In Libya's west, rebels rise amid rights concerns, growing pride
The increasingly assertive rebels in Libya's western Nafusah Mountains have committed abuses, Human Rights Watch says today. There's also growing pride, and confidence they're going to win their fight against Muammar Qaddafi.
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The only town with a sizable civilian population is Jadu, right in the middle of the mountain range. Here, the rebels were more successful. One night, local fighters went down the mountain with their engines cut and their lights dimmed. They surprised the Qaddafi soldiers and managed to push them back far enough to put the town out of Grad missile range.Skip to next paragraph
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As a result, Jadu, a pretty town set among olive and fruit trees, has become a surreal haven of peace on a mountain range still surrounded by government troops on all sides. A total ban on guns inside the city added to the peaceful atmosphere.
On a recent Friday, hundreds of kids demonstrated here in a show of solidarity with rebels elsewhere in Libya.
But for every sign proclaiming the unity of the Libyan people, there was another demanding the recognition of Tamazight as an official language of the new Libya. And the flags of the old kingdom of Libya, which has been adopted as the flag of the rebels, flew side by side with the flag of the World Amazigh Congress, an organization representing Berbers in Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and Libya.
The mountains are in the middle of a renaissance of Amazigh culture, which Qaddafi did his best to repress. Qaddafi liked to say there was no such thing as a Berber people in Libya; they were an invention of the European colonialists. Everybody here remembers Qaddafi’ statement from 1985 when he said, "If your mother transmits you this language, she nourishes you with the milk of the colonialist, she feeds you their poison."
As a result, there are no reliable figures about the number of Amazigh in Libya, although it is generally assumed that they constitute 5% of the general population. That would put their number at around 300,000. Their growing pride and assertiveness is a reminder of the tribal and cultural divisions that could plague a transition after Qaddafi's one man rule is replaced.
On the mountain, their ancestral land, they are no longer the majority. That is partly because some Berbers abandoned their language and culture when they converted to Islam centuries ago, and partly because of Qaddafi’s policy of Arabisation.
Loyal Arab tribes from the desert were sent to live on the mountain in order to change the demographics. When the uprising started those tribes sided with the government troops. The villages of the Mesheshiya, a tribe known to be fiercely loyal to Qaddafi, are now deserted.
Although their fight against Qaddafi’s regime is far from over, the Amazigh have wasted not time in setting the historic record straight.
Old histories, new histories
In the old center of Jadu, what used to be Qaddafi’s revolutionary museum now hosts a small exhibit dedicated to Suleiman al-Barouni, a Berber freedom fighter who fought against the Italian colonial occupiers alongside his contemporary Omar Mukhtar, who is revered by the rebels in Benghazi.
Next to the museum, Libya’s first school of Tamazight was open for business.
Children there were decorating the walls with portraits of al-Barouni and with letters from Tifinagh, the Berber alphabet.
“Most people here still speak Tamazight fluently, but many have forgotten how to write it,” said the school’s teacher, 15-year old Mira Dugha, who learned Tifinagh by herself using the internet.