The Multiple Narratives of the Libyan Revolution

At the end of last year appeared a special issue of the journal Middle East Critique dedicated to Libya and entitled “The Multiple Narratives of the Libyan Revolution” (vol 23 issue 4 2014). It was guest-edited by Matteo Capasso and Igor Cherstich, who write in their guest editors’ Note:

“…since Qadhdhafi’s oil nationalization and the gradual rapprochement of Libya with the Soviet bloc through the purchase of weapons, western media and scholarship have used ‘Qadhdhafi’ and ‘Libya’ as synonyms, reiterating an Orientalist understanding of the Middle East. Scholars, analysts, and journalists depicted the ‘Libyan head for the Libyan whole,’ to quote anthropologist John Davis, assuming that there was no ‘Libya-ness’ beyond the macro-historical meta- narrative of ‘Qadhdhafi-ness.’ The cumbersome and ubiquitous personality of Qadhdhafi obscured Libya’s complexity, and one Libyan became the symbol for all Libyans.

This habit—‘the part for the whole’—has continued even after Mu’ammar Qadhdhafi’s fall. On the one hand, the revolution of 2011 has forced analysts to realize that beyond the Libyan regime there was a Libyan society: A complex universe comprised of tribes, cities, and agents that did not necessarily identify with Qadhdhafi’s project. On the other hand, the discovery of a ‘Libyan multiplicity’ has overwhelmed the analysts who have continued to look desperately for the narrative, the key to unveil Libyan mysteries. Some writers have proposed ‘tribalism’ as the narrative to understand the revolution, others ‘Islamism’, and others, in turn, have demonstrated a fetishist attachment to the old narrative, reading the facts of 2011 simply as the end of ‘Qadhdhafi-ness.’ This Special Issue criticizes this phenomenon by demonstrating that post-revolutionary Libya cannot be understood by focusing on one story, one reading, or one aspect. Rather, it is necessary to consider a multiplicity of narratives, which collectively can be called upon to confront the problematic essentialist and Orientalist representations of the country. We deem this issue as an homage to Libya’s sophisticated intricacy, an attempt to demonstrate that we need to look for the multiple ‘parts’—rather than for ‘the part’—in order to understand the whole.”

The articles featured in this special issue are the following (accessible online with a subscription via the link above):

  • Capasso, Matteo. The Libyan Drawers: ‘Stateless Society,’ ‘Humanitarian Intervention,’ ‘Logic of Exception’ and ‘Traversing the Phantasy’. 387–404.
  • Cherstich, Igor. When Tribesmen do not act Tribal: Libyan Tribalism as Ideology (not as Schizophrenia). 405–421.
  • Kohl, Ines. Libya’s ‘Major Minorities’. Berber, Tuareg and Tebu: Multiple Narratives of Citizenship, Language and Border Control. 423–438.
  • Diana, Elvira. ‘Literary Springs’ in Libyan Literature: Contributions of Writers to the Country’s Emancipation. 439–451.

The articles are unfortunately behind a paywall (unless you have access via a university), but I’m sure the authors would be willing to share PDFs on an individual basis—so drop me a line if you’re interested.

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