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The second-most famous Libyan
May 1, 2011 1:41 PM   Subscribe

Before Qaddafi, the closest thing to a national icon that Libya had was Omar Mukhtar, the Lion of the Desert. Mussolini thought of Libya as the Fourth Shore of Italy; the natives were not pleased with this idea, and under the leadership of Mukhtar, a school teacher, successfully resisted the Italians for twenty years with almost no resources. Italian rule in Libya was harsh: Libyans were rounded up into concentration camps, tanks and aerial bombardment were used against civilians, and half of the population of Cyrenaica - the eastern part of Libya - died. To stop Mukhtar from receiving supplies from Egypt, the Italians built a 168-mile long barbed-wire fence essentially dividing the country in two. Mukhtar was finally captured and hung on September of 1931; he remains a symbol of Libyan independence.

In 1981, a filmed version of his life, the English-language Lion of the Desert was released starring Anthony Quinn as Mukhtar. Financed by the Qaddafi regime at the expense of $35 million, it failed to make much of a dent in the English-speaking world, though the film was banned in Italy because of its portrayal of Italian cruelty, a ban not lifted until 2009, when Berlusconi found it advantageous to deal with Qaddafi. It appears to be available on YouTube in full (as well as on DVD); it's a bit overwrought, but a good introduction to a mostly forgotten chapter of history.

Mukhtar's legacy is still being fought over. Qaddafi has repeatedly drawn parallels between himself and Mukhtar, pointedly wearing a portrait of Mukhtar in chains on a visit to Italy. The rebels see themselves as carrying on Mukhtar's legacy. His son Mohammed has encouraged the rebels.

(A previous post about Libya mentions Omar Mukhtar.)
posted by with hidden noise (15 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Fences in the desert never kept anyone from going where they want to go or moving stuff they want to move.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 1:47 PM on May 1, 2011


Here's a picture of the fence. Caption says there were guard towers and 24 hr patrols as well.
posted by StickyCarpet at 2:02 PM on May 1, 2011


Gaddafi isn't a 'national icon'. He's a brutal dictator who's swanked around in palaces for over 40 years and hopefully will soon be overthrown by the Libyan people supported by NATO allies. It's Gaddafi who's used tanks and aerial bombardment against towns and civilians and, but for the belated intervention of the western powers, would have happily murdered anyone who stood in his way.
posted by joannemullen at 2:22 PM on May 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Stalin was a national icon, too. So was Hitler. Being a bad person doesn't mean that you don't exist.
posted by empath at 2:46 PM on May 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


Stalin was a national icon, too. So was Hitler. Being a bad person doesn't mean that you don't exist.
posted by empath


EponyQFT
posted by nevercalm at 3:23 PM on May 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


And now we've killed his son and young grandchildren, and people are upset about it... but I'm sure next time dropping bombs on people will work out just fine...
posted by Huck500 at 4:20 PM on May 1, 2011


Thank you for this fantastic post!
posted by Lisitasan at 4:56 PM on May 1, 2011


This affair is an elegant proof of the War Nerd's point: human shields are a winning strategy for Qaddafi. Maybe he knows that a couple dead grandchildren trump a hundred faceless civilian supporters.

Here's a smooth move for a cynical dictator while the bombs are falling: have a few picnics a week with one of your grown children and his/her family. The ones that are still left in the country, anyway. Host each shindig at a well-known estate of yours, and do it when the American spy satellites are overhead. Then you leave in the night and have your all-girl praetorian guard hold them there for 48 hours on some pretext. Keep doing it until NATO finally takes the bait and hands you a PR victory.

So you lose one kid and his entourage. You've still got eight more sets.
posted by clarknova at 5:37 PM on May 1, 2011


Yeah, everyone knows those people don't love their children like we do.
posted by Justinian at 5:41 PM on May 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Great post. Omar Mukhtar is one of the many many freedom fighters around the world who's celebrated for helping rid countries of the dread horrors of colonialism. Until the West understands what was going on in WWI/WWII and post-WWII as more than just a bunch of skirmishes with other great powers—what was going on for these other, more numerous countries in their first gasps for free air and reconstruction—they will never understand why their worldview about existential evils from the East, the Reds, the Chinese, whatever isn't shared by Africa, Asia, Latin America
posted by the mad poster! at 5:50 PM on May 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


Yeah, everyone knows those people don't love their children like we do.

clarknova was not making a point about the Libyan people. He was making a point about Qaddafi in particular. I don't have any idea whether it's a good point, but your strawman is unnecessary.
posted by TypographicalError at 7:16 PM on May 1, 2011


Yeah, everyone knows those people don't love their children like we do

You mean human rights violating dictators? Probably not, no.
posted by Roman Graves at 7:27 PM on May 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ironically, after the Ghadaffi revolution, some of the ruling el Senussi clan decamped to - Italy.
posted by IndigoJones at 7:18 AM on May 2, 2011


I'm not sure it's reasonable to say that human rights violating dictators love their OWN children less than other people do. They tend to act in self-interest, and most people regard their own children very much as one of their interests.

That Anthony Quinn movie is one of the earliest films I remember watching in Pakistan. I still remember some scenes from it quite vividly. Tremendously inspiring to me then. I wonder if it still would be. Movies about resistance against colonial powers are just cool, in any case.
posted by bardophile at 3:55 AM on May 3, 2011


clarknova was not making a point about the Libyan people. He was making a point about Qaddafi in particular. I don't have any idea whether it's a good point, but your strawman is unnecessary.

No no, he's right. I doubt the basic decency of a well-established tyrant. I'm obviously a racist.
posted by clarknova at 8:53 AM on May 3, 2011


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