British talk of a NATO no-fly zone to prevent air attacks by Khadafy loyalists on antigovernment rebels. “We are against this,’’ Erdogan told a conference in Germany. “It should not even be discussed.’’
Other recipients of Khadafy’s prize — such as Cuba’s Fidel Castro, Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez, and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan — have rallied to the Libyan dictator’s defense. But Erdogan, the leader of a country widely viewed as the Muslim world’s leading democracy, should show a healthier respect for Libyans’ aspirations as they risk their lives to get rid of Khadafy. At the least, that means repudiating Khadafy’s ludicrous prize.