On the list of places I expected to find myself in during 2014, a war zone would have come somewhere between Antarctica and the Peruvian jungle. I never would have thought, four years after the revolution, we’d still be picking up the pieces of our country.
If you’ve been keeping up with my Benghazi posts for the past few years, you will have noticed the downward spiral my beloved city has witnessed. This cycle got a new element thrown in with the start of Operation Karama (Dignity), which aimed to free Benghazi from our infamous terrorist groups. Karama has now culminated into a full scale assault on the terrorist cells scattered throughout the city, the final stand between the army and Ansar Shariah. (along with the militias)
While I’m very pro-kicking terrorist ass, I’m not a fan of the excruciating process that it involves. Would dialogue have been a better solution? Of course. Was it realistic? Hell no. Which leads to our current situation.
Because I’ve been stuck at home for the past two weeks as the fighting rages outside, I’ve decided to write up a list of things I learned from this experience, for posterity more than anything else.
1. War Is Not Glamorous:
I’ve noticed that movies tend to romanticize war. They depict it as this epic struggle that provides insight to the human condition, and the beautiful resilience and courage of man in the face of adversity.
No. It’s not insightful, or admirable, or some important event that we need to experience. War is stupid, period. What makes it especially appalling is that the youth are out there risking their lives for some misguided cause they believe in, while their puppet masters are sipping espressos abroad during negotiations for weapons deals. While I support the use of force in dealing with extremists, it doesn’t make suffering through the violence any easier.
A lot of people have described Benghazi as a city of bravery and an inspiration. But we’d trade those accolades in an instant if it meant getting back all the people we’ve lost. We never wanted it to come to this, and being a safe city is preferable to being a brave city.
There’s a quote by Kurt Vonnegut in his book Cat’s Cradle that sums up my feelings:
“Perhaps, when we remember wars, we should take off our clothes and paint ourselves blue and go on all fours all day long and grunt like pigs. That would surely be more appropriate than noble oratory and shows of flags and well-oiled guns.”
2. Social Media Is Inaccurate:
During the beginning of the war, on October 15, there were several reports of people claiming that nothing had happened in Benghazi, that it was all a sham. Social media feeds were triumphantly quoted, saying “You see, it was just a bluff!”
Except, Benghazi is a large city with a population of about one million. One person may have experienced nothing unusual in their district, while it might have been WWIII for others.
Because social media is a combination of different individual perspectives, it’s very easy to sift through the parts you dislike and present the parts that fit your worldview. But you’d be missing the entire picture.
Social media has also become the new grounds for various propaganda machines. The information you’re getting may be inaccurate, misconstrued, or a downright lie. And because being a journalist in Benghazi has become a high-risk job, it’s very difficult to confirm a lot of what you hear. Someone could claim that a person’s house was attacked, but leave out the part about that house being used as a sniper post (this actually did happen). Mobility has become very difficult and communications are limited, which makes credible news hard to come by.
But this hasn’t stopped people making analyses based on what they read online. This can be particularly frustrating for some living in the middle of the action, reading simplistic or inaccurate articles on the situation.
3. You Get Used To It:
This one is kind of weird, but an interesting example of how humans cope and adapt to a changing environment. After the initial first days, when things were confusing and chaotic, everyone was alert, calling each other to make sure they were okay. We kept up the news and every event that happened.
By the end of the first week, though, we had settled into a sort of ‘war routine’. People did their necessary shopping in the morning, avoiding the streets they knew were blocked and learning shortcuts. No one stays out past nightfall, except those guarding their areas. The sound of fighting in various neighbourhoods is still frightening to people (hearing a missile whizz by your house and land in an earth-shaking explosion is something you can never really get used to), but the fighting is sporadic and takes place in bursts, not continuously.
A lot of people don’t realize that Benghazi has been suffering these bursts of violence for years now. Ansar often clashed with the Special Forces, planes have been striking locations for months, the airport was under heavy attack at one point, etc. Even if you loathe the situation, you learn, unfortunately, to live with it.
4. It Brings Out The Best and Worst in People:
My mom always says that there’s two situations that help you see what people are really like; when they’re hosting weddings and funerals (in Libya, these are pretty high stress events that go on for days). I would also add wars, because people tend to react without filters in a life threatening situation.
We have seen amazing acts of kindness from people. A pharmacy in town offered to give medicine for free to anyone who didn’t have cash on hand. Neighbouring cities like Marj have set up donation drives for the refugees coming in from Benghazi. People are sharing their houses to those escaping from the conflict areas.
But we’ve also seen increased prices in apartment rentals in these same neighbouring cities. There’s also been some hoarding going on with food in the market, as people buy more than they need in anticipation of a prolonged conflict.
There’s also been increased unity/tension, depending on which side you support. People who support the army are hopeful, celebrating each success together. Meanwhile, the hostility with those who are pro-Ansar has noticeably increased, fueled by the rumors spreading from both camps. This is either the start of freedom or the start of oppression, depending on who you ask, and this has led to the manifestations of emotions and behaviour you wouldn’t otherwise have expected from a relative or acquaintance.
5. Life Inexplicably Goes On:
During one of the more turbulent days of fighting, my aunts and I were sitting in the living room, with plates of pastries set out and a soap opera on t.v. The sound of the explosions outside was unsettling, but we joked about it. Unlike the usual depiction of panic and fear, we’ve learned to take the war in stride.
Because Libyans, and especially the people of Benghazi, are so community-driven, we’ve managed to lean on each other during times of hardship, something not uncommon in our history. Politics have not been kind to Libyans, and this nation has seen a lot of suffering. It’s always the average citizen who suffers most, and who has to learn to cope in the face of terror. Maybe it’s the history of the country or the nature of Libyans, or maybe it’s just a human trait, but we can be surprisingly resolute, even in the face of mass destruction.
I want the war to end as soon as possible. I want to see police and security forces in my city, I want the application of the rule of law. People who discuss Libya’s situation often forget the human factor involved and that we still lack these basic necessities. Our tolerance to all of this does not equal acceptance. The people of Benghazi have the right to a decent life, a life of dignity, and a chance to rebuild our country without the interference of foreign countries and extremist groups.
If you know the history of this city, then you’ll know that the people of Benghazi always get the final say.