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Libyan Writer Ghoma

Tuesday, 2 August, 2005

THE "MINORITY" QUESTION IN LIBYA:
A Case of Rebels Without A Cause Or Potential Internecine?

By: Ghoma

       It ain't sexy, as they say, to butt into such a sensitive issue as when a group of people says they have a problem. A minority problem! Who's going to argue with the oppressed and much less to blame the victim for complaining? And, under a tyranny, wouldn't be better the more voices are decrying its oppressive practices? Whence not many, even from those who claim to wear the mantle of societal conscience, will venture into such an insidious quicksand, which threatens to bury whoever dares to poke at it. That's why I'm not here to immolate myself nor to awaken the giant, who looks more like a monster, so it can devour whoever comes in its way. No, I'm here only to ask few questions, and to draw the attention of those who're already traveling along the inequity's road to the possible sinkholes, bumps and roadblocks which underlie the seemingly smooth surface of the roadway; and, that may wreak havoc with the jalopy they've hopped on without making sure that it's enough shock-absorbers, so to speak, so it can stand the tumbles and bounces and thus carry them down the wobbly road before they get sucked into its mires. Where they wanna go? That's another mystery!

       The "Question" of minorities, in general is a very tricky and dangerous booby-trap to touch, much more to attempt to entangle. Is it a social abnormality? An ideological conviction? Or merely a political stand? What constitutes a minority and how to deal with its perhaps misplaced, misguided, and at times hypochondriatics feelings? Do race, customs, religion, etc. each or all combined, while we know they may constitute a difference, in and of themselves, also constitute, in the absence of structural biases, a base for a minority status; and, therefore, enough to qualify the raising of the issue to the rank of a Question? Or, only when these are combined with the effects of economic and political differentiations and prejudices do give rise to a question of discrimination? What happens when a group, who's religiously, economically, and politically integrated but still complains of linguistic hegemony, and cultural imperialism? And, what's the response when the collective consciousness of the "majority" doesn't recall nor contain traces of what the complainers are grumbling about?

       Before someone may think I'm hallucinating, be advised to look up and read what constitutes a minority question; and then compare it with their childhood or adult realities of Libya. Were there any hint of discriminations, against anybody for that matter -except of course women- or denial of rights that matter? By this latter, "that matter" I mean in the economic, political, urban configurations, services and infrastructures, etc. areas where differentiation becomes discrimination. As far as I know no one was denied anything based on the determinants that make up a minority. Because, if truth be said, there were/are no majorities or minorities. There was only a decayed, poor, and backward society that saw itself as a homogenous a community as it gets. Being from any part of the country brought, and still brings, no other connotations than a geographical location Ghat, Zwara, Gharian, Tubruq, Sabha, Tripoli or Benghazi, etc. were, and still are, equivalents in every sense of the word and being from one or the other doesn't ring a bell nor give to one any advantages or incur the other any disadvantages. [If the Sanussi Dervishes clan is compared to the military gang that overthrew them, the first probably fairs worst in the area of favoritism, since its favors were well-known to reside with its tribal base in the east!]. Even after the coup-d'etat, one can accuse this regime of an infinite slew of nasty epithets but differentiating between one group from another, or one region or the other is not among them. If anything, this regime succeeded in distributing subsidies, and miseries -not to forget oppression- quite evenly in the four corners of that parched land. Actually, one can say, the plotters had too much political correctness, so to speak, made of the whole place called Libya, something akin to USA, though degraded a la 3rd World, where some few square miles are enough to give a sense of what the rest of the whole country is all abou!. The same schools, the same polyclinics, the same highways, the same apartment blocks, the same houses, the same supermarkets, the same committees, the same antennas, etc. from Raas-Ijdair, to as-Sallum, and from the Mediterranean Sea to the imaginary lines in the sands of the Great Desert that trace the boarders with the neighbors.

       On the contrary one can argue this 'egalitarian' policy is wasting valuable resources by subsidizing isolated communities which economically are in no way to return back the same benefits they're getting! Folks in Ghadams, Ghat, Kufra, and the many other scattered and isolated localities are getting the same imported goods and services with the same prices of the coastal cities and towns, when in reality there must be added the costs incurred to transport and distribute those products. In addition to not having many of the elements of economic survival, the climate and isolation of these places make them difficult for many Libyans to accept to go and work there, reason to have forced the government to hire foreign hands to fill the gaps. Perhaps, it's time to start looking to things in their real and proper way and not in the imaginary time and conditions that some may wish. Once oil is over what those folks in those godforsaken scattered and relatively small settlements are going to do, eat sand? Many of the oases's only resources are springs, and these alone are not enough to sustain the costs of present life's demands!

       So, if that's the case where the "minority" jinn sprung up? From under which disturbed rock came out? It's easy to accuse this regime of having awakened and inflamed a long forgotten issue. But what this regime did or didn't do perhaps was a minor provocation and never was not the central force which cranked the gears of factional strives. Whatever the excuses the regime had furnished the wanna-bees factional lords, played only a marginal role in the issue. For, the lack of freedoms and the imposed restrictions on linguistic, cultural, and otherwise practices were not directed hough they may have originated as a response to a specific group's whims- to any group in particular but to the population at large. [Just as no one was encouraged to speak, in public, a language other than Arabic; so with the prohibition of any names, for newborns, other than Arab-Islamic ones!]. While most of the people saw in these edicts as only another misdirected paranoid post-colonial reactions, some others, nevertheless, saw in them a threat to their existence! Apparently these groups took the oppressive edicts beyond merely being circumstantial aberrant fiats and no amount of assurances, display of feelings or the tolerant behaviors of the vast majority of their compatriots would have deterred these groups from taking them as cause for ethnic agitations. Even if we get along with the idea that the restrictive policies were cause enough to ruffle some group's or another's nerves or patience, and therefore there should have been some precautions to close the room for concern. On the other hand, the demands of some of these groups, as seemingly justifiable on the surface as they might be, in essence, constitute the asking for a special status and of a further privileged political and cultural spaces beyond and above the rest of the population. Well, this is perhaps a case where the absence of the specific objective conditions, such as differentiations and thus discriminations that usually give rise to such phenomenon didn't exist, nevertheless, their effects seem to be there -call it a syndrome! Ain't this an example of a misdiagnosed symptoms or perhaps only a false alarm that went unchallenged? If there's a malaise then we better start looking for the causes, before these develop into a conflagration that will devour all without distinction. Finding a "cure" to this, seemingly benign but potentially malicious aberrations, must be on the national priorities.

       The lack of historical objective conditions doesn't mean that there were no possible reasons for protest or even activism. The world is not a perfect place, therefore, there'll always be someone who will have some ax to grind or some grudge to settle with the rest of society. But a distinction has to be between the central causes, as the fight for political emancipations and the instituting of individual freedoms and civil society, from the denunciation of some illegitimate restrictions on the use of languages or naming of newborns. For these nuances don't rise to the level of making them into a cause celebre; or worse starting a historical revisionism of the type we only hear about by the original inhabitants in the New World. If we compare society to a building, we may say, though, the ramshackle is badly dilapidated and rickety, in need of all the repairs in the book and more, it's long time since it'd been built thus the settlement of its foundations was over. There's no reason to bring what early Muslims (Arabs) had done or what they hadn't done. Whatever had been done was accepted by the local population, in toto, to the degree they long identified with it, linguistically, religiously, culturally, and in many other areas of human behavior and conduct. If there're "minorities' in Libya, then, they must be the brick and mortar of this friable and antiquated, though, a building nevertheless! As the Americans say, "if ain't broken don't fix it," and the Libyans say it in a more roundabout, "let the husks (hay) covering its barley!"

       However, if the objective motives for ethnic agitations were not there, and if we've to look for some of the rationales that underpinned the already formulated grievances, then we'll discover that some of these are certainly easier to spot than others. To wit, on a first glance, these may go from mere mimicking and parroting of other similar groups's causes and rumblings in neighboring states, though, those groups have more numerical weight and therefore may have been subjected to unfair deals; to twisting and distorting, if not personalizing, a general oppression of a dictatorship to be directed against one group or another in particular; to a riding of the wave of globalization and its side effects of regionalization; to taking advantages of a general societal weakness, as Libyans say, "when it comes it comes all and when it goes it breaks the strongest chains," or "when a cow falls, the knives become aplenty," et cetera, etc... Or to paraphrase Chinua Achebe: When the center doesn't hold, things fall apart.

       Even though, there's a tendency among stressed societies to stop paying attentions to what it considers small, or secondary matters, these if left unattended may metastasize and eat the body from the inside! There's a danger in the so-called minority uneasiness, which perhaps has begun by mistake, but is going to develop into a paradox of sorts. A paradox which says, since we all are oppressed let everyone fight for his/her emancipation the way they see fit. How could an oppressed pass judgment on another oppressed without being part and to participating in the oppression? But the more varied and fragmented the groups and their demands become the less likely they can be reconciled and reconstituted into a meaningful whole( coalition). Until and unless we come to terms with such questions as what are the red lines beyond which a liberation pursuit becomes a call for entitlements, if not separation or disintegration, this paradox will be haunting us for the foreseeable future. Because, once a community is thrown into the grips of finger-pointing, victim and victimizer, etc. hell will freeze before a resolution can be found. To quote Abe Lincoln: "A house divided on its itself cannot stand."

       Polarity, contradiction, and duality maybe the stuff that moves history but certainly wouldn't build a viable modern state where each and everyone will find enough space to do their own thing. A vision of unity , in which the fusion of positive and negative tendencies are seen as attributes to the forces of good, is bound to defeat oppression and start a social revolution where public life doesn't infringe upon private life, that's, civil society, where one's language and customs can be practiced at one's convenience.

       The Imazighen groups' complaints about being denied the use of their language and the practice of their traditions must be listened to. Even without much empathy and sympathy, one can still express his/her indignation by saying it's truly a pity that someone in the 21st century is still denied such fundamental and primary rights; that it's up to each and everyone to decide what name to give to their progeny or what language they want to speak. Having said that, these groups have to be realistic and face the world as it's. If the Italians, Spaniards, Portuguese, and a host of other linguistic groups are reconciled to the idea, if not have accepted it, that's, their languages, in a not-too-distant future will be spoken only at the kitchen table at home. If these once great languages can be relegated to the kitchen table, the question becomes: why a relatively small group -the Italians would say quattro gatti- speaking a non-written language wants to start reviving, literally, a half-dead language, to be used, from all other places, in school; to teach what; and to learn what? Globalization and integration demand access to each other's languages and thus only few widely used languages will survive the onslaught of "knowledge economy" so why bother with a spoken-only-language beyond perhaps the attempt to preserve it as a human cultural heritage? A language which for thousands of years never went beyond the mere utterances of mouth-to-mouth has no chances in today's world to rejuvenate itself and stand the tsunami of instant global communications and the cultural imperialisms that go with them!

       Some of these "dissenting groups" have already wiggled their way into the main stream of opposition coalitions. Was it because of their just cause and persuasive abilities or rather of shortsightedness's, if not dumbness's, of the opposition? If we assume that an opposition must by necessity be more than the sum of the groups making it, then what this opposition stands for is still murky to say the least. The so-called "national constants" have nothing of permanent except the tendency to be rather an obstacle than a facilitator to the cause of freedoms. To meet on a half-baked platform of restrictions, for groups which fight for freedoms, is a contradiction of sorts,! Such a potential fatal error could only be committed by groups jostling for power and or privy of vision beyond their noses. A true opposition, in the Third World, is never assumes the role of an opportunistic antagonist as is the case in the settled and mature political systems of the West. Thus, to stick to its moral grounds, it's not allowed and it cannot play the game of numbers, how many groups or how many individuals are on its side; rather, its primary role is to find and define an alternative vision and a new space where its activities can go beyond the grabbling for power.

       In the absence of such innovative approaches one thing, though, a nascent opposition can do is to adhere to a principle in politics similar to the Hippocratic Oath followed in medicine, that's, if you cannot do any good, do no harm! If there's one task to fulfill is, first, to avoid being part of the problem rather than the solution; and second, to avoid creating new problems on top of the myriads which are already there. Playing with the fires of factionalism, tribalism, regionalism, etc. is a dangerous game. Therefore, there should be broad guidelines, or rather red lines, in pitching the tent of discontent. An outlining, if not delimiting, of the extension of the umbrella under which a legitimate group can join the Opposition. In plain words, it should be clear that no organization based on any exclusivist, restrictive or coercive ideology that may lead to civil strive, or disunity is accepted. In shunning the theocratic, sectarian, tribalistic, factionalistic, or otherwise, visions and organizations, an opposition will mark the political boundaries beyond which is unwilling to venture, as well as take a moral stand that the fight against oppression is a civilizational transformation that goes beyond and above the traditional squabbles of earlier stages of development.

Ghoma
Ghoma47@hotmail.com

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