Friday, October 7, 2011

After 30 years! and my first blog post.

I don't think I can call myself a luddite anymore. In 2011, I learned how to use facebook groups and twitter. And now, I've set up a blog. Rejoice tech nerds.

Before I begin, please pardon my grammatical errors or just plain bad writing - these entries will for the most part be rushed and completed under time restraints. Also, these views are written from my own perspective, and may not reflect those of other Libyans or even my own family.

I've set up this blog to document a momentous occasion in my family - my father's return to Libya after 30 years.  We will be flying out tomorrow, Saturday Oct. 8, 2011.

To understand the blog posts that will follow this one, I'm going to summarize the events that have lead up to this moment.

Libya, a country my father left in 1981 to complete his masters and phd in Engineering. He actually had left a few years earlier, but returned to Libya to marry my mother in 1981. He had three months to go to finish his masters in the United States. During their honeymoon, tensions between the U.S. and Libya were high. He was not given a visa to return to the U.S. and finish his masters. My parents were basically stranded in Spain (not a bad place to be stranded might I add) until my father secured a student visa and acceptance to UBC in Canada.  My father had to re-start his masters from scratch.

Shortly after moving to Canada, my father's student activities gained the attention of the Libyan regime. Many of his colleagues in Libya were arrested, and later brutally killed. Gidafi's reach extended far beyond Libya, and some of his colleagues were even killed on US and UK soil.  A plot to poison our family and possibly others in the Vancouver area was luckily uncovered and foiled. However, the fear remained. My father used to tell us to never speak about Gidafi or politics outside our home. He said there was a monster with super big ears that could hear us even if we whispered.  For a long time, I believed that monster lived behind this 3.5 ft door under the stairs at the Richmond Mosque (I still get a little creeped out by that door).

In reality though, the Libyan community was full of spies who were encouraged to report on fellow Libyans. They would receive handsome remuneration for their reports. The distrust this created in our community would have a lasting and devastating effect within not only the Libyan community, but even within families. For us, the reports ensured my father could not return to Libya safely. At times, even his wife and children became the targets.

Although we weren't allowed to speak about politics publicly, my father never neglected to speak to us about what was going on in Libya. When other parents, perhaps wisely, kept their children in ignorance, my father ensured we understood the brutality of the regime. In his mind, I guess, injustice could not remain a secret, and the stories of those persecuted and killed by Gidafi needed to live on. At times, his focus on Libyan politics grew tiresome.

For awhile, my parents believed that the nightmare that began in Libya would end and they could go home. However, in the late 80's and all the way through the 90's, the situation in Libya only worsened. In 1992, my parents bought their first home in North Delta, BC.  It seemed to me that they were beginning to accept that they would not be returning to Libya anytime soon.

In 1996, the Abu Sleem massacre of almost 1300 political dissidents over three hours shocked many Libyans (at least those that knew about it). It inspired resistance both within and outside Libya. The advent of the internet helped connect this community of dissidents across the world (before that it was long painful road trips to places like Ohio).  My father began writing anti-Gadafi articles online under an alias. Although he was no longer a student and had ceased his student activism, he continued to write against the regime.

Personally, I felt my father's focus on Libya was an obsession. By the time I was in university, I had preferred to block Libya out of my mind. I hated Gidafi, but I didn't want to be consumed by a conflict in a country that I felt so removed from. We barely visited Libya in the 80's and 90's.  I hardly knew my extended family. I felt robbed of something precious, and the bitterness had the potential to overwhelm me. So I turned away, and focused on my life in Canada.

In 1999, my brothers went to Libya. That could be a whole interesting story on its own (my brother tried to bring back a hawk. Yes, the bird.) I'm not sure what that trip did to them, but shortly afterward one of them set up an anti-Gidafi website. I admit, I was impressed by the amount of information he collected. It had never been compiled in the written form, never mind in English. His website became popular rather quickly. My mother and I started to worry about my brother. By the 2000's, my family (with the exception of my father) started to travel to Libya on a more regular basis. It wouldn't be that difficult for my brother to be discovered and arrested on a visit. I also was uncomfortable with the idea that my brothers, who were born and raised in Canada, were inheriting this conflict from my father.  My fears would be allayed when Gidafi hackers took down the website. My brother never bothered putting it back up.

Not long after, my other brother began to rap. He did this covertly. I found out from one of his friends. I heard a sample CD. Let's just say, there's definitely been some improvement since then. I still think he should get a real job. But I will grudgingly admit that I am now somewhat proud of him. Grugdingly.

So this brings us to 2011. I had goosebumps when I heard that the Tunisians began to protest in some of the small towns. I was thrilled. It took awhile for the international community to recognize what was happening in Tunisia. Some of my friends didn't really understand why I was excitedly posting articles about the Tunisian protests in small towns. But my family and other longtime dissidents shared my excitement. We knew what this meant: The complacency was being shed. Tunisians were awakening from their 30 year slumber. It is a beautiful thing to watch a nation awaken and demand their rights. We watched closely as the unrest spread throughout the country. And then finally, we joyously celebrated the demise of Zine Al Abideen. It was a happy occasion, not only for Tunisians, but to many in the Arab world. I always thought highly of Tunisians and respected them for their education. Finally, they were demanding what they deserved all along.

I didn't anticipate the same would happen and succeed in Egypt. The benefactors of Mubarak's regime were many, and they formed the powerful wealthy tier of Egyptian society. Thankfully, I was dead wrong. In fact, the wealthy and educated put their full support behind the revolution. Mubarak fell in a record 18 days.

Then it was Libya's turn. No one thought we would ever live to see the day that Libyans would rise up and demand their rights. My father prostrated himself to God in gratitude that he lived to see this day.

I would say that the Libyan revolution could not have happened without Tunisia and Egypt being freed first. The amount of aid, particularly from Tunisia, became a lifeline for the Libyan revolution. Had the Libyans revolted without these two countries being freed first, I think the outcome would have been very different. Everything has a funny way of happening.

Living through the Libyan revolution is a tale on its own. For me, it was a very difficult emotional experience to watch. It was at first exhilarating, then devastating, then depressing, and now both joyous and apprehensive.  It is a bitter sweet victory. The price the Libyan people have paid for freedom was a high one. An estimated 35-45,000 people have lost their lives. 60,000 are said to be missing. Thousands more are injured, permanently disabled, emotionally scarred, or all of the above.

Despite that, the nation is rejoicing. It's my hope that this trip back will be everything my father hoped it would be. I will likely have spotty internet access and slow connections, but I hope through this blog, photos, and video footage, I'll be able to capture this trip as much as possible.

Till my next post, farewell my friends.

p.s. for those wondering about the title of this Blog, brush up on your Back to the Future trivia.

1 comment:

  1. Loveedddd it! It really is bittersweet.
    toosli bissalamah B,
    can't wait to read all about it when you get there!