Saturday, August 27, 2011
Libyan Students Blog and Tweet Revolution
Tasbeeh Herwees, 19, right, and her sister Huda, 14, tweet about Libya from their Cypress home. Their parents are both Libyan immigrants. (Christina House, For the Times / May 18, 2011)
Libya As I Know It
Tasbeeh Herwees | August 26, 2011
Senior Staff Reporter Annenberg Digital News
If you had told me seven months ago that I’d see an uprising bring down the regime of Muammar Gaddafi, I wouldn’t have believed you.
As I watched Libya’s revolutionaries storm Gaddafi’s compound of Bab Azaziya, ransacking his home and beheading the gold statue made in his likeness, I was still in a state of disbelief.
Where Gaddafi stood just a few months ago calling them “rats” drugged by their hallucinogen-laced Nescafe threatening to cleanse them of their homes “zenga zenga,” the revolutionaries now stood, waving Libya’s independence flag. Triumphant, they chanted and yelled and took Gaddafi’s golden head under their feet.
Their faces seem permanently stuck in smiles.
This was a moment we’d all talk about, my family and me. It was a scene that played itself in our dreams for a thousand and one nights. And now that it was manifest in reality, we were almost too afraid to be happy.
For the past few months, I’ve watched the country of my forefathers -- the peaceful, provincial lands that bore the sweetest fruit of my summers spent there -- made into a war zone. I’ve watched my brothers pick up arms to defend themselves against a steely rain of bombs and bullets and be vilified for doing so, labelled “rats” and “rebels”. I’ve watched tanks drive across the familiar dusty landscape of my homeland, past palm trees swaying in a gentle Mediterranean breeze.
I watched Libya become a different place from the one where I spent hot July days lazing on my grandfather’s porch, gelato melting in my hands. Libya’s picturesque ocean shores were replaced by trenches and front lines. Libya gave up dusty knolls for battlegrounds peppered with unexploded ordnance.
These were the images that flooded TV screens, newspapers and websites around the world: bearded Libyan men wielding guns and straddling tanks, cigarettes hanging lackadaisically from their lips. These were the images by which the world would judge the country I call home: bloody hospital rooms where bright futures were unjustifiably snatched away from the young; a war-torn country marked with thousands of freshly dug graves.
For 42 years, the defiant image of Muammar “Mad Dog” Gaddafi has been invariably linked to any discussion on Libya. Rarely did such discussion center around the crimes of his regime, but rather his many eccentricities -- one day, a voluptuous Bulgarian nurse and his botox sessions; the next day, a rambling U.N. speech and a tent in Central Park.
In a country that managed to avoid the kind of international attention that other Middle Eastern countries like Iran or Iraq captured, it was easy for Gaddafi to hijack the narrative of the Libyan people. To introduce myself as a Libyan meant I had to suffer the inevitable associations. “Oh, Gaddafi!” strangers would reply in recognition.
Despite Libya’s rich Greco-Roman history, the fine contributions of Libyan authors and artists like Ibrahim El Koni and Fathi El Areibi and Mediterranean beaches that would put Malta’s to shame, it seemed we would never escape the legacy of our unhinged dictator.
But as the Libyan people rose up against him, they found themselves plunged into a war with their own government, and it seemed we’d have to suffer a different reputation.
War-torn. Battle-ravaged. Rebels. So-called Middle Eastern analysts were given free reign to pontificate on Libya’s “tribal divisions” and there were the inevitable musings about the “rebels’ Islamist factions.” This is the vocabulary that controlled the dialogue about my country and my people.
Victory has come and we’ve paid a heavy cost -- thousands of lives, homes destroyed and buildings fallen. But the spirit of the revolutionaries, after more than six months of battling, is not broken. Reclaiming Tripoli as their own, as the land of the people and not of Gaddafi, they received vindication of a struggle that took life and limb of the people they loved.
In the same streets Gaddafi once dragged the mangled bodies of dissidents to his regimes, the youth of Libya now danced, their faces sparkling with hope and opportunity. You couldn’t find a young person in those crowds who didn’t look like he’d just peered in on heaven. Victory was theirs. The streets belonged to them.
How do you define a people? For too long, in a vicious narrative of oppression and victimization, the Libyan people were defined by Gaddafi by others who were outside looking in. But Feb. 15, the Libyan people stood up and they said, "No more."
They poured out of their homes to show the world, here we are. We have shed blood and sweat for God and country. We are proud, courageous and possess a strength and resolve that has toppled one of the longest-running dictatorships in history.
We are Libyans. And Libya belongs to us.
Reach Tasbeeh here. Follow on Twitter here.
Libyan Students Blog and Tweet about Libyan Revolution
When the U.N. Security Council voted in March to authorize international airstrikes on Libya, the women of the Herwees household in Cypress erupted in cheers and ululations.
Within minutes, Tasbeeh Herwees, a 19-year-old USC student, posted on her blog: “group hug everyone seriously so much love right now.”
“My friend called me and we were like ‘God is great.’ It was like someone had just gotten married,” said Herwees, whose parents are both Libyan immigrants. “It was a very jubilant atmosphere.”
In the weeks leading up to that vote, which authorized the U.S. and its allies to mount airstrikes in support of the uprising against Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi, Herwees had tried to reconcile herself to the odd position in which she and other Libyan Americans found themselves.
“It was some weird alternative reality where you’re asking people to throw bombs on your own country,” she said.
Beyond the conflicting emotions, Libyan Americans also have had to contend with anger from other Arab Americans who, mindful of the continuing U.S. role in Iraq, are wary of Western intervention in another oil-rich Middle East country.
As uprisings against decades-old dictatorships, along with a feeling of Arab unity, spread across the region this spring, U.S. immigrants from various Middle Eastern nations attended rallies supporting the revolutions. But disagreement over the Western intervention in Libya, which both the Arab League and Gulf Cooperation Council voted to support, has divided Arab Americans.
Given the brutal history of Libya under Kadafi, many Arab Americans were excited when the revolution began, said Jamal Nassar, who serves on the editorial board of the Arab Studies Quarterly, an academic journal focusing on the Middle East. But as the call for a no-fly zone grew louder, many began to have doubts.
“Because of the long history of Western colonialism, there is a lot of baggage that comes from the last few decades,” said Nassar, a political scientist who is dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Cal State San Bernardino. “Actually, the last century.”
Esam Omeish, head of the political committee of the Libyan Council of North America, a group formed to support the Libyan uprising, said its members knew their advocacy of intervention would invite criticism from fellow Arabs, but that such criticism was still disheartening.
He said he and other anti-Kadafi activists met with members of President Obama’s security council several times to lobby for intervention, but he worried that others opposed to military action would drown them out.
“We even engaged many of them to say, ‘Listen, back off, we need all this support,’ ” said Omeish, who grew up in Tripoli and immigrated to the U.S. when he was 15. “We expected some hesitancy, but what should not have happened was any outspoken opposition to it, because that’s not consistent with the necessities on the ground. This is about saving lives.”
Before and after NATO airstrikes began March 19, James Zogby, president of the Washington-based Arab American Institute, cautioned against U.S.-led involvement in Libya, a position he said reflected concerns in the Arab American community.
“If the Arab League had sent troops in, I think people would have been completely unambivalent about it,” Zogby said. “The fact that it’s the colonial powers who were responsible for the mess the region is still fighting itself out of does create some problems.”
And Western involvement in Libya changes the empowering narrative of the revolutions, one that had been about Middle East reform through popular uprisings, he said.
“This isn’t people liberating themselves. This is a very different situation,” Zogby said. “It alters the course of the movement.”
Asma Saad of Irvine is a founder of the Southern California Libyan Task Force, a newly formed anti-Kadafi organization. She said she had heard from many Arab American friends who support the Libyan rebels but not the NATO airstrikes, especially since some civilian casualties have resulted.
But Saad, who was born in Benghazi and left when she was 2, said without the intervention, many more would have been killed.
“The people who have been the least understanding have been the Arabs. They are in shock that Libyans want intervention,” she said. “There were days I would actually cry about it: Why would people not understand our situation?”