Where’s Your Proof? & Other Ridiculous Arguments about Benghazi

Because there’s a war waging outside and I have way too much free time on my hands that I’m squandering away on naps, I figured I’d write out a general response to the usual debates (read: angry Facebook comment wars). It’s kind of tiresome to just continuously repeat the same points over and over again, so I’ll compile them here.

Disclaimer: I am not a neutral observer of the events in Libya, if that hasn’t been screamingly obvious yet. I am biased and completely support the army. This is a post written for fun, a chance for me to blow off steam. If you are an Ansar supporter with a bug up your butt, don’t bother past this point.

Point 1) How do you know Ansar are behind all the bad things in Benghazi?

Well, let’s see. The overwhelming majority of assassination victims have been army members (whom Ansar have openly stated are their enemy and have fought with previously) and activists/journalists (who have been openly critical of Ansar Shariah and militia groups).

Then there’s the fact that Ansar have not denied that they are behind the assassinations. I mean, you’d think, with half the country pointing fingers at you, making a statement denying the allegations would be prudent. It’s also not helpful if you go around declaring that democracy is haram.

But clearly the answer you’re looking for here is THIS IS ALL HEFTAR’S FAULT. Which brings us to:

Point 2) Heftar is equally as bad as Ansar Shariah

You see, the term ‘equal’ actually means ‘of the same value’. Ansar Shariah has been wreaking havoc on Benghazi for years. Heftar showed up six months ago. Two years ≠ Six months. Point being that, most of the time, this war has been one-sided, with Ansar attacking the army with impunity. Applying a false equivalence to the two groups is deceptive and incorrect.

There’s also the fact that Heftar hasn’t assassinated over 500 people in cold blood, hasn’t blown up police stations, doesn’t have ties to other terrorist groups, etc. etc.

There’s this thing called cause and effect. Ansar Shariah = Cause. Heftar = Effect. If they hadn’t started their bloody campaign, there wouldn’t have been any need for Op. Karama.

Point 3) Heftar has the help of foreign forces

Yes, and he hasn’t denied it. But there’s a difference between bringing in troops on the ground and getting logistic help.

And if we’re gonna start being nit-picky over the use of foreign forces, did the National Transitional Council have any right to involve NATO during the Libyan revolution? I mean, they’re also foreign forces, right?

Oh, but we liked those foreign forces, even though they also bombed cities and killed Libyans. The point then was to ultimately protect civilians, and the point now is to ultimately protect civilians.

Point 4) There’s a difference between Ansar Shariah and the ‘thuwar’ (militias). I am against the former but support the latter.

Except, what the hell do you think The Revolutionary’s Shura Council is exactly? Ansar Shariah + Libyan Shield + Rafallah Sahati + February 17 Brigade. By grouping themselves with a terrorist organization, the ‘thuwar’ (whose role prior to this was tainted already with shooting at protesters) have basically said that they don’t mind working with throat-slitting maniacs, as long as it keeps them in power.

Point 5) They want to implement Islamic Law! Why do you hate Islam?

Oh, you mean like how they implemented “Islamic Law” in Derna? A group of unwashed, scruffy, ignorant men who can’t even talk properly, holding an entire city hostage and threatening anyone who opposes them with murder, is Islamic? Sorry but you’re reading the wrong book.

And you’re making the assumption that Libya isn’t an Islamic society. Did all the strip clubs and widely available booze confuse you? A Muslim society gets to choose, through consensus, how their region functions, with leaders they voluntarily approve of. Almost like some kind of majority-rule system with representatives and laws and stuff. If only something like that existed.

Point 6) People aligned with Operation Dignity have destroyed people’s homes

Yes, and that is appalling. People’s homes should not be destroyed, even if there’s a valid reason for searching them. No one wants a country built on revenge and retribution attacks.

Did you check out the hashtag #لا_للإنتقام (No To Revenge), where pro-army Libyans expressed their disdain at revenge attacks and urged people not to resort to them? Maybe I missed it, but I haven’t seen a #لا_للذبح hashtag yet by Ansar supporters.

Point 7) Civil society is to blame because they protested against militias on ‘Save Benghazi Friday’

Yeah, you’re right; we should have just quietly accept a group of armed lawless thugs controlling our city, lest our complaints send them on a murder spree. (This point is so filled with stupidity it makes my head hurt.)

Point 8) Is plunging the entire city into a war the solution to this problem?

If you have an alternative solution, I am all ears. Until then, asking people to tolerate assassinations, kidnappings and explosions, until an ideal solution magically presents itself, is going to get you ignored.

Conclusion: We can (and should) be debating things like introducing army reforms, or the importance of transparent and accountable government institutes, how to collect the weapons that are in the hands of criminal gangs, etc. Better yet, we should be working within civil society to try and enact these changes.

Instead, we’re debating whether it’s legal to fight against terrorist groups and the legitimacy of the Libyan army. It’s almost four years after the revolution and we’re still in a transitional period with no end in sight. We cannot perpetually live in a state of political and military revolution. We need to start being a proper country.

What It Means To Be Libyan

Yes, it’s another culture post. I’m a Libyan who’s obsessed with the intellectual revival of my country, okay? While political flame wars are fun, it’s the artistic manifestations of this unstable and contrasting country that piques my interest. I’ve written about our cultural bankruptcy and Libya’s lost literature. And yes, I’ve revisited this topic several times before.

Pictured: Something difficult to find Libya (the book, not chewing gum)

Pictured: Something difficult to find Libya (the book, not chewing gum)

What really pushed me to write about it again was a book, namely Chewing Gum, by Mansour Bushnaf. I stumbled on this book almost by accident. There was a BBC report called “killing books in Libya” in which the author himself describes the dismal state of publishing in the country. My compulsive googling habits led me to discover his recently published book, and my rage at being unable to attain a copy led naturally to a prolonged Twitter rant at the injustice of not being able to buy books written by people in the same country they come from. 

But a good samaritan noticed my twitter tirade and compassionately bought me the Kindle version of the book, which you can get here by the way. I won’t review the book here since I’ve already done so on Goodreads, but I do want to highlight my reaction upon reading and finishing it.

First off, since I have the unfortunate habit of underestimating Libyan talent, I was taken aback at the literary prose of the book. This is a translated book by the way, a fate that leaves many a written word stripped of the beauty and context of the original language. But the English prose here is even superior to many native English novels I’ve read. Picking my jaw up off the floor, I continued.

The subject matter, whoa. Prostitution, alcohol, love affairs, class division. Libyans like to pretend that this dark underbelly of society doesn’t exist, despite the overwhelming majority of society having some connection to it. But for someone to write about it, and sympathetically no less, was akin to revelation. Why don’t we talk about it? Why are Libyans so afraid of admitting that our social structure is unhealthy and unjust? If you thought ‘systematic repression that has become too ingrained into our subconscious’, then we’re on the same wavelength.

The novel was also, surprisingly, feminist. The repeated symbol of a woman whose intense passions have broken her down because of society’s inability to support her, was refreshing without being too preachy. And the heroine, Fatma, is a symbol of sacrifice for higher aspirations. Relatability, man.

An aged Libyan man wrote a strong female lead. Take a moment to let that sink in.

Libyan horse-riders. Horse riding is a popular sport in Libya. Painting by Libyan artist Ramadan Bakshishi

Libyan horse-riders. Horse riding is a popular sport in Libya. Painting by Libyan artist Ramadan Bakshishi

The story is actually a novelette, and left me with a thirst for more Libyan storytelling. The raw emotion and honesty in Chewing Gum presents a strong impression of one of the many facets of Libyan identity. Our identity is shaped by our surroundings, which is in turn formed from history. We don’t know much about our history because half of it is buried and the other half is being manipulated for political leverage.


King Idris, a much beloved figure symbolizing a more prosperous time for Libya. (Painting by Tariq Al-Shebli)

Never mind history books, Libya has virtually no books, let alone some kind of widely available, neutral source of history where we can all read up on the path that led us to this crumbling wasteland of a country. “Those who don’t read history are doomed to repeat it.” I know it’s a trite, overused cliche, but it’s also true.

Libyans wouldn’t be apathetic (I hope) towards these new entities insistent on forcing an Islamist or Western identity if they had read Libya’s history and realized that we’re not insane fundamentalists who obsessively segregate genders or openly engage in debauchery. But the truth is painfully obvious when someone posts a picture of a younger Libya, where, for example, women and men both engage in social activities together, and people quote “Wow, I can’t believe this used to be Libya.”


A Libyan Mona Lisa. Western and Eastern themes often overlap in the art and literature of Libyans. Painting by Libyan artist Khalid (last name unknown)

We can’t believe it because we don’t know anything about it apart from aged photographs and our grandparent’s vague recollections. Without books, without history, Libyans will be mired in this identity crisis, trying on different cultural standards and discovering that none of them fit just right. We need to know who we are as a people and not wait for someone to tell us, because, news flash, Libya is a tempting place for several countries to manipulate and screw us over.

When you ask a Libyan to describe their society, you’ll often get the answer “we’re conservative”. People mistake this for being religious, when it actually just means that Libyans care about what other people think, which is most certainly not an Islamic trait. And it’s sad that we don’t have a more comprehensive answer, or that we limit ourselves to a very narrow political/religious identity. Even the attempts to describe the current conflict as ‘Islamist vs. Liberal’ is way off the mark, since the average Libyan is more moderate than anything else.

A painting entitled 'Refugees' by Libyan artist Ali Enaiza, inspired by the refugees of Ajdabiya during the revolution

A painting entitled ‘Refugees’ by Libyan artist Ali Enaizi, inspired by the refugees of Ajdabiya during the revolution

For the last three days there has been a cultural gallery here. I went to see the books available, but was sad to find that that section was gone (I went late on the third day). Instead I perused through the artwork and photography. There was some very impressive stuff (again, underestimated). Ask the average Libyan about famous artists and you might get one or two names at best.

One of the artists told us about a disagreement he had with his father. “He told me that I was wasting my time by painting,” he said, echoing a common reaction in Libya towards the arts and humanities. This is just my opinion, but I strongly, strongly believe that it’s the arts that will help us form a more national identity than any other pursuit.

Religion has played a large role in Libyan identity. So has tribalism, regionalism, politics, and our long history of invasion and occupation. The 2011 revolution provided a chance for us to finally show the world who we are, and in my opinion, we stuttered. Libyan culture is, among other things, an amalgam of outside influences. This will continue to be our predominate image until we start looking back through our history and start forging our own unique identity. One thing that needs to stop is our desperate cling to one homogeneous Libya. We can be united while still being diverse.

The Case for a Federal Libya

Today is the 64th anniversary of Cyrenaica’s Independence! For those of you unfamiliar with Libyan history, Cyrenaica (known as Barqa to Libyans) is the name of the Eastern part of Libya, and was a division under the British administration of Italian Libya, and a province under the Kingdom. If you’re interested in a more in depth history of the region, the Wikipedia page has some excellent facts.

Basically, Barqa refers to everything from Sirte eastward and southward. Along with Tripolitania and Fezzan, they formed the three federal provinces of the Kingdom of Libya. However, 6 years before the reign of Gadhafi, the King removed the three-state system in favour of a single entity.

After the revolution, several organizations and blocks formed which lobbied for a return to the federal system. The backlash was shocking.

There was a strong outcry, especially from the Western regions, against the idea. Local media dedicated hours of air time to people who verbally bashed the system as ineffective and pointless. Conspiracy theories regarding separatist elements were put forth by individuals who barely had an inkling of what federalism was. Arguments broke out, both on the streets and online. The other regions of Libya considered the call for federalism an insult to the unity of the country.

At the height of the controversy, the ‘Grand Mufti” Sheikh Gheryani issued a fatwa declaring federalism to be ‘haraam’ (forbidden, or a sin). Yeah, go figure.

I believe the call for federalism was poorly timed, and did not have necessary preparation. In a country where political experience is still rare, suggesting a new government system will cause confusion and, if manipulated properly, fear.

To properly understand, you need to know that much of the country’s oil is located in the East. The call for federalism was wrongly interpreted as an attempt by eastern fronts to monopolize on the oil gains. The rest of the country became frightened by a threat that was never made. This is because the issue was twisted by the media and government into something it wasn’t.

Another mistake was the formation of the ‘Cyrene Council”, a group of tribal and military leaders who announced the region to be semi-autonomous from the capital Tripoli. This move came after the federalist movement was discredited and rejected by the government as a legitimate system, and so federalism was seen not just as a damaging political idea, but a disguise for rogue anti-government forces.

Demands are now being made for a referendum on the issue, and the implementation of at least a more decentralized government. Under Gadhafi, the “government” was heavily centralized, with all major institutes and organisations being located in Tripoli. This system is still in place, and things as simple as documents and paperwork must be completed in Tripoli.

I strongly believe that a federal system will work for Libya. It has proved successful in the past with other countries. Implementation of federalism has even minimized the influence of separatist elements in Germany, for example. Having a regional government creates a more personal bond with the citizens, it organizes and makes lighter work of redeveloping the country, essentially dividing the work load. Federalism will also give residents of Barqa a chance to feel like they can determine their own futures, after decades of disenfranchisement by Gadhafi’s government.

But obstacles still pose a threat to the country’s stability. Misinformation, the lack of knowledge on the subject, and the animosity Gadhafi tried to sow between the regions are still a problem.

It’s also a very personal issue for many Libyans. There are people in the Western and Southern part of the country with family in the East, and vice verse. When you have some pseudo-analyst spouting nonsense about having to apply for a visa to visit family members in other parts of the country if federalism is instated, of course people will reject it. Brain washing and fear mongering are easiest after a complete political upheaval.

From what I know, there is no hope for federalism for the time being. The constitution hasn’t been drafted yet, and we’re still hitting speed bumps on our road to rebuilding. The political isolation law was passed under duress, the president of the GNC resigned, and Benghazi is still trying to establish security. What we can do now is spread awareness on these issues and let the people voice their opinions.

(If you’re interested in the topic, you can find an old article I wrote here back when the federalist rallies in Benghazi were still going strong).