I am a Libyan American who spent the last six months in Benghazi, Libya, visiting my father’s family. Although I grew up hearing my dad’s stories of Muammar Qaddafi’s brutality, I could not fully comprehend what it would be like to watch friends arrested without a trial or hung publicly in the streets. I couldn’t comprehend how it would feel to discover that siblings or parents had been killed one morning by a Qaddafi-paid assassin. In Libya, the mere mention of his name brings terror
Now that I am home, I am saddened to hear many Americans express regret for US involvement in Libya. When we don’t have a personal connection to an issue, it’s easy to get caught up in the political banter and forget that we are talking about real people. Americans must remember the power and responsibility we have in the international community. As a world leader and a country with the military capability to help protect innocent people from a barbaric dictator, the US made a courageous decision to intervene in Libya. This humanitarian act undoubtedly saved the lives of countless civilians.
There should be no regret in that.
In my case, understanding the history of this terrible regime helped me realize the incredible bravery of the Libyan people, and made the beginning of the uprising feel that much more frightening – and exhilarating.
The signs said 'America help us'
Before Western journalists arrived in the country, there was intense sense of foreboding among Libyans that the world would not see their fight or hear their voices. I vividly remember demonstrating outside the courthouse in Benghazi when we received word that the first Western reporters had arrived. The crowd went wild, and it brought me to tears. All the people crowded around the journalists to share their stories of how this ruthless regime had hurt them and their families. They wanted the Western world to witness their plight and help them win their fight for freedom.
Although the arrival of journalists from many countries brought increasing hope, the Libyan people believed that Americans were the most important audience to reach. They had the vision of freedom embodied in our Statue of Liberty in their heads. While I was there, everyone was asking, “Where is Obama? Where is America?” At demonstrations, people begged Americans for help. The signs and posters they waved did not say, “France help us” or “Britain help us,” but “America help us.”
US and coalition involvement nearly arrived too late. Mr. Qaddafi’s forces were knocking on Benghazi’s door with tanks and heavy artillery, and if intervening countries had waited even a day more, my family would probably be dead.
Intervention was a humanitarian act
I am disheartened when I hear how many Americans now argue that our intervention was not a “humanitarian act,” but rather was founded on US interest in Libya’s oil reserves. I can’t deny that oil was probably at the forefront of the international community’s decision to act. Libyan people have even said, “Thank God we have oil.” However, to the Libyan people, US involvement was a humanitarian act because it saved many lives.
I also understand the concern of many fellow Americans who say this intervention in Libya will increase America’s financial burden during an extremely tough economic time. The following analogy from one of my advisors at Linfield College puts the decision to intervene in context: “Imagine you are struggling to make a living and only have one loaf of bread to eat. Then you walk by someone who has absolutely no food. Even though you only have one loaf, you will probably choose to share your bread with that person rather than leave them with nothing.”
When we have people begging us to help save their lives, how can we say, “No, you are not important enough to us.” This is a conflict that is very close to my heart, and I want Americans to know how important they are to the Libyan people.
America's power and responsibility
Peaceful demonstrators, including my family, went out onto the streets to ask for freedom, justice, and dignity, and the Qaddafi regime responded with horrific brutality. The Libyan people had no way to defend themselves. A friend of mine who was out demonstrating told me, “We just have our hands and rocks. We have nothing.” Without American and international intervention, many of those demonstrating would not have lived to continue their fight for freedom.
I hope that my fellow Americans keep such bravery in perspective: With American ability and influence comes immense responsibility – a responsibility we bravely upheld in intervening in Libya to save innumerable lives, including those of my family.
Nadia Abraibesh graduated from Linfield College last spring. In Benghazi, she joined protest rallies and served as an informal interpreter for Western journalists, including a reporter from the Christian Science Monitor. She will soon serve with Teach for America.