In 2008 I traveled to the Sudan, prior to the country’s split when what was the largest country on the continent, remained a single sovereign nation. I traveled there in the heat of swarming media reports of terror and genocide in Darfur. This would make any rational traveling person fearful. Despite all that I had heard, I remained determined to travel and visit my father who had been working there for almost 2 years. I envisioned a war zone, a place dangerous and practically unlivable. Yet, I arrived to what was virtually that opposite. Khartoum, Sudan was a quiet, peaceful and family-oriented city. And with a metropolitan area of over five million people, had not recorded a single homicide that entire year.
I say this all this all to show the stark contrast of my expectations with my actual experience. I have a friend whose father visited and experienced Libya in the 80s. He said one thing: “it’s not what you’d expect”. This would lead me to all sorts of thoughts as to what could actually exist in a place like Libya; where as of late, there had been much discussion and debate over the United States intervention in the country’s conflict. Should I shatter any previously conceived idea that I had constructed based on CNN news footage? This time, I didn’t have the opportunity to see the country for myself. It would be solely left up to my meticulous review of what I sought out and what was available to me.
As the conflict in Libya progressed amongst neighboring newly revolutionized countries like Egypt and Tunisia, I struggled to formulate my own ideas on how this social insurrection should be addressed. The image of president Mommar Gaddafi had become that of evil folklore…an obvious villain on all the proverbial “wanted” signs across the country. It was almost as if after Bin Laden was captured and killed, Americans needed someone else to hate. I by no means stand in defense of someone with such a track record; albeit, there is so much to learn about this individual. However, my honest assessment is that I truly don’t know enough and like what I thought about the country of Sudan, I could be completely wrong after all anyway. I, like the average individual, have American media images that clash in my mind. I envision Gaddafi with the Africa button pinned on draped traditional garb. I recall how he has happily shaken hands with our current and former US presidents and regarded by respected US senators as an “interesting man”.
It is natural to be conflicted upon receiving mixed messages. Was Gadafi the United States ally that posed in pictures with presidents and foreign dignitaries; or was he the brutal tyrant destined to die a martyr on the soils that bred him. Pictures have to the power to make lasting imprints on ones mind. The picture that is everlasting and present now is what I awoke to see Thursday morning plastered across the TV. This enigmatic individual whom I was still trying to figure out laid bloodied, cold and lifeless in a fuzzy cell phone pic enlarged to fit the screen. There was a brutal certainty of that moment. That no matter who this man was, there is nothing celebratory about death nor are gory pictures of a lifeless man appropriate for the morning news. If nothing else, respect life and once it is gone from someone that is that.
The critiques of America’s foreign policy regarding Libya will be left up to history and will mix in circles of political banter. I am left to process the images…the images of the cold expression-less face that seems to sear through my consciousness. I am left with the images of his son threatening the people of Libya that “blood will pour in the streets.” I am left the image of the Africa pin and him shaking president Obama’s hand and calling him a son of Africa. Which one will be the lasting image or legacy of Gaddafi? I have no choice but take what I have and go from there and then possibly find out that I was wrong all along.