Identify And Describe Two Differences Between New And Old Imperialism After Gaddafi, Literature’s New Dawn

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After Gaddafi, Literature’s New Dawn

The desert song is unfettered. With the defeat and death of the tyrant Muammar Gaddafi, Libyan writers welcome a new era. For the first time ever, they can bare their souls without a dictator or occupying power hovering over their pens. Until Gaddafi’s death, exile was a necessary condition for novels, poems or simply statements against the nation’s chronic problems such as women’s rights, poverty, tribal friction and individual freedom.

Anxiety has been the theme of Libyan writers since Adam left nearby Eden. When the land became a colony of Ancient Greece (c. 300 BC) Callimachus recorded the excesses of imperialism in what is now Benghazi. Then came the Roman, Turkish, Italian, French and British invaders. Authors in Libya have never been free.

After the revolution that has now overthrown and killed Gaddafi, the dream of literary freedom has finally arrived. It has been a long, cruel wait through the many travails of history.

Colonel Gaddafi, as a young soldier, himself wrote poems and short stories that dreamed of civil liberty. After independence from Britain in 1951, he led a military coup against Libya’s autocratic monarchy while King Idris was abroad for medical treatment. Gaddafi’s writing then turned into a desirable social theory, the Third Way, a middle ground between communism and capitalism. It was an inspired political vision, but in practice it degenerated into despotism. And Libyan literature preserved its pain.

Writers were censored. Dissent was not only discouraged, it was punished with imprisonment, torture and worse. In a notorious case in 2005, author and journalist Daif Al Ghazal wrote articles criticizing Gaddafi’s system of government. He was tortured, then killed. and his body was dumped in Benghazi. Many other writers lived in fear, careful about what or how they expressed their inner thoughts. These included several talented scribes including Kahled Darwish, Wejdan Ali, Mohamed al-Asfar, Ramez Enwesri, Saleh Gaderboh, Wafa al-Buissa and others. It seemed that being fearlessly creative was only possible by living abroad. And this tended to limit their issues to political ones.

A recent important novel, In The Country Of Men (Penguin) by Hisham Matar, was shortlisted, in translation, for the Booker Prize 2006. In 2007 it won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and many other prizes. It is about a 9-year-old boy who is experiencing Gaddafi’s oppression and it starts like this. “I’m thinking back now to last summer before I was kicked out. It was 1979 and the sun was everywhere. Tripoli lay brilliant and still under it.”

On state television under Gaddafi, young Suleiman watches the execution of his best friend’s father. The road to adulthood is filled with despair. Matar’s second novel, Anatomy of an Extinction, was published this year, 2011, in March. He lives in London.

Earlier well-known Libyan authors in English include (according to Wikipedia) Maryam Ahmed Salama (Dreams of a Captive Girl), Ibrahim Al-Kouni, Ahmad Al-Faqih and Sadeq al-Neihum. To which I would add Bashir al-Hashmi (Cries in Our Village), included in Libyan Stories (Kegan Paul International, 2000).

Literature, like religion, thrives on slavery. It also echoes history. “This is all a checkerboard of nights and days where fortune with men to pieces plays” (Omar Khayyam). In the coming months and years, the Libyan Revolution still has a long way to go. What will evolve as its new system of governance? How will the factional jealousies of tribes and religious sects mix?

These are complex human issues that will add impetus to the writing from Libya. However, with the authors finally bare, their novels and their thoughts will hopefully emerge from tales of anguish and hope into literary waves of joy.

Happy reading! By Cathy Macleod at Booktaste.

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