The deep roots of Libya's psychology of violence
For more than four decades, Libya's self-declared 'Brother Leader,' Muammar Qaddafi, has waged a brutal form of psychological warfare against his own people, analysts say. Rebel forces have also been shaped by that violent history.
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That perception of serving a higher purpose, among the Qaddafi family and their supporters, may in fact be adding fuel to the repressive drive against the rebels.Skip to next paragraph
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“[Qaddafi] thinks that he has created the ideal political system, and that’s what’s been introduced into Libya,” says Joffe of Cambridge University, about the tangle of ideas found in Qaddafi’s famous Green Book, which he has widely distributed throughout Libya since 1975 as a guide to his "democratic socialism" philosophy.
“Now when it is rejected by Libyans, in the rebellion in the east, this is more than just simply a political dispute – this is a personal rejection, which he takes very personally,” says Joffe. “And since he considers the system to be in some ways perfect … he takes this as a personal insult which he must personally avenge.”
But Libyan officials maintain that does not mean targeting civilians, regardless of their role in the uprising.
Yet hundreds of wounded were evacuated by sea from the city this week: 71 by the French charity Doctors Without Borders, and 250 by Turkey.
Many evacuees recounted stories of Libyan snipers shooting civilians, and tanks blasting the town indiscriminately.
“As a Libyan citizen, I will not stand and speak for a government that kills civilians. I will never do that,” said Mr. Ibrahim on Monday night. “The team that works with me here … we are young men and women.
Do you think we are going to stand here, face the whole world … to defend a government that kills civilians? What do you think we are, monsters?”
And yet, evidence appears to grow of regime abuses. The New York Times reported discovering a number of photographs, their provenance still unclear and during an official trip on Tuesday, on the second floor of a police station destroyed during fighting in the city of Zawiya, 20 miles west of the capital.
The Times reported that the images showed “corpses bearing the marks of torture;” one of a man with scars across his back, and another with his hands bound. There were also photographs of puddles of blood and one of a long pruning saw; their provenance was not clear.
Al Jazeera English on Tuesday interviewed a former Libyan soldier, who said he had witnessed the execution of fellow soldiers accused of sympathy for the rebels in Qaddafi’s hometown of Sirte.
Such violence appears to have spurred lethal antagonism on the rebel side. Kikhia of the University of Texas says that rebel friends of his on the frontline in Misratah have been astonished at how many nations are represented fighting alongside loyalist forces, from Algeria and Chad to Ukraine and Serbia.
"When they catch them, they kill them straight away,” says Kikhia of rebel treatment of the mercenaries.
He says he counsels them to avoid such retribution because “Qaddafi is not our teacher,” and “the point of this whole revolution is to end what Qaddafi has been doing, to end [his] atrocities."
Kikhia says the rebels should instead heed the example of Omar Mukhtar, the Libyan who led a rebellion against Italian Fascist rule in the 1920s, when the resistance chief was confronted by a similar problem.
“Someone said they wanted to kill the Italian prisoners, and Omar Mukhtar told them, ‘Don’t do that,’” explains Kikhia. “One of his fighters said, ‘But they kill us.’ And Omar Mukhtar said to him, ‘But they are not our teachers. Therefore we should not learn wrong from them.’”
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