Posted by: exiwp | May 1, 1987

On a Mission for Peace: The International Peace Gathering in Tripoli, Libya (1987)

National Alliance, May 1, 1987

Jamahiriya! That is the cry of the Libyan people, the cry of their revolution. It means The Country of the Masses.”

I hear that cry over and over again from thousands of Libyan people here in the Souk el Joumma stadium in the heart of Tripoli. There are over 15,000 people in the open air stadium watching a beautiful display of Libyan life in action as portrayed by Libyan youth. I am enthralled by the performances—they include scenes of the Bedouin people who roam the desert and live in tents, as does Colonel Muammar Qaddafi, the leader of this country that has long been under siege by the Reagan administration. There is a performance depicting the lives of other ordinary Libyans—fishermen, workers, farmers. It is all very beautiful, very passionate. A plane flies overhead, displaying the capabilities of the Libyan air force, and a Libyan girl scout troop marches through the stadium—actually a horse track—looking much like the girl scouts I have seen back in Brooklyn’s BedStuy. Green Libyan flags are unfurled, and I see paintings carried by young girls and boys of the carnage and destruction wrought by American F-111s exactly one year ago in a raid that murdered over 100 civilians, including the baby daughter of Colonel Qaddafi. Her name was Hannah.

The marching band is coming through, heralding the entrance of 20 members of the Youth Militia. They really put on a show, demonstrating their prowess in the martial arts in mock fighting contests. They end their performance by letting loose 20 chickens, then capturing them. Almost in a flash, they grab the chickens, break their necks, de-feather them and pull out their entrails with their teeth—a display meant to show that they will endure any hardship to defend their country and their revolution.

I am here, among a people in the throes of a revolution, with Dr. Lenora Fulani, the leader of the Women of Color Caucus of the New Alliance Party; with [A], Photography Editor of The National Alliance; with [EK], representing the Institute for Social Therapy and Research; and with Nancy Ross, Executive Director of the Washington, D.C.-based Rainbow Lobby. We are in Libya to take part in the festivities, conferences and sightseeing that are part of the International Peace Gathering organized by the Libyan Peace Committees. Our invitation came from the Nation of Islam. In all, some 200 Americans are here for the Peace Gathering, along with hundreds of other progressive people from the Republic of Ireland, Great Britain, Canada, and several African countries.

We expected some trouble getting here—President Ronald Reagan banned travel to Libya last year, accusing Qaddafi of sponsoring terrorism. So we weren’t surprised to have our passports seized at Kennedy Airport by TWA ticket agents, acting under orders from the FBI, who xeroxed them against our protests before allowing us to board. This act of harassment seemed to unsettle other Americans who were, like ourselves, bound for Libya, and so we all took the occasion to come together in a first show of mutual support and help—a good omen for our trip, I thought. It was a small thing really—just some progressive folks helping each other out in a confrontation with the government’s intelligence apparatus—but I felt moved and proud that we could do it, and in the process get to know some of these people who, like us, wanted to see first hand the strides that the Libyan people have made. Imagine that display of unity at Kennedy Airport magnified one million fold! That was the exhilaration we felt as we traveled through Libya and talked with the people—a people and a country under constant threat by the mightiest military power on the planet.

Here at the Souk el Joumma Stadium, I feel that exhilaration again as the stadium erupts in sustained cries of Jamahiriya.

“Peace is the Only Hope for our Planet”

Over the next few days our delegation will speak to scores of Libyan people and participants in the International Peace Gathering. The Libyans have not organized a conference for folks to sit in auditoriums and listen to lots of statements or reports. Rather, it is an informal gathering, one that allows us to walk and talk among the people and to get to know each other. It is a great way to learn and see what Libya is about. In fact, one reason the rulers of the Western world view Qaddafi and the Libyan people as dangerous is because they have the capacity and commitment to do this—organize a context in which all these progressives from around the world can come together and get to know one another. That is a very dangerous activity, in some ways I think that Qaddafi has done more for the progressive movement over these four days than we have been able to do for ourselves in a long time.

The Libyans are very clear that there can be no peace without freedom. One of the most moving things about the Gathering, something that is sure to confound the corporate-owned media and the U.S. government, is that at this peace gathering, much of the talk is about freedom and liberation.

“Peace is the only hope for our people and our planet,” says Dr. Ali Ghadban of the Peace Committees in his address to us before the peace march to Green Square. “We know that the campaign of Reagan is a campaign of fear and intimidation. Americans are living under fear and intimidation, like they were under McCarthy. It is the Reagan campaign of viciousness that gives a free hand for war on Libya—Jamahiriya—the land of the great revolution that has vowed to assist and support the oppressed, the exploited, the persecuted, to free themselves from the chains of imperialism. It is by smearing a campaign full of lies against Jamahiriya and its leader who inspires millions around the world to free themselves from servitude that Reagan hopes to continue his war. The U.S. establishment can fool all the people sometime, and some of the people all the time, but it hopes to fool all the people all the time and we should not let that happen.”

That is why we are in Libya—to see first hand the damage that was done, but not to military targets. No, that is not what the Reagan bombs hit or what they were intended for. They hit civilians and children, and it is they who are remembered and honored here in Tripoli over these next few days devoted to peace.

Speaking on the Peace Panel are a number of American delegates: among them Vernon Bellecourt of the International Indian Treaty Council and Dave Dellinger, a peace activist who was one of the Chicago Eight. Afterwards we begin the peace march to Green Square. The Native American contingent leads the march, beating drums and carrying signs that read, “Indians in Solidarity with the Jamahiriya, Respect life, Mother Earth and all of our relations.” They are soon joined at the front by a boisterous contingent of Libyan youth, who do not want to be left in the rear of the march; they desire, one tells me, always to lead the fight for peace and freedom. Mothers holding babies watch from balconies as the procession passes by, buoyed by the energy of the marchers. I read the signs: “Chicanos in Solidarity with Libya”; “U.S. out of Western Hemisphere, Peace Among the Human Race.”

The Libyans carry signs too: “Down with State Terrorism of the West” and “Qaddafi Shall Fight.”

I strike up a conversation with Hameed Toboly, a young medical student. Hameed had helped in the rescue of people the night of the American attack—he lives only a short distance from where the bombs fell. Hameed was asleep when his mother woke him to say that there was trouble. At first he thought it was only a thunder storm, but he heard the cries of wounded and frightened people and he knew. Hameed took his family to a farmhouse outside of Tripoli, then quickly returned to assist with the rescue operation. All the while, he told me, he was very scared and didn’t know if he or his friends would be alive to see the next day. “The Libyan people are a people of peace,” he says. “When you look around Libya you see not terrorists but a people who are engaged in the process of reconstruction, trying to build a society of decency and humanity.” Hameed is young and he wants to see his future. In a quiet voice he tells me how hurt he is when he travels outside of Libya and friends in other countries tease him about being a terrorist. “This is not fair,” says Hameed, and the pride of the revolution shone in his eyes.

The Symbol of Resistance

The rest of this second day in Tripoli is like a blur. There is so much to do, so many people to speak with, so much to learn in so short a time. Our hectic pace is necessary: we have come here to establish a connection with as many of Libya’s 3½ million people as is possible in four short days, to share with them what we are doing in America. Lenora Fulani speaks to everyone she sees about the international significance of the 1988 presidential elections—bringing them news of burgeoning movement back in the United States of Blacks, progressive whites, Jews, women, lesbians and gays and other people of color who stand adamantly opposed to U.S. genocide around the world. Everywhere we go Reagan is regarded as a murderer. I speak with a Libyan who now lives in London, who says, “I understand that during the departure from America the Americans were harassed. What kind of administration is ruling that country? The Reagan administration is not only an enemy of world peace but an enemy of his own people. You have selected that man named Reagan, you must now de-select him. You have to remove him.”

April 15. It is just after midnight when we approach Qaddafi’s residence; it is here that most of the damage was done. Two hours to go before the observance of the first anniversary of the bombing raid. In the courtyard near the ruins is a statue—a clenched fist with a crushed F-111 American airplane crumpled inside it—the symbol of defiance. We walk through the ruins of the site; the place has been’ thoroughly destroyed. Remnants of the bombs that the Americans dropped are on display. Over 100 pounds of bombs; it is a grimly frightening sight.

As the hour approaches for the lighting of the eternal torch, international speakers greet the gathering. But it is the young son of Qaddafi who personifies the determination and defiance of the Libyan people. “The Americans have not realized any of their objectives because all of the peoples of the world are with us and with my father,” he began. “We open our country to all the liberation movements in the world. We will open centers to all Palestinians, to the PLO, to free Palestine. We open ourselves to the Irish Republican Army and we welcome American Blacks, Indians, Chicanos, to join us in attacking imperialism. The great American empire, with its failed President, came here to try to kill a small baby and children. This is the action of a terrorist. When the war planes left, they left to attack our families while we were asleep and they have left our houses destroyed. But we defy them. We shall be steadfast and conquer. Bombs can destroy concrete and iron, but they couldn’t destroy our will. If we are to be called terrorists for fighting for our freedom then terrorists we will be.”

On these words Colonel Qaddafi enters to join his son briefly, waving to the crowd before departing. The words of the young Qaddafi ring in many ears as the chants of Jamahiriya rise up once again; Hawk Stonechild of the Native American contingent is lifted up on the clenched first with its crushed F-111 inside to light the eternal torch.

The Socialist Peoples’ Libyan Arab Jamahiriya

The corporate-owned media attempt to portray Qaddafi and his people as dehumanized. Many of us in the United States have heard that Qaddafi lives in a tent in the mountains. On this our last full day here, we take a trip up into the Geryan Mountains.

They are stunning and immense. The mountain air is clean and invigorating. As we arrive at the top, we are met by men dressed in Bedouin robes seated atop elaborately decorated Arabian horses. Music fills the air, and once again it is led by the Native Americans. We all gather to eat couscous, a traditional Libyan dish, which we eat seated in tents.

I take this opportunity to find out more about Libyan society. I discover that it is not run along very traditional Islamic lines. Religious observance is not mandatory, nor are women required to wear traditional dress. We learn from Naima Damdoum, a member of the Libyan women’s committees, that women are an integral part of the productive life of the revolution. Sixty percent of Libyan women are now part of the work force.

While we are sitting in the tents it begins to rain. I speak with Dr. Au Ghadban, trying to deepen my understanding of the Libyan Jamahiriya. Libyan society is run along socialist lines. Everyone can work, go to school, get needed medical treatment, housing and the other necessities of life—free. Particularly striking is the national commitment to supporting struggles for liberation in other countries.

Minister Akbar Muhammad of the Nation of Islam had noted this earlier in the day at the bomb site. “After the bombing of Libya, the Libyans who give so much to the revolutionary struggle could have cut back on the support they give to struggling peoples,” he said. “But the leader of the revolution and the people have continued their support for the activities that go on here. The Libyan people shed their tears, buried their dead and continued their struggle.”

Ghadban has lived in California and Virginia, where he received much of his education. He patiently explains what the Peace Gathering and the Jamahiriya are about. “We developed the Peace Gathering due to the urgent need to convey our message to people of the world that we are a peace loving nation. The kind of peace we are looking for, though, is a peace based upon justice, a peace based upon equality. We do not want a peace based on exploitation or manipulation. This is why the Libyan Peace Committee was formed. We tried to organize this as an informal setting so that we can open the dialogue with people in America, Canada and Britain.”

Ghadban acknowledges the feeling of solidarity Libyans get from bringing people together. We feel proud to be able to bring peace groups together from around the world,” he confides. I want to assure you that here in Jamahiriya we are emphasizing and stressing relations between people, not between governments. We know that governments can change any minute; they are not lasting. What is lasting are the relations between people. This emerges from the Third Universal Theory, which comes from the authority and dignity of the masses, the sovereignty of the masses. Approaching the people in this manner is the way to bring about better understanding and better relations. We cannot sit and wait for governments to make peace happen.

“Terrorism is a tricky question,” Ghadban continues. “Americans believe that when they do it, it is for freedom; when others do it, it is terrorism. That is a double standard. The American people are different from their government. The American government wants domination. We will not be dominated. We act for equality and in mutual interest with peace loving people. But there can be no peace without freedom, without an end to Zionism and racism throughout the world. That is why we come together.

“In Jamahiriya, a person must know the system,” explains Ghadban. “We cannot suffer from the misperception of the West. That is why you cannot talk about any single person who organized this gathering. You must talk about the country itself. It is a direct democracy. What do I mean by a direct democracy? It is a democracy where we count every individual. We do it through the people’s committees, which provide for dialogue and policy making by the masses. For those in the West It is difficult to misunderstand this concept.”

Ghadban tells of the role that Qaddafi plays in Libyan society. “One must distinguish between a nation state and a revolution,” he says. “A revolution is functioned to move, to make things happen, to progress the nation state and to put new blood into the nation state. When you talk about Brother Qaddafi, he is the leader of the revolution and inspirer of the people. He also inspired millions around the world. This is his function in the country—to continue to breathe life into the revolution.”

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