The reality of war in Libya

If one could personify Libya as a victim of cancer, this patient would have doctors who weren’t competent enough to sustain a central nervous system prophylaxis, thereby letting the proliferating cancer cells escape to the brain, and allowing a swift relapse after intensive chemotherapy. The cancer is a metaphor for Gaddafi, or indeed for authoritarianism as a whole. 

During my studies, I had many inquiries about how World War II came to be. The primary question being: how could the world be at war with itself? How did it not stop at its commencement? Learning about Stalin and Hitler and the other world leaders of the time intrigued me, to say the least.

I wanted to fathom their personas, and how they became leaders. Many things didn’t make sense. I thought if I just read more, I’d comprehend how it all came to be. However, the more documentaries I watched, the more I realised that the state of the planet before this great conflict was just unfathomable. How could Hitler be psychopathic enough to order the killing of those who weren’t Aryans, when he himself wasn’t a blue-eyed creature? Did it not occur to any of his men to assassinate him before claiming they were only following their Nazi duty?

Although Gaddafi’s regime was toppled, freedom from his totalitarian rule came in an ugly and abrupt form… anarchy. Only traces of law and order remained, and people were left to only their religious or ethical principles in guiding their actions (or inaction). Weapons of all kinds were dispersed. Militias roamed the capital, Tripoli, and its peaceful citizens resiliently endeavoured to build the Libya that could’ve existed. The everyday struggles were suddenly exacerbated when another psychopath unleashed a fierce blitzkrieg, strangling Libya back into utter mayhem. This budding despot’s name was Haftar and, with his foreign and domestic allies, helped turn Tripoli in to an actual nightmare. 

The capital refused to capitulate, and therefore an all out civil war broke out. The militias that plagued the city united to serve the Government of National Accord (alongside those who really wanted a democratic state) and fight what is called the Libyan Arab Army forces that tried to besiege Tripoli – as they did in Benghazi and Derna. Drones were their go-to mechanism for plundering Tripoli. 

***

The aggressors’ tactics were shameless. Homes would be totally and utterly destroyed as the souls of the inhabitants had barely departed. As the fighting kept narrowing in on each region, people were left to deal with the truest definition of terrorism. Some heard the launching of missiles, whilst others heard their landings on a daily basis. The humming of drones is bound to leave everyone on edge until they drop what they’re supplied with. It doesn’t matter if it is a beautiful morning or a hazy night if partisans decided to break into a skirmish.

If you live in Tripoli, there is no way that you wouldn’t know an internally displaced person. You’re considered among the lucky ones if you just know these people and escaped falling under their category yourself.

Rent prices skyrocketed and, once people left their homes, they were looted. During gatherings of any type, you’ll hear about the traumas people had to go through when they went back and saw what was abominably done to their homes. Others happened to observe their neighbourhoods, not from online videos shared by their neighbours or loved ones, but by the fighters and looters themselves. The horror story continues, seemingly without end.

The online world serves as a refuge, but doesn’t preclude a healthy dose of reality in the form of a daily bombardment of war crimes and general atrocities.

***

Living in a war zone allows you to feel the epiphany that comes about when your mind, heart and soul sends your body into perpetual states of change in order to adapt. War’s appalling connotations are well-deserved. Despite adaptation’s status as a positive in many other situations, in war it is the forced, grotesque consequence of violent events that bring their harmful long and short term side-effects.

For instance, when the first torrent bombs shocked the city, children came home crying from school. People woke up from their sleep seeking the most safe spots in their homes. Stomachs would be turned and hearts would be wrenched. Regardless, as the number of drone strikes surpassed a thousand and the booms from artillery on the ground became indeterminate, the denizens’ reactions to such horrifying sounds became somewhat insensitive in turn.

My postulation regarding those who didn’t witness a tragedy first-hand is that their bodies mistake the sound of heavy artillery for a distant danger. However, the sound of a chair falling or a door slamming would likely still cause an exaggerated flinch!

***

Adaptation is one of many reasons why the dwellers of this unfortunate city resist succumbing to the formidability of war. There’s also faith, hope and the pursuit of normal life. Schools and universities were on and off. When imminent danger was sensed, it would halt, but when that imminent danger was presumed to be not-so-imminent or not-so-dangerous, life would spring back. It’s draining. It’s exhausting by all means. People would carry on their lives as the city crumbles. Police and ambulance sirens add to the pandemonium. Trucks carrying RPGs speed past to a nearby battlefield. 

At any moment, a rocket, missile, piece of shrapnel or a mere bullet can take your life away or drastically change it forever. When it’s over, the outcome won’t be pretty. Regardless of whichever faction “wins”, you won’t be granted peace. Either you’ll get a fresh dictatorship installed, with military rule, or you get militias who you now owe something to for “protection” from the clench of another’s iron fist.

In spite of this ongoing catastrophe, dark humour, empathy, sympathy and prayers maintain the Libyan people’s sanity.

More Articles for You

On France’s “Arab problem”

A recurring theme throughout Arab literature is exile. Being far from home, far from one’s family, one’s land, or one’s …

Tunisia’s economy before and after the Arab Spring

The 2011 Jasmine Revolution ousted Ben Ali’s autocracy and introduced full democratic rule in Tunisia but, since then, it’s been …

Brexit Britain and Egyptian nationalism: a comparative analysis

There are a lot of things in the world today that seem utterly upside down: right-wing nationalists claim the mantle …

Online gaming: stricter rules on targeted racism & harassment needed

Running a website like Arab Research & Advocacy Bureau is tough. It requires constant maintenance, and there are many user requests to deal …

Gulf wealth does not address deeper social divides

A podcast version of this story is available on Soundcloud, Itunes, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn, Spreaker, Pocket Casts, Tumblr, Patreon, Podbean …

Libya: sexual harassment and the crisis of masculinity

In a city where the red, yellow, and green traffic lights are usually perceived equally as a “GO!” signal, there …