“We are [going through] the French Revolution. But we aren’t chopping off people’s heads—at least for now.”
That’s the characterization one Libyan opposition leader gave to Joshua Hammer of his postintervention, postrevolt, post-Qaddafi country. A few months ago, Libya dominated virtually every international news outlet. Recently, however, it has been conspicuous by its absence from the headlines. Hammer’s intimate portrait of a war-torn, vengeance-thirsty country is a deft and well-timed reminder that Libya should remain in our thoughts.
In the January 12 issue of The New York Review of Books, Hammer relates impressions from his meetings with the former rebels who captured Muammar Qaddafi’s second son and former heir apparent, Seif Qaddafi. He paints a picture of a country divided in every way. As tensions and rivalries play out on the main political stage—Arab rebels vs. Berber rebels, civilian militamen vs. army defectors—average Libyans find themselves torn between triumphal celebration and trepidation in the face of rampant fragmentation and disorganization. Hammer juxtaposes a scene in which Libyans mingle, popcorn in hand, enjoying a carnival-like atmosphere, around Qaddafi’s “flattened villa” with fierce tales of bloody battle between rival militias.
The country’s festering tensions manifest in the vehement debate regarding what should be done with Seif Qaddafi. On one side are the cries for justice, uttered by those who would see him tried in Libya for his crimes. On the other is the thirst for vengeance, evident in one rebel’s advice to “kill [Seif] tomorrow.” With the ICC poised to make a decision on whether or not Seif can be tried in Libya, the issue threatens to polarize an already precariously positioned Libyan public. Hammer’s piece provides a glimpse into the lives of Libyans as they struggle with this and other divisive tensions.
In a country teetering between violence and democratic reform, such insight is notable.