By Amina Zarrugh
Posted: Nov. 9 2012
Tripoli, Libya.Photo courtesy of Amina Zarrugh.
The attitudes expressed by Libyan protesters - in the recent attack and arguably since the inception of their revolutionary movement - have been overshadowed by emphases from the media on a series of "-isms" (terrorism, tribalism, and sectarianism). During the protracted conflict, "Lawrence of Arabia" reels were resurrected from their Orientalist graveyards - apparently only superficially buried - and served as the clarifying lens by which to comprehend contemporary politics and identities in North Africa.
These discussions and the requisite fears they produce have usurped any and all conversations about the country. The hubris of questions about "worth" implies that four American deaths are comparable to that of
Tripoli, Libya. Photo courtesy of Amina Zarrugh.
During my most recent visit in July to my father's hometown of Tripoli, I found wall art and graffiti to be among the forms of communication that can offer us Libyan perspectives. Hardly a patch of wall remains bare as so many are canvas to colorful and vibrant commemorations. The street art is expressive of both the sheer ecstasy of freedom from years of brutal repression and the excessive transaction of blood that accompanied this possibility. Expressions are of longing, love and loss.
One of the most vivid illustrations was that of a large-scale blue and red dove whose shape spelled the word "peace" in English. Yet another featured a faceless individual changing masks from one of green to the restored monarchical green-black-red flag of the revolution. Alongside this face in transition was the statement "Open your eyes. Be free." These messages promote unity, peaceful change and solidarity, which contrast strikingly from preeminent discourses in the United States about Libya and the broader Arab and Muslim worlds.
It is undeniably a time for critical conversations about the "Arab Spring" that not only address terrorism but other issues such as racism and sexism. However, it is also a moment to listen. The sister-in-law of Kais Al-Hilali, an assassinated graffiti artist, said of his death: "Gaddafi killed him twice: the man and his art." In our neglect of their perspectives and vocabularies, Libyans will experience another violence: being silenced.