The other day I had attended the screening of a film entitled ‘Prosecutor’. It was about Luis Moreno Ocambo, the eponymous prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, detailing his work with regards to African countries. During the movie, there was a brief flashback to his earlier work as a judge in Argentina.
There was one scene specifically that I can’t get out of my head. It was of a courtroom, where the trial of an Argentinian dictator was taking place. It was slightly grainy film footage, and you could see people had filled up every corner of the wood-lined room. When the verdict of guilty was read out, there was a close up of a woman who leaned on a railing, burying her face in her arms and sobbing.
I imagine she had lost someone during the brutal reign of the dictator. Maybe more than one person. This was for her, probably, the moment she had dreamed of. The moment justice was finally served, a moment of closure for whatever pain and heartache she had gone through. It was a very brief shot, maybe a few seconds, but it really stayed with me.
Because this is a moment that many people in Libya desire. More than desire, it consumes them. So much so, that they are willing to take justice into their own hands, because waiting for a legal court institution to be set up and put their minds at peace is too long a wait. We’re known for being emotional, impulsive people. We’re quick to love and quick to hate, too. Right now, it’s more of the latter.
Many people felt that justice was served when our own dictator was killed. Many more are waiting for the trail of other officials from the era of the dictator. But as I type this, injustice is still being generated. What else do you get out of a war?
Of course, there is the slight complication that everyone sees justice differently. For some, it’s killing the person who killed your loved one. For others, it’s burning down their house, or killing their loved ones. If someone’s city gets hit by a suicide bombing or a plane strike, well, that’s just one more point for ‘our team’. As things escalate, very few people see actual jail time as justice anymore.
Right now, we’re a nation of six million people with a grudge, and each wants the other’s eye on the end of their knife. And I’m not the exception. On the contrary, I am also angry, I have also lost people and I also have a bone to pick with those who champion the same people that have terrorized my city. It fills me with rage to see a militia leader glorified as a brave man, likened to heroes of the resistance and given pomp and status. It’s done more for the spite value than actual admiration, and I try to rise above such petty goading, but it’s difficult. They do it to hurt us, and it hurts. How do we make them understand what we’ve gone through, that we have legitimate reasons for supporting the side that we do? Even if we screamed it at them through a bullhorn, they probably still wouldn’t pay attention. Everyone’s entitled to their own delusions, I guess.
And yes, you’re probably saying, “But what about your delusions, oh wayward Benghazina?” Again, I’m not an exception. But seeing a car blow up and burn the driver before your eyes isn’t a delusion. Staring down the barrel of a shotgun as a masked 17-year old asks why you want to go back to your house isn’t a delusion. Hearing a man on television promise to plunge your city into another ‘Iraq’, or that they will come to you ‘with slaughter’, isn’t a delusion. These are very real incidences, and more than once they have forced us to rethink how far the severity of the actions we’re willing to accept can go, in order to save ourselves and our city from these menaces.
And for some, who do not live through the situation and thus don’t comprehend it, believe the actions are not acceptable. This where many of the misunderstandings have come from, and what is currently widening the chasm between people. They think we want to prop up another dictator (although we are the ones who initiated the uprising against the previous dictator) and that we wish to wage conflict against them too. And there are plenty of idiots more than eager to fill the position of vengeful rival.
A lot of people say, ‘oh many nations before you have gone through this, but they always make it through the tough times.’ While that’s a very lovely sentiment to hold on to, it’s doubtful when you look around. I find myself questioning more and more lately whether we can make it through in one piece. Will we fragment into parts, each its own nation? Maybe it would be easier. It’s certainly tough to wonder how we’ll be able to all live together after this.
I think back to the girl leaning against the rail of that courtroom during a very distant era, crying in joy, and wondering if she had gone through what we had. Did she, perhaps, also break friendships over the war? Did she also find herself isolated more and more from other citizens in her country? And did she also justify actions that she might later regret?
War is ugly, but civil war is positively heinous, because the charade of national unity and solidarity is dropped as everyone is eager and willing to sink their claws into one another. People will love and hate at the drop of a hat and without any influence of principles or ethics. And we just keep fragmenting into smaller and smaller pieces, until one day we’ll all find ourselves alone, with no one on our side.