Martyrs Day, and Remembering Chris Stevens

I was at university, immersed in my design project when Ikram called me. A hasty greeting was followed by her urgent question, “What on earth is going on in Benghazi? How could they have done that?”

“Hmmm, yes, it’s despicable”, I said, my mind still half on on my project as I eye my professors milling about. She was talking about the attack the night before on the U.S. consulate here in Benghazi. The building was set on fire, supposedly in protest against some obscure anti-Islam movie.

“And I feel so horrible about the ambassador!”, she said.

“What happened to the ambassador, they didn’t hurt him, did they?”, I asked.

“He’s dead! They killed him!”

That snapped me out of my reverie. Killed the ambassador? Impossible. I was up all night monitoring the situation in the news and social media. The consulate isn’t too far from my district, and I could hear heavy artillery, but I thought that was to put at bay the people attacking the embassy.

“It’s all over the news,”  she said, “They killed him and three other Americans with him.”

I’ve usually never felt anything but extreme pride in my city ever since the revolution, but I feel that that day was the lowest point in our history.

Chris Stevens was the United States ambassador to Libya. During the revolution he was the US envoy to the opposition. He died of asphyxia due to smoke inhalation, after the US consulate in Benghazi was set on fire. He was trying to save the other personnel.

All accounts of him were of a kind hearted man who was passionate about helping Libya. It was his good nature and genuine sincerity to our country that makes his death all the more devastating.

As I write this I still feel pangs of sadness at his passing. Pictures of him interacting with Libyans were spread on Facebook; the ambassador in traditional Libyan clothing, or relaxing on a beach in Misrata, or enjoying a smoothie from a local Tripoli cafe. Then there’s the one that became popular months before, Chris enjoying bazeen, a traditional Libyan dish. 

This feeling of anger and outrage at his death was echoed across Libya. Facebook pages and events emerged against the attack, and a protest was held in Benghazi and Tripoli on the same day the ambassador’s death was announced, decrying the terrorism of the small minority who wish to destabilize our country.

And they are terrorists. Despite initial reports that the attack began as a protest against an anti-Islamic film, it’s clear from the pictures and videos that emerged that the excuse of the movie was just a smoke-screen. Investigations are still underway to uncover the truth, but the fact still remains that the people who carried out these attacks in no way represent us.

As I write, I can hear US drones flying overhead, fourth day in a row, pinpointing the location of those who might have been involved in the embassy attack. Flights have been cancelled for the time being, and so far 50 men have been arrested in connection with the attack.

This tragic event is yet another wake up call, for both Libyans citizens and our weak government. We cannot allow our country and our freedom to be hijacked by these people. They have targeted diplomats before, as well as human rights organizations, and the destruction of historic shrines was the last incident before this attack. Enough is enough.

Today has been designated as Martyrs Day, to honour those who died for our country. Chris Stevens is one of those martyrs. He believed in a better Libya, and now it’s up to us to make sure that his work and the work of others, as well the sacrificed lives of thousands of Libyans, does not go in vain.

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