Libya and Italy Are dickering About the Colonial Period?
Alexander Solzhenitsyn in, One day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, has asked: "Can a man who’s warm understand one who’s freezing?" The heart of empathy and sympathy notion -popularly known also as walking in another’s shoes, or what religions have called compassion- is perhaps at the heart of the continuing wrangle between a deaf (Italy) and a blind (Libya). Can Italy understand what’s to be pillaged, rounded in concentration camps like cattle, hanged, and used practically as dehumanized chattel? Can Libya handle an explosive issue such as the legacy of Colonialism? These are questions which have not yet been posed, not to say answered. But they are still good questions to start with for any two countries as different in perceptions, experiences, and expectations as Libya and Italy are, when attempting to put behind and settle a lingering and a heavy historical burden, as that which had transpired between them for a half century. But Italy is still not ready to remedy its past and lacks even the minimum compunction. It seems to be unable or unwilling to put herself in the shoes of some poor people and how they must have felt, when her armies swept rolling south with all their mighty of ships, tanks and airplanes, against a small and impoverished Libyan population. Italy apparently is in need to self-examining the wrongs committed against Libya during more than forty years of scorched-land campaigns and what these must have had done to the lives, spirits, morales, not only of those who’d faced the savagery, and perished in it, but above all to their present progeny who still have to deal with that inherited legacy.
The saga of ‘negotiations’ between Libya and Italy about the legacy of colonialism ebbs and waxes as the waves of the sea separating them! The dickering and swings in moods toward such a question, were never induced by any tangible reasons which could be accounted for or any changes of heart from one side or the other; as it appears, it’s simply for stalling tactics on Italy’s side, and for lowering of expectations, of course, on the Libyan side! [ Israelis’ and Palestinians’ drama all over again!]. Until it’s become a haggling context of wills, if you wish: Who needs the other’s favors more And thus has also entered the realm of make-belief sort of game: How much you’re willing to give me in order to pretend I’m satisfied?
According to Italian media, what’s going on and each is eager to conclude, and put fast behind, is nothing of any historical coming together of hearts and minds, rather out of expediency. It’s not that these two countries, which fought for life and death -by the will of a series of egomaniac knuckleheads from Giolitti to Mussolini, and their coterie bunches of colonialists, and who for the glory of Patria and no less than that of Christ had waged wars of extermination against a small country made up mostly of illiterates without an army or know-how to defend itself- came finally to their senses and took cognizance of their past. No, the squabbling rounds meander in twists and turns of their own with no beginning and apparently little ends. From the beginning, they were not motivated nor intended to a coming to terms with the darkest pages of both countries’ histories, but rather simply to find a way for Libya to shut up. Since Libyans are the ones who’re asking for this and that, as compensations, and Italy’s reluctantly responding by offering this and that, as reparations. The contest has turned to sound as if Libya is importuning Italy for few favors -as if Libyans were starving and passing the hat to collect some crumbs from the country which had killed their ancestors by the droves as if they were not even humans! This may come as a surprise but Libyans seem to have not pondered the big question nor gave it its due weight: How to ask for and what would be an acceptable compensation for a half-century of exterminations, i.e., brutalization humiliation, dehumanization, subjection to indignity, etc.? If they did, they wouldn’t have been content to settle for a nominal package which promises more than what it’s: construction of a littoral "Autostrada" (highway) spanning the width of Libya -which, by the way, was already there?- help in the clearance of the invaders’ damn mines, or of some other silly fripperies and baubles not even worthy of mentioning. The whole thing doesn’t amount to its purported purpose of rectifying past injustices nor remedying for the lingering consequences of the misdeeds committed!
Nations, as individuals, can be induced to come to their senses. What the Americans had done with a bunch of nations, who used to be great but played their hands foolishly, as Germany, Japan, and even Italy and France: by literally occupying them and imposing Constitutions, type of governments, and even what for and who to compensate. Libya is far from that caliber, at this juncture of time and maybe for ever! to impose its will on its past or present tormentors. So what’s to be done? It behooves Libya to just sit tight and wait for a more propitious times when there’s a fair chance to at least get a fair hearing, and maybe has a better shot, to settle such a burning issue(s). Doing it now and accepting such a meager settlement, for the sake of some contingency passing purpose, is pure lunacy and will be a disgraceful betrayal to the memory of those who’d perished resisting the wrong. Neither present nor future Libyans will feel vindicated.
Both the Libyan regime and the Italian government have to be put on notice that whatever transpires between them at this juncture, if it’s not done well enough, justly, correctly and properly, won’t be morally and legally biding, especially, on the Libyans’ side. The regime has no constitutional legitimacy nor the country has a parliament to stamp its approval on such important accords. The quasi fascist government of Italy is taking big risks, if it thinks that meeting the whims of a tin-pot dictator in Tripoli -by giving his regime some wiggle room and a few more billions to waste- is deceiving itself. Libyans will not settle for symbolic trifles nor will ever forget their historical Holocaust on the hands of Italians, be they Socialists, Liberals, or Fascists. They’ll only be recalling that a neo-fascist government has come to the rescue of another quasi fascist regime - perhaps as Mussolini did with Franco? Italy’s obliviousness to what Libyans are going through and the rewarding of their present tormentor, adds only to the already wide gulf separating Italy from Libya. Italy once again, has proved not getting it and has ignored whatever lessons it’s learned from its own spell under Mussolini’s dictatorship.
If Italy intends to mend its fences and repair the damages it’d inflicted on other peoples, it knows how to go about the issue. If not, then, perhaps some advise from its former ally, Germany would help! Italy has to carry its own cross too, on the via dolorosa! What is needed is, first to "prendere coscienza" ( take hold of its own conscience), of the matter, by searching deep and wide in its soul for the ‘devil’ which had caused her to go berserks! Perhaps Italy, will come to face the fact that after all, it’s made out of no angels but imperfect humans. Without such critical self-examining Italy will still be prone today and in the future, as it was once, to all the earthly temptations, among them the barbaric. If Italy has to give some credibility to its claim, of being a land of humanists, artists, and art lovers, then it must work to clear its collective conscience and ward off the pangs of its own guilt, by not buying the silence of a despot but rather by taking hold of the real and latent causes which made her behave like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Only when Italy has done facing itself in the mirror of history, and has admitted to its dark pages -starting the admission by teaching the nasty stuff to its rising generations. Face up to its mistakes and apologize for the wrong things that were done in the past in its name. Even in Catholic doctrine, penitence comes before the asking for forgiveness. Therefore, deeds are much more telling than coyness and trickiness (hiding behind being a victim of Fascism itself) and will count more than throwing some ransoms of few crumbs to buy the silence of an extortionist. Which will amount to, basically, hush money, Mafia style? It behooves Italy too to revise its colonial history and live with its stain, perhaps for ever. A sincere apology would not be out of place.
Dealing with a colonial legacy and damages is a precedent setting event. Both Libya and Italy should realize the historical importance of re-dressing a long simmering wound. Most of the weight falls on Italy. Libya only if it could muster the political skills involved in persuading a far stronger interlocutor. But Italy, once again, can redeem itself as well as the rest of the West - as it did before, on few occasions, when it rekindled from oblivion and relaunched Western Civilizations- from four centuries of Western looting rampages, pillaging, and wrecking havoc to the rest of the world.
W hen Italy, willingly, has subjected itself to the categorical imperatives of the civilization(s) she had helped to constitute and relaunch, it’d be in a position to come forward and ask forgiveness form the injured parts. And in the process it’d have figured out on its own what it takes, if not it’d be appropriate to ask what needs to be done to be forgiven, if the term is appropriate and forgiveness can be given by those who haven’t been there on behalf of those who’d suffered and perished in the mayhem. Italy, if it’s to right its wrongs and be a mature nation, it’ll have to leave it up to the injured party(s) to decide what is appropriate for the matter to be dropped in the blackhole of history.
Libya, as the saying goes, if it can’t fix it, it’s to live with it; it has to face these questions: Why reduce a historical catastrophe of gigantic proportion, a la Holocaust, to a few miserly bargaining chips? If a plausible and convincing answer(s) cannot be found then it’s better to leave the matter until it could. Why hawking the "mother of all causes" for a few lousy billions, so cheaply? Particularly, in a time of high oil prices, when Libya does not know what to do with its own windfall money? Again, still remains a mystery?
It’s been said before and is worth repeating again that Libya had made a big mistake when it turned the legacy into a game for monetary reparations. This approach has changed a human catastrophe into a sort of ‘blood money’ type of thing [perhaps, in accordance with some Sharia law when settling cases of taking of a human life?]. Again the question is why? Why Libya took a legitimate cause and turned it upside down into some sort of mumbo-jumbo: ‘aid, donation, contribution, gift, etc.’ or even worse,’alms, charity, assistance, handouts, etc...’? What has happened to all those historical humiliations of genocidal proportions, i.e., concentration camps, public hangings, discriminations, the stumping of national soil by Italian boots, etc...? What kind of compensation and how to monetize a campaign for a nation’s annihilation?
With all of the scholarship of "Libya Institute of Resistance" (Ma’hed al-Jihad Alliby)? Whether have been asked and what kind of recommendations have they advanced to help those involved in the so-called negotiations - whose expertise of haggling seems to be limited to grocery-shopping jaunts in the local markets!- of what’s at stake and how to pursue a blaze-setting course, perhaps never had been taken before by anybody else, and thus how to define a good deal and when to recognize a ‘good bargain’ has been struck? The metrics, stupid!
A gasping regime, has put a hot potato issue in the hands of a rookie architect-turned-economist-cum-politician to train his skills and perhaps give him an edge! But he’s maybe only honing his sharms to hone, since his political skills are still fledgling s stages to be used for handling big powers’ arsenal of experiences. Rule number one: As in all deals what one gets is always no more than a small percentage of what one has asked for. Being too eager for the deal and too practical for its details could come to sacrificing the original claims. That’s how more than forty years of genocides have been reduced to Italy’s building of an already existing highway - was built at least twice if not more, once by the Italians themselves back then when they were the lords of the place, and lately by German companies in the ‘70's of the last century- to build a hospital in a country where health is still in the hands of God, or to dig out few mines, etc, and viola! Italy will be absolved of its crimes and Libyans will have forgotten about close to 50 years of hell, just like that! The Italians would have gotten out of their guilty and scandalous behaviors almost scot free!
The sad fact is that one hand cannot clap, neither a tango can be danced alone, if Italy comes to the negotiation’s table half-heartedly and in bad faith then no meaningful breakthroughs can be had. If Italy, so far, has never admitted to its savagery misadventures in Libya and elsewhere, hence, it’d be futile to ask her for compensating for acts never accepted. And thus convincing Italians to do anything beyond symbolic gestures is in the realm of dreams or wishful thinking. Italians will sit and listen but only perhaps because they feel they’ve to if they’ve to keep their businesses going. Their attention is paid to keeping their supplies of energy going. Whatever ‘reparations’ Italians are subjected to, will be viewed as the cost of doing business with Libya; and which will be included in the price of the goods and services Italy provides Libyan market. So in the best case scenario, what will be paid by the right hand, will be taken back by the left. And we’ll be back to square one, Libya would have gained nothing and Italy will have paid very little and never admitted to any guilt that would be meaningful enough to disturb a bit of its conscience! What a deal? Only a Middle Eastern Bazaar haggler would view such sleighs of the hands as tricks that stand for real!