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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Rebels with a Cause

Last weekend, I met two Libyan rebels on the street. These two, along with 500 other Libyans, are in Jordan receiving medical treatment for the various injuries they incurred during the revolution. They gave me the name of the hotel they were staying in and invited me to stop by. There's no way I could pass up an opportunity to get the inside scoop from two revolutionaries who'd been on the ground when all the action happened. So, a few days later, I went to their fancy hotel and walked in to find what looked like a rehabilitation center. There were tens of injured Libyan men sitting or hobbling around the lobby. Some had bandages around their heads, burn gloves on their hands, or missing limbs. It was a moving sight to see. These guys had really risked their lives to protect their families, and, as they see it, to fight a despotic regime that had crippled their country. I asked one of the injured men in the lobby if he knew Hakeem, the guy I'd met three days earlier. Before I could finish my question, though, he asked where I was from. When I told him that I am an American, his already friendly demeanor changed to enthusiasm as he began to praise America's support in the resistance effort. He gladly took me to Hakeem's room. There, I heard his story.

Hakeem is a 29 year old tug boat captain from Misrata. When the revolution broke out, he began transporting weapons on his boat between Misrata and the capital, Tripoli, in support of the revolution. When Tripoli fell, he joined his fellow revolutionaries in Sirt to make the last push against Qadaffi's forces. While in battle, he was shot by a Sniper in the foot as he was climbing into a military truck. If I understood him correctly, the door of this vehicle blocked two other bullets that could have been fatal. Hakeem's friends who came in the room to visit shared similar stories. Abd Al-Qadr had 14 pieces of shrapnel enter his body when an enemy rocket struck a vehicle just meters away from where he was standing. He proudly displayed one piece the size of a quarter that had already been removed and had us feel a piece still lodged in his hand. Ali, another friend of Hakeem’s, had burns covering the entirety of his right arm and much of his legs.

But, they were all smiles. It was interesting to see how hopeful they are in Libya's future. Despite a crippled oil industry, possible tribal conflict, and an economy that will need to be built from the ground up, they believe their country will become a working democracy. Like the experts, they realize it will take years for them to create the prosperous, liberated state they imagine. In their conversations with us, however, they sought to quell concerns held by many international by-standers. They pointed to the fact that each of them was from a different tribe, that they fought together, and that the idea of tribal conflict after the war was unfounded. Although they are all religious Muslims, they, surprisingly, claimed that political Islam in general would not make it far in Libya, or any radicalized form of religious government. If the tribal and political powers now deciding the fate of post-revolutionary Libya were as cooperative and idealistic as these foot soldiers, then a stable Libya would be much more imminent.

What actually comes of the Libyan conflict is still unknowable, but hopefully its transformation will go as smoothly as it has in Tunisia thus far. The fall of the old Libyan, Tunisian, and Egyptian regimes along with the continuing resistance in Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain are altering the Arab world. The authoritarian leaders still remaining in the region realize that the old system of corruption and repression will no longer be tolerated by their people. Whether this leads to increased democracy and peace in the region remains to be seen. I am hopeful that it will. What is sure is that many people in these countries are giving their lives and allegiance to the ideals of liberty and representative government. As the United States deals sensitively with these events, it will gain more allies and favor in a region that largely mistrusts it. I see this positive result in my Libyan friends.

So, being out here is a ton of fun. It’s exciting to feel more and more that I am able to communicate with these people. One reason that Arabic is so rewarding is because, despite its many dialects, I’m able to speak with and understand people from many different countries, like Libya. Unfortunately, I don’t have much time to write about all the other great experiences I’m having in Jordan because of my studies. I’ve learned much from my Jordanian friends, my BYU friends, my academic program, and my opportunities in the Church. I miss the States, and I’ll be back soon enough. Until then, thanks for reading.