Geopolitics

In Eastern Libya, The Sounds Of Freedom And Fears Of Retaliation

The city of Tobruk has been liberated from Gaddafi's rule, but residents worry that the regime will strike back.

Cécile Hennion

TOBRUK – This city in eastern Libya has been waking up to the sound of its new radio for a week, a free radio. In a free city. Comments are pouring in on Free Tobruk's airwaves. Listeners recite odes to the revolution or make stinging jokes about Muammar Gaddafi. The colonel is compared to a donkey, and called the Middle Eastern Hitler.

The Libyan leader's speech on Tuesday, threatening protesters and saying he was ready to fight "until the last drop" of his own blood, didn't shake the protesters' faith in their revolution. The big screen set up in the city center to show the speech became a target for thrown shoes – the strongest sign of disrespect in the Arab world – and garbage. "He treats us like slaves!" Tobruk's citizens shouted. "He's speaking to us like we're foreigners!"

The rift between the population in the eastern part of the country and the man who's been in power since 1969 seems final, although some still worry about a backlash. On Wednesday, stores stayed closed, and Tobruk feels like a ghost town living on its reserves.

The army blocked access to Libya from Egypt until Tuesday. At the Sallum border control, tens of thousands of Egyptian workers were trying to return to their country as doctors were trying to cross over to Libya to deliver medical care. At midday, some western journalists were allowed to get in and were welcomed by Libyans, a sign that the uprising will finally be reported without censorship.

Until then, protesters had no other choice but to send to Egypt, but also to Tunisia, on the western border, short videos filmed on their cell phones. "This is the first time we're happy to see the media. For 40 years, all we had was fear," says one of the protesters. "Because of Gaddafi, Libyans have been seen as ignorant and terrorists, we want to change that too."

All along the coastal road leading to Tobruk about 60 miles west of the border, armed civilians wearing mismatched uniforms taken from soldiers have replaced security forces. Foreign reporters are taken in cabs that refuse to be paid. Official police have disappeared, even from WWII battle sites deemed dangerous because of the ammunitions that can still be found there.

Trampled portraits

Symbols of the regime have been systematically destroyed. Gaddafi's portraits were trampled or marked up with mustaches and eye patches. Monuments celebrating the Green Book, the Libyan revolution's bible, have been destroyed with hammers. All official green flags have been replaced by banners with three horizontal stripes: red, black and green, the flag of the 1951 independence.

In Tobruk, the army refused to open fire on the protesters from the very beginning. Members of the Popular Committee, created in place of the regime's Revolutionary Committees, say they have weapons but not enough ammunitions.

In the city center, the Jamahiriya square was renamed after a victim of the regime, Mahdi Elias, a student who was hung in 1984 after a trip to the US, when tensions between Washington and Tripoli were at their peek. "I could talk for days about what we've been through. When (Gaddafi's son) Saif Al-Islam emerged five years ago with reformist ideas, we gave him a chance although we thought he was too young to take over his father," says Fathi Farj, an engineer in petro chemistry. "But now he's shown his true colors, he wants to divide and conquer. That's his father's strategy. That's what he's trying to do by waving the threat of a civil war."

Tobruk may have been freed, but like Ajdabiya and Benghazi, it's holding its breath. Rumor has it about a thousand armed men left Beida, between Tobruk and Benghazi, for Tripoli. News from Benghazi, the country's second largest city, further west is worrying. Some say forces loyal to Gaddafi have retaliated. Contacted by phone, doctor Ahmad Ben Tahr from the Jalal hospital says about 300 people have been killed in five days, their bodies still ilie in the courtyard because the morgue is full. "In a couple of days, we'll be running out of antibiotics," he says.

In a city where African mercenaries from Chad, Niger or Nigeria have fallen in the hands of the rebels, many prisoners have been found in abandoned military bases. Says a member of the Tobruk Committee: "The United Nations has to impose a no-flight zone. We're not safe yet. We're afraid they'll start to bomb us."

Read the original article in French.

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Society

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel

-Essay-

BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.


Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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