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Shai Baitel Headshot

Between Gaddafi and Galliano: Ethics and Morality

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It's a dilemma. What are the women owning and wearing the high fashion dreams composed by John Galliano supposed to do now?

It does not happen very often that international political developments and news coming out of the fashion world have a common thread. Recent events in Libya and in Paris, however, give cause to ask some serious questions about morality and ethics. Political leaders worldwide and certain entertainment stars are red-faced over their involvement with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. And an adored designer of Dior was exposed publicly (finally?) as a bigot.

A quick recap: John Galliano was fired a couple of days ago after an online video -- taped two years ago! -- showed him praising Adolf Hitler. It was most instructive to witness the fallout of this scandal. At this year's Academy Awards some celebrities reportedly chose to replace their gowns and received praise for it. Others, such as Nicole Kidman, stuck to their choice and had to deal with a negative reaction of the crowds at the Red Carpet as well as of the media commentators.

Newly minted Oscar winner and advertisement face of Dior, Natalie Portman, did not mince words, showing herself shocked and disgusted, disassociating herself from Galliano. And it is certain that we have not seen the end of it, even after Dior presented the designer's last collection in an emotional show. Who else will distance himself/herself from an affiliation with Galliano or Dior designs made by him? Gowns are being returned to Dior stores for full refunds, handed back to a sympathetic and understanding staff.

Worrying news keeps coming out of Libya. Reports and eye-witness accounts tell the story of the brutal responses of Muammar Gaddafi and his sons to the protests of the Libyan people, with thousands of citizens killed. Now some assorted celebrity singers who had enjoyed the Gaddafi money for their services or activity did exercise immediate damage control.

They declared that they do not seek affiliation with suspected criminals against humanity and that the money they had earned and was paid by the Gaddafis will now be donated to various charities. The list includes stars such as Beyonce, Mariah Carey, Nelly Furtado, Lionel Richie, 50 Cent.

And over in Britain, London School of Economics (LSE) head Sir Howard Davies resigned after new details emerged of the institution's relationship with Libya. He stated he had recognized that LSE's reputation had "suffered" over a £300,000 research grant from Gaddafi's son and LSE alumnus, Saif al-Islam.

These are times when owning up to one's involvement with less than savory characters is, shall we say, en vogue. In a way, the rich and famous now disassociating themselves from Galliano react in the same fashion as those who seek to disengage their names from the Gadhafi family.

There is always the risk of a conflict between one's desire to, say, own a precious item or make mutually beneficial deals and the possibly controversial origin of it. For those of us with better memories or those who actually are or know Holocaust survivors and their descendants this dilemma presented itself over the purchase, or non-purchase of products made in Germany, the country responsible for unspeakable atrocities.

But morally, there is an even more troubling question. The artists who performed for and were paid by the Gaddafi clan -- and their managers -- knew precisely for whom they were performing. The famously infamous parties thrown by Gaddafi's sons in St. Barths were as well known as they were well attended by affluent crowd of vacationers on that magical island. Gaddafi's and Libya's links to Lockerbie, Berlin and other places of terrorist atrocities did not seem to bother them too much. The jet-set crowd showed up, the stars performed, got their nice check and pretended it never happened. If we just don't think about it we're not bothered.

As for John Galliano, we learn something interesting from an Israeli media outlet that an Israeli designer who for a limited time worked at Dior. She found that while he never had a bad temper he actually was well know for anti-Semitic views. It seems that there was enough incentive to sweep it under the rug.

What can we make of this? Where considerations other than decency and doing the right thing are ranked higher, star performers as well as leaders at Christian Dior should explain to their loyal fans and clientele their decision-making process.

The moral problem lies at the beginning and not at the end of the cases of Gaddafi and Galliano. The decision-making process ex-ante, rather than ex-post, determines how to judge any decision. Given what was known before, the artists performing for the Gaddafis and Dior should have not have gotten involved with the two in the first place. In many ways, the hurried actions ex-post are too few, too little, too late. Today it's about damage control and we will only know in retrospect what the actual fallout will have been in the end.

Someone who knew a thing or two about the subject matter, French diplomat Talleyrand famously, and correctly stated that treason is a matter of dates. And so is outrage. It's now no longer possible to feign ignorance. Public opinion and the commentariat are unified. What we will never know is if those who retract and apologize are actually remorseful or just pragmatic. It might be better not to think about that question too hard.

So what about the Galliano couture-owning women? They might as well get rid of them. There is someone who might gladly take them. Known for his extravagant appearance and outlandish sense of style Muammar Gaddafi closet might be the perfect destination for those newly orphaned Galliano gowns. We just can't be sure just yet if that closet will be in Tripoli.