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السبت 11 ديسمبر 2010

An Innocent Retreat:
What Do We Have To Gain Or Lose?

Enough Gaddafi

We invite all Libyan-American youth to comment on this article and to get this important discussion started. Please feel free to leave an anonymous comment below. ( )

There is nothing worse than feeling obliged to justify why you have done something that seems so trivial to you—or even positive to you—because others perceive it as blasphemous. You wake up one day, you check your messages, and you find an invitation to a gathering of people who share so much with you. They share the same country of origin, same religion, same experiences here in the States, same family concerns, or maybe they even share the same history as the daughter or son of political refugees living in the West.

The invitation seems to describe an innocent zarda and a positive opportunity for community growth, yet somehow others interpret the get-together as political maneuvering, labeling you as a ‘sell-out.’ You feel misunderstood, or even worse, you feel betrayed. You are not alone, many others share this feeling with you today, thousands before you have felt it, as well, and even more will feel it in the future.

The upcoming retreat in California for Libyan-American youth this December has amplified this feeling of confusion and even guilt for many of our fellow Libyan-Americans invited or even organizing this retreat. The retreat, sponsored by a proxy of the Libyan regime through the Libyan National Youth Council, is at face value a simple recreational event held by a government seeking to serve its citizens abroad. That same government has ironically neglected the youth within its own borders for the past four decades, failing to provide sufficient schools, athletic facilities, hospitals and jobs, despite over 60 billion dollars of annual oil revenue, and a relatively tiny population of approximately 6 million people. What would motivate the Gaddafi regime to invest in such activities, involving high-level executives in its planning, while the average Libyan youth struggles in sub-par classrooms and has virtually no access to adequate recreational facilities to play sports with his or her friends? We must say unequivocally, that these questions are not intended to make anyone participating in these regime-sponsored activities feel guilty or responsible for these conditions. The questions are merely intended to get us to understand the objectives of these events and the intentions of those who are behind them. Why are Libyan-American youth becoming the target of so much money and effort, while their brothers and sisters inside of Libya do not enjoy similarly lavish attention?

And yes, it is true that every Libyan, whether abroad or at home, has the right to benefit from the resources at Libya’s disposal. After all, it is not the regime’s money to spend. It is our money and the money of all Libyans. But when this money is being spent to buy the loyalty and friendliness of those who otherwise would have no such association with the regime, it begs the question: who is actually benefiting from this investment? Is it the Libyan Youth who get to enjoy a few days of fun & recreation with their friends? Or is it the regime that is aiming to re-brand itself? Is it the regime that is hoping to write-off decades of oppressive rule as some distant historical ‘experiment’ that has ran its course? Is it the regime that is working diligently to neutralize another generation of Libyans? Are we willing to aid them in that effort—to give them a free pass because they are offering free trips and scholarships? No repercussions. No accountability. No questions asked. Our memories are perhaps too short.

That is of course, an individual decision, that each of us must make. But we must also understand that the consequences of our individual decisions reach far beyond our own lives and our hopes to satisfy relatively short-term needs. Is the extended weekend, all expenses paid get-away worth giving this regime what it seeks: a new, nonthreatening, fun & friendly image, while it sharpens its teeth back home, ready to pounce on anyone who dares to take action against its oppressive and corrupt practices?

Of course, no one has the right to label others as traitors or criminals for participating in such activities, especially for those who are so distant from what goes on in Libya or have not been exposed to this regime’s manipulative practices in the past. As Libyans committed to justice and democracy, we must learn to respect our mutual rights to pursue those ends we believe advance our own interests. But also as Libyans committed to justice and democracy, we must also stand up, speak out and protect the rights of our common interests, rejecting any attempts to manipulate, co-opt or take advantage of our optimism and youthful energy to perpetuate the same types of injustices that have victimized our people for almost half a century.

Many out there are saying that things are changing in Libya—that we have to adjust our strategies, that we can’t be afraid to experiment. Things, of course, are changing in Libya—just like they do anywhere else—but those who are in power desperately seek to remain so and have shown little evidence that they are willing to make any substantial changes in the country. Corruption remains rampant, and perhaps worse than ever. The regime holds a death grip on decision-making, and the country continues to struggle from political authoritarianism, human rights violations, professional incapacity, environmental degradation, a lack of planning on all scales, neglect of its citizenry, and an altogether dysfunctional government.

On the other hand, we agree wholeheartedly that we can’t be afraid to experiment and that we need to adjust our strategies for overcoming authoritarian rule in Libya. The ambivalence and confusion that many young Libyan-Americans feel in regards to how they can contribute to a better, brighter Libya is not only understandable but promising. It reflects a sense of belonging to our homeland and a sense of camaraderie. It also reflects a sense of thoughtfulness and a sense that we care–that we are not willing to be involved at any price.

But many draw a blank when they try to figure out how to turn those thoughts into action: “I know the regime is oppressive, but what can I do about it?” So many Libyan-Americans see the retreat and trips as opportunities to be proactive and involved. But we’d like to offer an alternative. We can strengthen our solidarity and camaraderie by coming together and not giving in to the regime’s manipulative wishes.

First, by refusing to participate in any activity sponsored, organized or orchestrated by any of the regime’s arms, and secondly, by holding OUR OWN retreats, gatherings, trips, conferences, camps, etc. We don’t need the regime to do these things for us. Alhamdulilah, we live in a world where grassroots organization and communication has never been easier, and we are more than capable of self-funding these activities as we do with everything else in our lives. Nothing would send a more powerful message to those who aim to buy (and trample upon) our dignity than when we say ‘WE ARE NOT FOR SALE, AND WE DON’T NEED YOU!” It’s time for us to shoulder the responsibility and struggle that we have inherited from the generations before us. We cannot be spectators as others make plans for us.

We all share that emptiness of being so far away from our beloved Libya, but nothing will bring us closer to each other, and closer to where our heart REALLY is than standing together for what is right and rejecting anything that even remotely puts our dignity at stake or threatens our long-term future as a people and a nation.

We invite all Libyan-American youth to comment on this article and to get this important discussion started. Please feel free to leave an anonymous comment below. ( )

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