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A Rejoinder and Disclosure

Dear Ibrahim,

Let me begin by making public what I told you in private. In my view, none of us here in the United States can claim your level of commitment to Libyan culture. Thank you.

Some of my friends, unlike me, are concerned about some of the old fat, which they said some people continue to chew on the Internet. Fortunately, I don't have access to the Internet at home, and I am not big on the Internet anyway. I still prefer my newspaper with my cup of green tea and bagel. I admit that once a week I check your excellent website for news, and, when needed, for information about Libya. I would rather do something else with my time than respond to inquiries that have no purpose other than to pussyfoot around the serious questions at hand. I always do my best to do things with the right spirit, make sure that my conscience is clear, and, then, let God take care of the rest. My friends, however, believe that it is my obligation towards them to indulge the meddlesome busybodies, the hatch men of the new inquisition who have nothing better to do than to rob graves and feed on corpses, as I was told they did with the late Saleh Buiseer, may God have mercy on his soul as well as the souls of the busybodies who know not what they have done. So here I am.

Some Libyan friends who thrive on political discourse suggested that my latest trip home was for political purposes. So much so that the daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat reported the trip. Sorry to disappoint you, but it was just a trip back home to visit with family and friends. Except for a one-day trip with my family to Tilmaytha, I didn't even leave Benghazi. I would have liked to take the family to Tripoli, a city that I love, but we had neither the car, nor the money to do so. It had been six years since the last time I went home and so it was the first time that my three little children got to meet their million nieces and nephews. Most of the time was spent in what seemed to be an endless, but nice, chain of invitations to the homes of family and friends. I also got the chance to get together with some of my dearest friends from Torrilli, our old neighborhood, and I am glad that I did. Their good reception of me lasted less than two minutes; after that the jokes about my parents and me began to roll. One story that they recounted with relish, and which continues to give endless joy to their hearts, took place in our young teenage years. In one hot summer, my cousins and myself accompanied our mothers, who were sisters, to take what they hoped to be a private predawn swim. Not so private. As our mothers began floating in their Libyan outfits, three of our friends, on their way to blow up fish, appeared. Since then, our friends called my mother and aunt, "the mermaids," ('araa'iss albahr).

Now, some of the busybodies wonder how I could go to Libya and come back without any trouble. Well, I cannot say without any trouble at all, but everybody knows that while on occasions I have spoken my mind, I am not a political activist. Thus, I never crossed the lines that the system has drawn-lines, which, from the system's point of view, go beyond independence or even opposition. Not to become a political activist was, and remains, a conscious decision on my part. I will never be able to understand why I should be expected to make a decision different from that which many Libyans here have made, and that is not to become political activists? And why should I be expected to follow the analyses and judgements of others and not my own and that of those whose analyses and judgments made more sense to me? It is not a matter of who is more courageous, more intelligent, or more patriotic. I would like to think of myself as someone who has a great love for his country and genuine interest in the well-being of its people, and who pursues a life of dignity and professional integrity. I hope you agree with me that people are different and, thus, have the right to make different decisions. I spent 12 years, between 1976 and 1988, without going home, not because I was a political activist at the time but because it was a period when very few Libyans, if any, could go home and return with ease. Then in the summer of 1988, I, like many others, went home. I then went home in 1990, a month after the death of my mother, then in 1991, 1992 and 1993. After that, my wife was either pregnant or nursing, and with three children the trip became too expensive to take.

There are those, very few but vocal, who have made a practice of smearing me and spreading rumors to discredit me here in the United States. They have had no other reason except that I maintained my independence against their insistence that there is only one way to love and serve our country, and that is to do as they do. If I did what they did, their narrow minds would have turned me into a true patriot and a fine human being. Now the funny thing is that some of these same people, who loved to hate me, went home as soon as it was possible, that is, months before I did in 1988. They stayed home, which is good, and before you know it, they rode the wave, and turned into fat cats, too rich and too happy to even have the time to talk about the public interest. I say, good for the old brave Marxists! A few others, I was told, remained here and, for some reason, continue to smear me. The problem is that the more I forgive these people, of whom I never spoke ill, the more they smear me. So what am I to do? Nothing, I guess, hoping that someday they will understand that it is not vanity or fear, but magnanimity, which enables people to forgive. I don't want hate and vindictiveness to scar my soul. "Courage," said Ernest Hemingway, "is grace under pressure."

We also have the cynics who, since they are incapable of doing anything good for the sake of others, believe that everyone else is incapable of doing the same. They are like Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, who, being a humbug, believes that everybody else must be a humbug too. So, true to character, or rather to lack of it, these cynics believe that I must have some selfish interest in attending a meeting with a number of Libyans so as to make it possible for all other Libyans who wish to go home to do so in peace and security. Now, what would this alleged selfish interest be? Naturally, I didn't go to the meeting for myself since I have had no serious problem going home. The only reason which made me participate was my belief, based on experience, that there are many Libyans who would like to exercise the same right which myself and others exercise, but cannot because of some past political involvement. Besides, it was made clear to me, as well as to others who attended the meetings, that there should be no problem making arrangements with any individual or group of individuals who wish to go home, in peace and security, but cannot do so because of their past political activities. Whatever the result may be, I will always believe that it was worth the effort. I hope you believe me to be sincere when I say that if I had my own selfish interest in mind I would have not participated in the discussions. I have many professional and personal responsibilities that require my time and attention and I can do without this process.

The cynics may think that I am in it for the money. I say if I wanted money, I would not have waited this long. In my whole life I have owned nothing, not a piece of land, not a house, not even an apartment, neither here nor in Libya or anywhere else in God's land. In our last trip to Libya, we stayed with my younger brother, ten of us in one apartment. I own nothing, absolutely nothing, except my books and personal belongings and some money in the bank saved for my children. For the last nine years we, first myself and my lovely wife, and then the children, have lived in the same two bedroom apartment we rent. We had our three children in this nice little place, and the five of us continue to share it. In addition to my family here, I take care of another household in Libya, that of my brother, his wife and their two children, as well as one of my sisters who lives with them. Their combined income is $50 a week. My wife stays home with the children, and we live on my salary alone, which being a college professor, is not much. You do not make much money working on the foundations of quantum mechanics and other esoteric subjects. After deductions, you know, federal and state taxes, health insurance, Medicaid, retirement, union dues, I bring home $33,000 a year (which is not much in Massachusetts). We have one car, a Toyota Camry, which we bought from auction through the help of a Libyan friend, one TV set, no cable and no Internet. We have been on a tight budget since we had our first child, so that we may save something for the children in case something happens to me. The kids, thank God, are healthy, and the money we make is enough to pay our bills. We consider ourselves very fortunate, and those who know us know that we always do what we can to help those who are less fortunate than we are.

So, if I wanted to use my Libyan connections to make money, I would not have waited this long. I was poor when I declined opportunities, of which others can only dream. There was nothing bad about those opportunities, but since my heart was not there, I could not have done them the way an honest man ought to do his job. Now, don't take me wrong, like most people, I don't mind making more money, but I like to make it with the right spirit; I like to earn my bread with honesty, dignity and grace; and I like the fruits of my labor to have real social value. My conscience and the fear of God are always in the way, and I pray that they will always remain in the way.

There is a logical fallacy, a common form of invalid argument, called ad hominem. The fallacy comes in different varieties that have one thing in common: Ignore the argument and make the arguer himself, his character, his background, or his motives, the issue. This is a fallacy because it is a clear violation of the traffic rules of reasoning. Logic, which is a necessary though not sufficient condition for justice, requires that arguments stand or fall on their own merit and not on the merit of those who present them. There are many sincere and bright Libyans who take delight in political discourse. This is a good a thing. Unfortunately, however, there are others, a few but vocal, who fail to resist the temptation of raw instincts and thus become victims of their own passions. I have no doubt that public conversation among Libyans will reach that high level of civility and graciousness, which is the true reflection of our gentle and warm disposition. Libyan good taste and decorum will again find their place in our discourse.

Now that I have fulfilled my obligation to my friends, I would like to say that my mind has a million open windows. I pursue truth wherever it can be found, and it is for my own sake that I give serious considerations to every view different from my own. Once this is done, I have no control over what others have in their hearts. Long ago I have learnt not to worry about judgements that coil in the darkness of the unknown. With Minnie Louise Haskins, I like to say: "And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: "Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.' And he replied: 'Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.'"

God bless you all.

Ali Errishi

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