03 Mar

Libya’s Patient Revolutionaries

By MOHAMMAD AL-ASFAR, Benghazi, Libya

The McGlynn: Highly recommemded read.

“Long ago, I promised a little girl that my only brother would return. He did, and he brought with him a revolution.”

NOTHING is impossible in this life. We can discuss any subject calmly. We only need good intentions. The “are you for me or against me?” narrative is useless. I’m neither for you, nor against you, nor even in the middle.

If I take a position, then I am not being a writer. I am near you, but you can’t see me. I can’t see you either, even as you bleed into my heart. I’m not concerned with observing where people stand on the issues. I’m concerned only with observing the serious little girl who lost her one uncle in a massacre at a Libyan prison.

“Where’s Uncle, Daddy?”

“He’s traveling.”

“Will he be back soon?”

“He’ll be back soon, my darling, and bring you a lovely revolution.”

“And why doesn’t he call us?”

“He has no phone credits, but he’ll charge his phone card and call us soon, my love.”

“Give me his number. I’ll call him. I have a phone card.”

“Dial any number between 1 and 1200, and he’ll reply.”

The serious child tells me that she called him, and that a voice on the phone told her that he was off at Friday prayers.

“So I slept and dreamed, Daddy,” she says. “That a tall man in a white robe walked around the tomb of Omar al-Mukhtar in Benghazi, then he got on his white horse and flew up into the sky; he waved at me, Daddy, and threw me a fragrant flower. When I woke up, I didn’t find it planted in my heart, but the slightly salty scent of Benghazi — of Libya — is still there; take my hand, Daddy, and smell it, to make sure. I won’t ever wash my hand again. I want the scent to stay with me forever.”

I told my daughter: “Wash your hands. The smell won’t go. Water washes only dirt away.”

The revolution in my country is aflame, and has achieved considerable success, internally and internationally. Each time a city is liberated, makeshift institutions to manage everyday life and defend freedom arise, and more members of the former regime’s leadership, whether they are political, cultural or business figures, join in.

Our flag is no longer a solid green field; the one we carry now is red, black and green with a crescent and star in the middle. The colors are a reminder of the darkness and colonization we have suffered in our history.

For decades, we lived in terror, surrounded by spies and informants, facing the risk of imprisonment or “disappearance” at any moment. No one could intervene on your behalf; there were no real courts, no human rights, nothing.

Everything before this revolution was dedicated to enriching the tyrant and his family. Everything was for their benefit: the army, the police, water, culture, education, hotels, restaurants, the flag. Even sex was regulated: many people couldn’t marry until the regime organized a mass wedding or they were “gifted” a bedroom for the wedding night.

Fifteen years ago, in a single night, the tyrant and his mercenaries murdered 1,200 people at the Abu Salim prison in Tripoli, where political prisoners are held. The bodies were piled in a mass unmarked grave — prisoners from all over Libya, of all ages, killed without even a symbolic trial. My only brother was one of them.

I wrote about the massacre in my first novel. And my second. And my third. And I was not the only one who couldn’t forget. The brutality of that summer evening was one of the sparks that ignited this revolution. The families of those victims began the current protests, here in Benghazi, and were soon joined by the young men of the revolution.

Now, despite the violence of the regime all around us, those cities that have been liberated are buoyant with joy; we have tasted freedom. The fear, terror, tension and nervousness that had characterized Libyans has vanished; old disputes have dissipated. Everyone wants to help, undaunted by rain and hunger.

This revolution has transformed Libyans, has made us feel that there is a thing called freedom that must be won, and that one should not enjoy it alone, at the expense of others’ happiness, toil or lives.

I have barely any time to write: I’m spending my days among the crowds. I would rather live the revolution now than write it — it’s still fresh, newborn, untainted by additions and blind custom. It is a Libyan-flavored revolution, a mixture of spice and salt and light that smells like the blessings that come from the lanterns of saints.

For years, I have run into old friends only occasionally, at the Friday market or at funerals, weddings and sporting events. Now, I meet with many of my childhood friends in the streets and alleyways of the revolution.

The walls have become murals, decorated with new slogans chanting the glories of the revolution and its martyrs, and denouncing tyrants and their terrorist ways. These phrases are full of terrible grammatical and spelling errors, but are nevertheless honest and artistic.

They were born with the birth of freedom and life, and these graffiti should never be painted over. They should be kept there until the sun’s rays fade them, although I doubt that the sun would erase such eternal markings.

I don’t want to speak of the massacres that have been committed in the last weeks by the regime: the world has been listening to and watching images of these brutal, gut-wrenching crimes. I want instead to speak of the people who have won, who have defeated death. The martyrs of this revolution have not just been young men and women; there have been martyrs of all ages, of all educational levels, of all social classes. Libya has risen in its entirety.

We are not copying anyone, but we must admit to having been inspired by the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. We cannot know happiness as long as the tyrant remains; how could we possibly visit Tunisians and Egyptians unless we can hold our heads as high as theirs, as high as those of all the free people of the world?

Libyans have been patient for a long time, but our patience was not cowardice. We waited for the moment of true inspiration, and now that it has come and the time is right, we have achieved our goal, with a courage and motivation that has astonished the world.

Our revolution is a revolution of the people, people who can no longer stand the stench of tyranny, who cannot be healed by handouts. The pressure reached its limit. So the people erupted and proclaimed their desire for a better life.

And they were met with the murderous glare of a tyrant, and not with mere tear gas but with live bullets and tanks and aircraft and missile fire. So we called ourselves the “grandchildren of Omar al-Mukhtar,” in homage to the resistance leader who was martyred in 1931 for telling the Italian occupiers that the Libyan people would not surrender, and would either win or die. And we persevered, we endured and we won.

Now, it seems, the country is beautiful. Its women are lovelier than ever, their smiles are sweeter and their hearts are full of song. Even the sick have been healed; their disease was caused by the blight of dictatorship.

The people of the entire world are with us. And even before we had their support, we had their respect for our revolution, which has not been marred by looting or vandalism. Our goal is clear: to bring down a fascist regime that made us as a nation unwelcome in the world.

We will transform Libya into a beacon of civilization and science and culture, a meritocracy where each person will earn his or her position, regardless of ideology or tribe. We will work as transparently as we can, and we will make the world trust us, and help us. Everyone here is convinced that Libya’s liberty has already been won, and that now we must work toward its safety. The revolution now needs talent, not loyalty.

The Libyan people are now brothers of mankind. We can speak freely to those in the Arab world and elsewhere whom we have longed to meet, and can embrace them without fear. Our lives as Libyans have been troublesome: for those of us lucky enough to travel, everywhere we faced an accusatory finger — for the disappearance of the Lebanese Shiite cleric Musa al-Sadr on a trip to Libya in 1978; for the Lockerbie bombing in 1988 and the downing of a French airline over Niger the next year. But now we have shown the world that the blame for these acts does not lie with the Libyan people, but with the heinous dictatorship

Long ago, I promised a little girl that my only brother would return. He did, and he brought with him a revolution.

Mohammad al-Asfar is a novelist. This essay was translated by Ghenwa Hayek from the Arabic.


Comments are closed.

© 2020 | Entries (RSS) and Comments (RSS)

Global Positioning System Gazettewordpress logo