"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Songs of the Pioneers song from TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon's old-fashioned newspaper column, cross-breeding watercolor, metaphors and journalism, for readers in more than 150 countries.

Monday, March 4, 2013

'To the shores of Tripoli'...a flag and country

Why are Americans surprised that news from Libya involves our country?
Consider the Marine hymn referring to the First Barbary War in 1801-06. Consider Reagan's bombing of Libya 20 some years ago. Consider our support of the recent revolution. Consider the tragedy at Benghazi and continuing political controversy.
But consider the fact that the people of Libya have a longer history than Americans.
So it is with pleasure that I found  a citizen of Libya became a reader of this blog this week. That's the ninth African country to have readers of this blog, and the 93rd country in the world.
Libya has a long history of turmoil, reflected in today's flag, of occupation and exploitation, going back to the Romans, whose ruins can still be found in the desert state. At the end of the Italian-Turkish war,  Italy occupied the country in 1911-12, and began colonization. As Italy turned fascist, local tribes revolted, and estimates of the number of Bedouins killed range from a few thousand to half of the population. Occupied by the Allies after WWII, the country gained independence in 1951 as the Kingdom of Libya, and adopted today's flag.
The black center with Islamic crescent and star was the banner the rebels carried fighting against the Italians, and as resistance in WWII against the Germans and Italians. The red symbolizes the blood of the Libyan people who died under Italian rule, and the green represents independence, hope, peace and prosperity or the future.
But the discovery of oil in 1959 changed the country's history. As is usual in history, monarchs sometimes don't share the wealth, and that led to a the "First of September Revolution" in 1969 when a military officer named Muammar Gaddafi took power. He changed Libya's flag to a solid green color, the only flag in the world without a symbol and of one color. And as is usual in history, those who overthrow strong leaders, often repeat their behavior.
Proud rebels and their flag, AFP photo
Following the civil war, with the rebels fighting under the original flag,  and NATO intervention in 2011, he was overthrown 42 years later.  Today's government is in transition, but has an elected assembly with a referendum planned.
Americans' memories are indeed short, or ignorant. Our media christened the revolution, and other uprisings across the area as "the Arab spring," but these people have been fighting for freedom a lot longer than that.  We also forget that when a power vacuum is created, whether in the USSR, Iraq, or in this case Libya, unintended results also affect us. The current turmoil in Mali and Algeria, and the attack on Benghazi, are just the latest examples. For the record, Libya is the 17th largest country in the world, one of the most arid--on the north edge of the Sahara, has some of the largest oil reserves in the world, and is home to about 20 tribal groups. 
On a personal note, my late uncle Mike taught in Tripoli in the early 1960s, teaching English for the Department of State. I have many of his slides of that area, including Roman ruins. 
And oh yes, check your history for the Barbary War, where the captured frigate USS Philadelphia was scuttled in Tripoli harbor by US Marines. The mast of that ship today can be seen in Tripoli, rising above a square.
PS: Other African readers of this blog come from Kenya, Nigeria, Egypt, Algeria, Gabon, South Africa, Mali, Morocco


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