Libya: Post-Gadhafi

It seems interesting to see recent developments in Libya. I should start out by saying that I oppose violence and do not celebrate death. However, in this situation, I’m glad that a dictator’s rule is finally over. Looking back, I remember feeling conflicted over our involvement in Libya.

In February, when the situation first broke over the news I felt glad for the people of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya as they used social media to overthrew their respective dictators. The first two nations went through a relatively bloodless revolution, with Zine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak leaving in shame as their armies refused to fire upon their fellow citizens. Libya was different, I witnessed peaceful protesters being gunned down by Col. Gaddafi’s soldiers and his son Saif al-Islam Gaddhafi, crowing about how they would hunt their own people like rats. When a provisional council was formed in the eastern city of Benghazi, Gaddhafi’s government responded by sending their tank divisions and air force to butcher them. Gaddhafi himself stated that there “would be no mercy” for the rebels. At that point in the insurrection I hoped for many things.

President Obama has made it a point to defend the rights of people across the globe should they be threatened by genocidal forces. I was afraid that it would put more of our servicemen in harms way for a conflict we had little business in. When the Gaddhafi regime voiced their inhumane intentions I had hoped for action through our air and naval forces. That indeed happened. The U.S. along with our  NATO allies and the full blessing of the Arab League drove the tanks back and shot the Libyan Air Force out of the sky. What happened next was about five months of fluid fighting and air strikes, the horrific siege of Misrata, and the overwhelming humanitarian challenge this would present.

As I write this Gaddhafi and his forces are now surrounded on all fronts and have been largely pushed out of Tripoli. The Dictator is yet to be caught and his family is at large. There are several things to consider in the present circumstances.

There is a lack of religious and ethnic friction among the Libyans but several tribal ties. Libya has a history of fighting foreign nations namely the Italian conquest of the 1920’s. The locals have not known a free and democratic society as their lives were ruled by the exiled King Idris I and Col. Gaddhafi. Coupled with a surplus of military weapons there exists a potentially unstable situation.

The NTC (National Transitional Council) exists but has limited power, the NATO alliance cannot do more than offer assistance in a military capacity and diplomacy with the emerging government and the tribal differences could very well lead to reprisal killings. One thing that is certain about this situation is that it is up to each and every citizen of that nation to do their part in creating a safe and lawful nation for their families. There is only so much an outside power can do for another country.

Inspiration

The other night I decided to watch Invictus, a movie about Nelson Mandela’s succession to South Africa’s presidency. It also dealt with how he used rugby to bring his fractured nation together. Here’s a somewhat brief run down.

It’s the year 1994, South Africa is in a state of near civil war. After years of apartheid and antipathy between White and Black South Africans, Nelson Mandela was released after nearly 30 years in prison. He inherits a situation where radical members of the Black ANC and White reactionaries threaten to launch a war out of fear and retribution. To avert this he preaches a system based on reconciliation and forgiveness. To make the system of Ubuntu (oneness) work he needed to find a symbol that both peoples could get behind. This was where the South African National rugby team came in.

Before the Rugby World Cup  Mandela brought the team captain, Francois Pienaar, to the presidential palace. What was actually discussed between the two is still up for debate. Morgan Freeman, who portrayed Mandela in the film posed the question to Matt Damon’s Pienaar: Where does inspiration come from? The two agree that inspiration is partially set by example. Pienaar relates an example of when his teammates are silent before the ride to matches and focused on working up their individual courage, he plays relevant music to help his team.  Mandela went through prison with the words of  William Ernest Henley to give him hope. The films namesake comes from the poem “Invictus”. It reads:

“Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be for my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced or cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

My head is bloody but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the Shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how straight the gate,

how charged the punishments of the scroll,

I am the Master of my Fate:

I am the Captain of my Soul.”

The young Pienaar took these words to heart and often recited it to his team. After a grueling 1995 season, including competing against the champion team New Zealand, they won and South Africa made the transition from a divided society to a progressive Republic. In regards to this scene in the film I’ve drawn my own conclusion.

The message Mandela conveyed through these words were that to inspire ourselves we must exceed our own expectations; whether it is, in the case of the two men, ninety minutes on a sports field or thirty years in prison. Time is irrelevant to the attainment of hopes and dreams.

Incendies: What it can teach us

The Movie Incendies has to be one of the most informative and direct films out in theaters this Summer. Billed as a historical mystery, the film goes into the dark secrets of a fractured Lebanese-Canadian family.  Last Saturday I went to a screening out in my local theater, not expecting to see so many explosive images of violence and profound examples of the human spirit. What I gained from viewing this type of presentation was how human beings can survive all odds and break the wages of a horrific past.

We’re introduced to the Marwan family, The mother Narwal seemingly slipping into a PTSD episode before succumbing to a heart failure near a public swimming pool. The twin adult children, Jeanne and Simon, are given a mission through their mother’s will to find their lost father and brother. Despite the sudden death and ensuing grief caused by their mother’s passing, Jeanne agrees to fly to Beirut. In a flashback, The journey takes us back to 1970’s Lebanon. War is apparently about to break out.

Narwal, a twenty something Maronite Christian student, rendezvouses with her Palestinian refugee lover. The two attempt to elope. No sooner do they leave the village outskirts when Narwal’s brothers arrive, to commit an honor killing. After a brief scuffle with the young man, they execute him and attempt to do the same to their sister for “dishonoring their family”. They relent after being stopped by their aged grandmother and the revelation that Narwal is carrying a child. After nine months, with the sounds of fighter jets and artillery echoing across their valley, Narwal gives birth. Her infant son is immediately taken away, assured that his life among an orphanage would leave him free of the ethnic reprisals to come. Narwal’s own resolve won’t allow this, vowing that she would find the boy one day.

This type of heart-rending scene follows the main character’s journey, interspersed with her other children’s discovery of her past. We are treated to roadside killings of civilians by militant forces, the shelling of cities, the torture of political prisoners, and the harsh reality (as the title suggests) that war runs its course and leaves everything scorched. Yet the spirit of humanity is also present throughout.

Narwal’s saga through her destroyed land reveals her own tenacity in the face of ethnic gangs, her refusal to give up her own son for dead, and her continued empathy for fellow human beings in the face of terror and degradation. In a sense this film addresses many things about people.

History is full of the self-destructive pathology of humanity. It is also full of several small stories expressing our ability to overcome such monumental evil. When faced with a challenge we follow whatever choice best represents our character and personal beliefs. I like to think that it is faith in people that drives us to do good.