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Libyan Writer Ghoma

Friday, 11 August, 2006

COLONIALISM'S LEGACY, The Settling of Historical Accounts: Libya vs. Italy!

By: Ghoma

        Few questions are beyond the capacity and ability of any generation to deal with them. Re-addressing colonialism's injustice is perhaps one of them and this generation of Libyans is the other! Neither politically smart nor morally right, for this regime, to try to show it can bite on a bigger lump than it can chew on. In the annals of history, losers usually nurse their wounds and bide their time before peddling with the price they or their ancestor have dearly paid.

        Colonialism's reckoning bell has yet to toll. Alas! The former or still colonized peoples and countries are still too weak and divided to broach such a daunting task. However, the sooner the better. The longer the distance from the trauma the lesser its effects will be felt and remembered. Time cuts both ways: healing and forgetting! These people have to put their houses in order and thus take stock of the agonies they just went through while the steel still hot and the survivals of both the generation who's committed them as well as those who've suffered them are still around. Needless to say that the people and countries will always have difficulties in taking-off unless and until they'd have faced what brought them to the abyss of total annihilation. In the life of peoples and nations who went through such traumatic shocks, as the modern colonization had been, there comes a time when they've to come to terms with that experience, as catharsis, and to put an end once and for all to their vulnerability. Only by taking hold of the tragedy and then acting to prevent its ever occurring again - "Never Again"- can a true healing begin. In the wake of such devastations, it's true, there's a great deal of surging and pent-up pain and anger which if not be wasted in vain, must usher in conscientious and fruitful efforts. First, to a cycle of awareness that leads to action. And second, to the realization of the still long road ahead before final catharsis can occur. In this multi-prong approach and actions the reaching to the aggressive party and the attempt to forcing him to admit the culpability, though important steps, are not the beginning of the process but rather comes toward the tail of it. The beginning and the hardest work reside always in the self-realization and in the mustering of the resources to bring the culpable to accept his savagery and crimes, in one way or another even by force if need be.

        Once again the season of futile -and badly approached from the start- bargaining sessions between Italy and Libya has just started. This time, as in other times, the two sides, notwithstanding the good intentions, are as far apart as can be from reaching a deal that would be mutually satisfactory for both and bring the historical ordeal to a conclusion. This round of "negotiations," just like the preceding ones, on Italy's compensation for its horrific historical blunders in Libya, is hitting the question from the wrong direction. Starting with idea of compensation is equivalent to putting the cart before the horse! Italy has long way to come face-to-face with its guilt.[Italians cannot bring themselves yet to watch the "Lion of the Desert" movie!]. Until then there's no reason wasting time talking to a weak center-left coalition of Romano Prodi. In the same time nothing has changed in the balance of power to the advantages of the Libyan regime -actually from the international perspective the regime is weaker- to renew the call for settling one of the most intricate questions and dark chapters of the modern era. If we start from the premise that Italian adventures and genocides in Libya and in the horn of Africa were one of, if not the worst, cases that history has witnessed so far, and as such cannot be settled -actually dismissed of- simply by a smile, a hand shake, and few symbolic gestures. To give the issue its due weight, it deserves more than nice gestures! if for anything else, for the simple reason, it cuts deeper into the nature of crime and its punishment. Libya has to realize that it's not in its interest at this junction to undertake such a precedent setting reckoning on its own and by itself alone. Going alone, in this way, is equivalent to what Libyans say: attacking the mountain by a hammer! If there's an issue that needs to wait until the time when a coalition of countries and forces can be brought to bear on the case, this is it.

        Without such an array of forces, such a task then can only be undertaken in either of these two situations: 1- if the culpable party, Italy, admits of her crimes and misdeeds and after a reasonable period of a sincere remorse, contrition, and the required historical revisions; and when Italy is ready to say it's up to the grievant party, Libya, to set the agenda and specify what needs to be done to alleviate some of the pain and suffering Italy had inflicted upon her. Or, 2- when the grievant party, Libya, has enough clout and power to bring the culpable to heel and admit of its barbaric and disastrous behaviors and accept the responsibility to correct some of their consequences. However as things stand today, all the facts of the matter, point in the wrong direction and time, to the detriment of Libya. Italy has yet to admit of its savage campaigns. On the contrary Italy still insists, as do the other criminal nations such as France, Britain and the rest of the gagster-nations, that it went to Libya to reclaim a long lost land of her ancestors' empire, the Roman Empire only to civilize the primitives and fanatics residing in it. If this is the case, Libya seems not to have a prayer on its side in this highly charged game of nations. Add to the mix; the incompetent, backward, and vulnerable state in Libya, and a regime struggling to justify its existence every day of the week then the problem gets compounded further many times over. All this may pale if the Libyan population at least is conscientious enough of its history and responsible enough to take hold of it to act as the ultimate arbiter on the matter.

        All indications point that Italy is still entering the round in bad faith. Nothing substantial has occurred since the last time with the right-wing government of Silvio Berlusconi. For as we all hopefully knew by now, in these days of post-everything, in the so-called democratic systems, the differences between one government and another have become a matter of sound-bites and empty rhetoric rather than in style and substance! There'll be always a continuity of so-called "national interest" from Berlusconi to Prodi especially in matters beyond the water's edge. The noticeable difference between right-wing and left-wing regimes, when it comes to dealing with the colonial legacy and its past injustices and gross violations, is in the ways they talk about them: both would describe cavalierly the victim-nations as a bunch of losers and never-do-good complainers, however much they both disagree on the manner of how to put it to them. Right wingers are blunt in holding their noses up in the air and with a good amount of condescending attitude would hem and haw to their to admit their countries past policies though not being well understood, were however well-motivated and were basically undertaken solely on altruistic grounds which had indeed resulted in a lot of good deeds, given the superior civilization from which they fanned off; and, as a matter of fact, whatever was done is still benefitting greatly the wretched ingratefuls of today. This attitude adds to the still held notions of the self-righteousness of colonial nations and to further justify the appropriateness of the approaches taken. While the left-wingers are a little bit more sophisticated in not being directly in your face kind of highfalutin horse manure of the right-wingers, in the way they deal with the subject. The slick willies will say, with mellifelous tongues and dulcefilous tones, some mistakes had been done but that's past now, it's behind us, let's concentrate on today, what to do from now on, forget the rancorous grumblings which will only lead to the desire for revenge and all such stuff of bad feelings and concentrate instead on the positive steps we can both take, after all the sons are not responsible for the sins of their fathers, so leave the past alone! The present is more certainly propitious since we're here together face-to-face dealing with each other on equal terms, aren't we?

        From what the media reports, there's some sort of tango going on between the Prodi and il Lider Maximo, Qaddafi! For such sweet talk -of the left- had its effects, it seems, in working magic with such people as the Arabs, who, with a fake smile one can sell them the snake's juice. Otherwise how to explain the behavior of the Libyan regime which has made a career out of claiming the revolution and being anti-this and anti-that, not to forget holding the monopoly on patriotism, to have the urge to come to terms with a weighty question as the colonial devastations without adequate knowledge, power or strategy? Libya's darkest and unprecedented nightmare and one of the worst trauma, which lasted longer than a third of a century, are today being handled by a bunch incompetents and have been reduced to a minor bickering on how to fix a lousy highway with about $ 6 billions! Isn't this a tragedy in itself? A shameful act of self-denial of the guilty party, Italy, and an embarrassing beggary from the injured party, Libya? [With all the recent increases in windfall oil profits Libya still needs to stretch its hands for such a puny amount? Libya could have asked the Zionists how much they've abstracted so far from Germany and others, for what amounted to only a little over 10 years of abuse and slaughter of what after all were mostly of Germany's own citizens?]. Evidently the two governments are not up to the task to solve one of the most intricate and complicated historical cases! A weak and vacillating government on the Italian side faces an illegitimate and far worse beleaguered regime on the Libyan side. These two governments with the way they're and the approach they've will never solve such a burning question to satisfaction.

        First, Italy has to recognize the problem, that's, it'd exterminated half of the Libyans between 1911-1943, had devastated the culture and economy and had destroyed a great deal of the self-esteem of what survived from the population. The scorched earth policy had left the place in paralysis and in semi-comatose conditions - their effects still persist up till now. Second, it's to express genuine remorse and show a willingness to do whatever it takes to help the still traumatized Libyans deal with the wounds inflicted. The simple facts of the matter, Italy, which at the time was one of the major powers, had attacked a small and sleepy country Libya for no reason except to solve its own self-aggrandizement mania -that of resurrecting the Roman Empire and solving its emigration problem!- had committed the most horrendous acts that had been registered in the annals of human history, killing and maiming of half of the population and inflicting severe damages to its culture, economy, and way of life. If that's the case, then it's not right nor even smart for Italy to think it can now easily wash its hands of such heavy crimes against humanity by throwing some peanuts in the way of a cowered and isolated regime just to make them shut up and leave her alone in its still erroneous illusions of having gone where its forefathers had dared once to go, this time, as presumably in the other times, only to carry the benefits of civilization to its inhabitants.

        As for Libya, it's a much more complicated issue. Not only the Italian invasion's echos still heard loud and clear but still conditions most of the collective behavior. The issue gets deep into the Libyan psyche and sense of identity. Just think of being referred to as a former colony of such and such a power? The trauma is still felt strongly and manifests itself as symptoms of internalized oppression. Libyans suffer from inferiority syndrome: feeling less than full humans who can interact with the world the way their tormentors did and still do. The symptoms' malady, of a damaged psychology manifest themselves clearly in the way victimized people behave - the long lasting scars can be compared to the ones the former slaves, minorities, or other violent crime victims carry for generations.

        To approach such a question Libya has to have at least two conditions on its side: 1- a legitimate government that would express the true and genuine feelings but also conscientious of its historical role, that of righting a gross violation; 2- a strong position from which to enter into negotiation with a major power that still refuses to admit its past mistakes and present denials. Given the lack of both conditions, there's no reason or incentives for Libya to settle its dispute with Italy at this time. It must be left to another generation. The most important is to keep the memory alive. The energy is better spent on getting a consensus on how to proceed and what are the minimum conditions under which Libya will accept Italy's formal apology and the start of a true contrition as demonstrated by a revision of its history in the first half of the 20th century, and only then talk about compensation and terms of normal relations can be embarked upon!

        It'd be a shameful stand and an embarrassing attitude if this regime which since its coming has been maintaining its affiliation with the long and arduous struggles that had been carried out against the invaders, Italy, throughout the first half of the 20th century; claiming the continuation of the same fight those fighters had conducted though with different tools and tactics. The regime, and Libyans in generals, have to understand that invoking history is also to come to terms with its burdens, not to say taking stock of its pluses and minuses. For arrogating the inheritance of the ancestors means absolutely nothing if not accompanied by paying tribute to their refusal to submit and the heavy sacrifices that stand had exacted from them. Their legacy must be understood as carrying their fight to the end against all colonialisms, past and present, in all their forms and expressions. Bolstering one's revolutionary credentials without being true to the spirit of those fierce fighters is hypocrisy in the first degree and an misuse of history that only opportunists and bankrupted revolutionaries wouldn't hesitate to do! Letting incidental circumstances and present inconveniences dictate the terms of the settlement is pure misuse of the memory of the fallen and doing great damage to the notions of justice and reckoning!


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