The discussion, if you can call it that, between those who maintain their right to have a conversation with whomever they want, and those who are threatened by this right borders on the surreal. The conversation with Abuzed Dorda has no political significance, and to think otherwise is foolish. Its only aim is to secure the rights of all Libyans residing in the United States to define whatever relationship they want to have with their country. There are those who want to stay here in the United States, but, every now and then, would like to visit the "old country," and there are those who want to go back for good. Both should have the right to do that at their own free well, in peace and security. That is all. Those who view the conversation as a comprehensive political dialogue and those who, out of habit, see it as a diplomatic conspiracy are both wrong. Unfortunately, those who thrive on intrigue will not be denied. "Fanatics," Winston Churchill once said, "can't change their minds and won't change the subject." |
Now, what is wrong with making an effort to secure this right, or any other right for that matter? The fact that we do not have certain rights does not mean that we must denounce all our other rights. In life, we all get what we can if we cannot get what we want. Nikita Khrushchev put it this way: "If one cannot catch the bird of paradise, better take a wet hen." "Politics," Bismarck once said, "is the art of the possible (Die Politik ist die Lehre vom Moglichen)." This does not mean that we should give up hope and denounce the rest of our rights. It only means that it is unwise not to get what we can unless we get all that we want. No one in their right mind lives his life this way. We all get the rights we can, while we continue to pursue the rest of our rights. Sometimes, in fact, most of the time, we cannot do better than that. One right at a time.
Some of the wranglers, in their usual fit of self-righteousness, complained that all of those who went to the meetings did so for selfish reasons. They just wanted to renew their passports, say the wranglers, and make sure that they can go home whenever they want, in peace and security. How could that be selfish? Each one of us has the individual right to define what kind of a relationship we want to have with our country. This goes to the heart of democracy. To be selfish is not to pursue your individual rights, but to gain privileges at the expense of others. Except for husbands and wives, none of us have made a legal or moral commitment not to go home unless everybody goes home. Solidarity does not abrogate individual liberty. The belief that if you love your country, then you must do as I do is a fascist belief and is not worthy of those who like to think of themselves as friends of democracy. In the absence of contractual commitment no one should be expected to live up to the consequences of the actions of others. Who of us wants to become a hostage to circumstances which he did not create and cannot control? Those who cannot should not stand in the way of those who can, and those who can must make sure not to leave those who cannot behind.
Everywhere in the world people apply to renew their passports as individuals, not as political groups. However, it is to the credit of those who attended the meetings that when they spoke about the right to go home in peace and security, they spoke for all who wanted to exercise that right and not just for themselves. In principle, they did not have to do that. Indeed, who of you is willing to give up the rights he has here, because others do not have them in Libya? Who of you is willing to go back to Libya because there are Libyans who do not have the right to leave it and come to the United States? Who of you is willing to go to prison because there are Libyans who are in prison? Who of you is willing to deny himself and his family the excellent health services we have here because they are not accessible to his brothers and sisters and their children back home? Only a fool would call you selfish for maintaining these and other legitimate individual rights. You see, it is not always necessary to forsake our rights in order to defend the rights of others. Let us be honest, we are all here because we want to enjoy certain rights, and I daresay privileges, which the rest of our people do not enjoy. And that is O.K. as long as we do not lay an exclusive claim to virtue, allowing ourselves what we deny others.
These, I am afraid, are stubborn facts which we must respect if we are to be honest with ourselves and with each other. If we are to be truly democratic, we must learn that people have the right to pursue their individual interests at their own free well, as long as this pursuit is not political and does not infringe on the rights of others. We must learn not to look at all things through political lenses. For the essence of fascism is the belief that life is political in nature.
The casual discussion on pragmatism, if it proved anything, has proved that pragmatism, like almost everything else these days, is in the eye of the beholder. There are Libyans who, when it suited them, found it appropriate to collaborate with Sadam Hussien, as well with other foreign gray eminences and logrollers who are peerless in their lack of regard for human life. Nothing, not even the clarity of purpose which these Libyan allege, gives any one of us the right to gamble with the national sovereignty and territorial integrity of our country. Now, if people are to be judged by the company they keep, then the cynic may have the right to say that these Libyans are nothing but hacks who, like their former foreign patrons, had no interest in the well-being of the Libyan people. This however, would not be a fair thing to say. I would like to think that all Libyans have some interest in the well-being of their people. Unfortunately, these same Libyans who continue to provide pragmatic arguments to justify their unfortunate political endeavors with Sadam Hussien and others, are now denying their countrymen the right to talk to another Libyan about securing their rights to their country. And while Abuzed Dorda is not the issue here, it is fair to say that he is a man with a good reputation among his fellow countrymen. Indeed, a good number of Libyans, among whom two distinguished gentlemen who served in the days of the kingdom, the first is a former minister and true patriot, and the second is a great mind and a pioneering diplomat, have nothing but good things to say about Abuzed Dorda. They recommend him highly to me.
Part of our problem is that there are those among us who confuse politics with poetry. Among other things, poetry is an attempt to bring the complexities and vicissitudes of life into simple unity. It is a way to put the sublime into words. In politics, any attempt to do that would necessarily lead to totalitarianism. For those who confuse it with poetry, politics is "a religion without a purpose;" a form of psychological masturbation. Sure, there can be no politics without rhetoric, but the political rhetoric of today is not the poetic bravado of idle spirits, but it is statistics, game and decision theories and finance. We can no longer afford to do away with our intelligence.
We have also the eternal warriors, whose only concern is to live up to the image they have made for themselves as legendary knights whose moral courage and integrity are without equal. The vanguard. They would rather continue to fight their wars in living rooms and coffee shops than to take chances with history and see if there is a way to make things better for the rest of their people. According to them, the rest of us poor Libyan mortals, are either cowards, fools or corrupt. A few weeks ago, a good friend of mine, a man of integrity and intellect, told me that he is not willing to give an inch. A fine sentiment that is, except that in his benevolent zeal my friend seems to forgot that he does not have an inch to keep or to give away. It sounded nice, however, and saying it made him feel good about himself. If this makes him happy with himself, then it is fine with me. Who am I to tell others what to do with their lives? Still, I cannot help but wish that my dear friend, who is like a brother to me, realizes that politics is more like plumbing than it is like poetry. You cannot do it effectively unless you are willing to bear the stench of the sewage. Every generation has a price to pay, and the price of our generation is that we must bear more stench so that our children will bear less of it. In order to be able to do that, we need to learn the difference between dignity and vanity.
One more point, small but important. The use of pseudonyms is appropriate. It is even necessary sometimes. However, no one should use the names of those who died in a way he admires, unless he himself is willing to die the same way. To do otherwise is both hypocritical and irresponsible. Do you want to be among the humbugs who want others to die for principles which the humbugs themselves do not even live by?
We cannot live without memory but we cannot live with memory alone. We are a small nation, and in spite of the unmatched beauty of our country, nature is not kind to us. The oil will go, and so we must make sure not to leave our children with nothing but the desert and the memories of our sorrows and pain. We owe it to them that we look to the future with confidence and hope. There are times when the price of peace, and, unfortunately there is no peace without a price, is less harmful than the price of conflict. Our people, the Libyan people, are good people. They are neither foolish nor corrupt. We must learn to think well of them and to think well of each other. Who will, if we don't? Like you, I have no doubt that from all this confusion, a new Libya will be born, tolerant, generous and sweet like its men and women and like its children.
There are among us here in the United States doctors, businessmen, engineers, teachers and other hardworking intelligent men and women who look for dignified opportunities to contribute to the welfare of their people. Give them their right to try. Besides, who of us does not want to take his children home and tell them, "See this, it is all yours. All these palm trees are yours, the warm blue sea is yours and the hills of the Green Mountain are yours, sweet mischievous Benghazi is yours, and majestic Tripoli, the beautiful Bride of the Mediterranean, is yours, the generous and delightful people of al-Shati and Sabha are yours, and every city and little town of Libya is yours, that Libyan clear moon and bright stars are yours, and the Libyan dawns, the best in the whole world, are yours, the sunsets are yours, and the infinite prairies of Libya, God's country, are yours?" May the sweet air of Libya delight the hearts of our children. Going home, or not going home, is not a political matter. It is a question of the heart. May all those, and when I say all, I mean all without exception, who want to go home be able to do so, in peace and joy, and may all those who do not want to go, continue to live here in peace and joy. And we may all heed the wise counsel of Imam Al-Ghazzali and, thus, learn to be tolerant with each other. The gentle Imam wrote:
"Man's duty, then, is not to take pride in comparing himself with anyone. Rather if he looks at an ignorant person, he will say, 'this man disobeyed God in ignorance and I disobeyed Him with knowledge; so he is more to be excused than I'. If he looks at a learned man, he will say, 'this man learned what I did not learn; so how can I be like him?' If he looks at a man who is older than himself in age, he will say, 'this man obeyed God before me; so how can I be like him?' If he looks at a man younger than himself, he will say, 'I disobeyed God before him; so how can I be like him?' If he looks at a heretic or an infidel, he will say, 'how can I know that his end (khatima) will not be made with Islam and my end will not be that in which he now is; . . . so being considerate of the end he is able to banish pride from his mind."
In the summer of 1990, my older brother called to tell me that our mother had passed away. This was two years after I received another call from my friend, and cousin, telling me of the death of my father. I had waited for twelve years to see my father, and to give him the joy of seeing me, to kiss his hand and his forehead and ask him to forgive me. It was not meant to be. When my brother called me with the death of my mother, he told something I never knew before: Our father, who was probably close to fifty years old when I was born, was in an Italian concentration camp in Libya. There, my father lost his first wife and three children, his brother and sister-in-law and their baby. Your father prevailed, my brother said, and that is exactly what he would have wanted you to do. My father's family was a small part of the Libyans who, according to Western historians, the Blackshirts of Mussolini killed at the rate of 12,000 a year. Considering that the total population of Libya at the time was only one million, to kill them at that rate was definitely an attempt at genocide. My father never spoke about it and I remember him as a rancorless and cheerful sweet old man. Hate and bitterness is not part of the Libyan lore. Indeed, what else can we do, hate Italians for the rest of our lives? I do not believe we can, if we wanted to.
Like you, I think of my father and mother everyday, and there are times when I feel angry at those who inflicted so much pain on my father and the rest of our people. But, then, I remember that God wants us to be among "those who are always willing to give away good things, both when things are easy and when they are difficult, those who contain their anger and forgive all men, for God loves those who do good things (ali 'Imran, 134)." I say, "to everything there is a season . . . a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance . . . a time to hate, and a time to love; a time of war, and a time of peace."
It is not science and philosophy, but the elegant and noble Islamic spirit of Libya, which makes my commitment to peace resolute and unflinching. I am not a politician. I am a man with few illusions and little means. I cannot promise anything, because I have nothing to deliver. All what I have is a few arguments and an uncompromising bond with my country and its people. You are the people of my late father and mother, and I cannot help but love you and do what I can, which is not much, to give those of you who so wish a voice. Like you, I have made many decisions in my life. Some of them were right, and some were wrong. If I am wrong this time, then there is enough room in the world for all of us to be wrong, and if I am right, then there is enough room in the world for all of us to be right. I lived in the buffer zone for a long time and received much injustice and much fire from both sides. My skin is thick and my conscience is clear and God is the only judge with whom I reckon. So when I say that this new cannibalism among you is a source of a great sadness to me, I don't say it for my own sake but for your sake and the sake of the beautiful place we all call home. Castilio once said, "To kill a man is not to prove a doctrine." Let our troubles ennoble us; let them make us kind, and not bitter. Let us with Virgil say: "No ignara mali miseris succurrere disco (No stranger to trouble myself I am learning to care for the unhappy.)"
God's Speed to all of you.
Ali Errishi, Ph.D.
Professor of Physics and Philosophy
P.S. If you are an author who has a good manuscript to publish, or even a book proposal, you can send it to me at the following address:
Professor Ali Errishi
Editor-in-Chief, Academic Press
Global Publications, IGCS
Binghamton University, SUNY
Binghamton, New York 13902-6000