If ever there was a revolution tailored for today’s preferred style of foreign military intervention, it was Libya in 2011. A regime with no real allies anywhere; a proven and present danger of mass killings; a wide open landscape in which air power could reign supreme; a brutal and hated dictator of almost comic proportions (once you stopped crying); and a weak and fragmented opposition in no position to dictate terms to foreign allies.
In the twelve months since Gaddafi’s death at the hand of an unruly mob of rebels in October 2011, the news from Libya seems to have been of a similar ilk: fighting among unruly mobs of rebels, sovereignty fragmented by tribes, jihadi armed groups in power, a state in name only.
As with the sectarian violence in post-Saddam Iraq, or the decade long insurgency in post-Taliban Afghanistan, the lesson seems to be that intervention has limited uses: we may be able to help depose a dictator, and in certain extremely rare cases we might even be able to do so without occupying the place; but whatever happens, we must accept that the aftermath is well beyond our control.
as in so many other post-conflict transitions, patriarchy re-asserts itself in the name of stability
Nizam Najjar’s thoughtful and honest video diary of the Libya revolution is testimony to these truths. Najjar, Libyan but living in Norway, briefly mentions the NATO intervention, but his focus is on the reality of life for ordinary Libyans, in particular the citizenrebels who form the Al-Gabra militia in the besieged city of Misrata.
The first half of the film is taken up with the rebel movements, the fight to topple Gaddafi and the impacts of this on the people he meets. Najjar captures many revealing moments that run the gamut of emotional moments: from outpourings of Libyan joy at liberation, to the innocence of the front-line rebels, to the grief and fear at the loss of a comrade. We see images of the destruction wrought by both government and rebel forces, we see the ubiquitous guys-with-guns, we see danger and sacrifice.
Najjar successfully keeps the focus of the film on real people. There are few victims here – which is a relief from the usual heavyhanded coverage of war we are used to – and quite a bit of debate and discussion amongst fairly cheery rebels. Indeed, Libyan’s have sense of irony all their own. But Najjar does not romanticize the violence: there is no mistaking the cost of this war in the image of militia leader Haj Sadiq quietly weeping as he prays in the wake of the death of one of his commanders; or the haunting mobile-phone video made by two Gaddafi loyalists, both boys and apparently the last of their unit, as they await death in the ultimately failed defense of Sirte.
Najjar’s is a first-hand account, but through it all he strikes a balance, giving us just enough of his bewilderment to help us understand what he is showing us of the Libyans we meet, without his own presence becoming overbearing. He is just freakedout enough at times to wonder aloud “What the fuck and I doing here?” and the whole experience of return, and the emotional tensions that this causes, is a minor theme throughout.
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