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Before the civil war broke out in Libya, Libyan politics was very simple – you were either with the regime, or against it. The first category could, in turn, be split into two sub-categories – those who benefited from the regime and lived lavish lifestyles, and those who were very poor, but still supported Gaddafi. Regarding the latter, there are two explanations as to why Gaddafi was able to gain their “support”. Firstly, the psychological phenomenon, Stockholm Syndrome – when an oppressed individual develops an emotional bond to their oppressor and in extreme cases, goes as far as to defend their oppressor. Some Libyans went even further and developed the notion that Gaddafi was some sort of demi-god, a Messenger/Prophet sent to better their lives. Secondly, fear was a weapon used by Gaddafi throughout his reign, but during the uprising, it was put into overdrive. Families were threatened that their loved ones would be killed if they did not take to the streets and “show their support for the brother leader.”
On the 17th February 2011, many Libyans from the older generations witnessed what they thought they’d never be fortunate enough to see during their lifetime – the uprising of the Libyan people. Starting from the east, and with the help of Libyans from the north, south and west, Gaddafi's grip on the country began to loosen. Up until this point, Libyan politics was still relatively simple, in that you were either now fighting for Gaddafi, or against him.
The involvement of NATO and the imposition of the no-fly zone muddied the waters, politically speaking. There was now a third factor in deciding which side you wanted to be on during the war. Many, who had previously supported the uprising, took a neutral position, or became pro-Gaddafi, as soon as NATO started bombing certain parts of Libya. Their reasoning was, any outside force bombing our sovereign nation, is an enemy to us all. Conversely, the anti-Gaddafi camp argued, without the help from NATO, the uprising would have been quashed and all resistance mercilessly eliminated. The protesters had crossed the point of no return. The Gaddafi regime was using its vast spy ring to identify those who took to the streets, not only in Libya, but anywhere protests were held. They had made it clear they were not in the mood to sit down at the table and negotiate a diplomatic resolution. The protesters had no other way to go, but forward. Protests were initially peaceful and unarmed, but that didn’t last long. The regime wanted to make an example of all those who dared to leave their homes. Gaddafi ordered his men to shoot to kill. Curfews were set across the country and Gaddafi’s pockets of militia were out in full force. The day he had been planning since his bloodless coup, a day 42 years in the making, was finally upon him. Libyans were seeing, for the first time, the size of Gaddafi’s private militia - and it was out for blood. Man, woman, child, it mattered not.
My personal journey during the uprising started in London, where I worked a 9-5 office job. As soon as I heard of the protests in front of the Libyan embassy, I made it a point to go after work. At one point, I even worked through my lunch break, just so I could leave an hour early. I, thank God, had a very understanding manager. At first, I went as a spectator and participant. Very quickly though, I decided to take my camera with me to document what was, by all measurements, a monumental time for Libyans everywhere.
By July of 2011, I felt the need to be closer to the action. I hitchhiked my way across the Tunisian-Libyan border to see what my fellow countrymen were going through. Yes, it was dangerous. Yes, there was fighting in some of the areas I went to. Yes, people died. Yes, given the choice, I’d do it all again. At the time, Gaddafi was still in Tripoli, but his grip on the capital was beginning to weaken. In fact, by September, Gaddafi lost control of the city and had fled to his hometown of Sirte. I also did a lot of filming during my time in Libya. I am intending on editing the footage into a short documentary. I think we, the Libyans, now more than ever, need to remind each other of why we did all of this in the first place. A lot of us seem to have lost track of the goal.
I did cover the pro-Gaddafi protest in London, but after a great deal of thought and in the spirit of building bridges, I have decided to not post the images. At the time of writing this piece, Libya is still an incredibly unstable country and I have a genuine fear people will use the images to seek out revenge. The taking of life has become unsettlingly easy for some Libyans. The last thing I want on my hands is - even in the most minuscule way - the blood of others. Tragically, not all Libyans want to see the country stabilise and live out its potential and I cannot, with clear conscience, give them any ammo to use in their dark and sadistic drive to turn the country into a failed state.
“Be merciful to others and you will receive mercy. Forgive others and Allah will forgive you.” Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.