An open letter to my motherland, Libya

An open letter to my motherland, Libya
Comment: Fatima Kried writes a plea for a more inclusive Libya.
6 min read
24 Sep, 2020
'It hurts me to think of Libya as a nation stuck in the past' [Getty]
I grew up with an undying love for Libya which only intensified when I moved abroad in 2000.

I longed for the beach, the food, and having a room in a house that's actually big enough to hold a whole family. I saw my childhood through rose-tinted glasses and didn't really question it. But I also held strong views on justice, and equality. I was a feminist before I knew there was a word for it. 

I went back home when I was 16 and the culture shock changed everything. I spent that month having conversation after conversation debating racism, homophobia and sexism at the dinner table with absolute confidence that the people that I adored would understand that what they cast off as "small remarks", really did matter. And that as citizens, we have a responsibility to build a just and equal world for everyone, not just the people who fit in.

But my hopes of healthy debate were shattered over and over on the basis that I was "too sensitive", "too English", and coming back with all the wrong values. Ironically, I was too left for the "English" then too, and attitudes I was confronted with at school really didn't differ too much from those I met back home.

Now, years later, I feel more strongly than ever that as a country, and as Libyans, we need to look at our values constructively. We are a nation trying to rebuild itself, and there is no time like the present to aspire to a better, more welcoming society. 

Preserving values is of course important, but we have to understand that some of our most prized traditions have a harmful history, and we need to stop excusing bad behaviour with religion. Instead, as Libyans, we must own up to our inherently patriarchal system and discuss it openly. Libya has a deep rooted reluctance to acknowledge its faults, even at the clear sign of toxic behaviour. When CNN reported on a slave trade that is very much alive and thriving in Libya, the only comments I saw suggested it was obviously a scam. And if not a scam, it wasn't done by Libyans.

We need to stop excusing bad behaviour with religion. Instead, as Libyans, we must own up to our inherently patriarchal system and discuss it openly

When are we going to collectively take responsibility for our actions? 

Libya also has a sexism problem. We need to move on from conversations about why women deserve a seat at the table, for that implies that we are still guests in a male world. We deserve better. We deserve to be on equal footing with our male counterparts. And we deserve to exist outside of the role of wife, daughter, mother.

Something I remember from before the civil war, is how Libyan men are physically awarded more space. Look no further than our cities, where public squares are overcrowded with young men enjoying their freedom; a privilege not given to Libyan women who end up having to avoid recreational areas unless they are segregated. We are whole human beings, but have not been allowed to take up equal space.

Thinking about equality like this isn't some kind of new wave, this is the minimum and anything less is unacceptable. But instead, the idea of feminism is seen as too "western" to work for us. 'Women surely can't have this much autonomy, what if they decide to open a brothel?!' or so the thinking goes. Libyan women are empowered, powerful and a force to be reckoned with, and they need to be thought of and treated with respect that they are long overdue.

Our patriarchal system also plays a huge part in deterring discussions about sexual orientation. Homophobia is rife in the Arab world and the way we treat the LGBTQIA+ community is outrageous, with precious little ever done about it. I'm tired of watching progress all around us be treated like it's regression. Our religion is one of love and peace, and if we're going to use religion to excuse discrimination, we've clearly missed the point. 

We have an opportunity now, as we fight for a fairer and more democratic Libya and an end to the civil war, to push for the perfect version of our country.

We must settle for nothing less than pure equality for every single Libyan. Failure to do so is pushing our own people out of their homeland, in part because of outdated thought processes pushed on us by colonial forces as they took away our rights and built homes on our lands.

When is a good time for us to break this cycle of hate? Research into our history by Khaled El-Rouayheb, Samar Habib and Sahar Amer to name a few, shows us that in the past, sexuality was considered a spectrum, and not so black and white. The f
luidity of sexuality was understood and  discussed, in stark contrast to today.

Our religion and culture have brought us poets like Rumi and artists like Abdullah Bukhari whose work, historically, show us a much more inclusive and open Muslim society.

When will we start moving forward, and stop discussing progress as an extreme measure that is pushed on us by the West?

Whatever your personal beliefs, it comes down to this: It is not society's job to dictate to consensual adults how they live their lives. The need to control or punish adults for their choices has no place in what will hopefully be a successful democracy one day.

Sexuality is a taboo subject across the board, but it doesn't need to be. We don't need to hide away and hope all the things we don't understand as a society will just go away. They won't. And a country that doesn't work for all its citizens is not a country at all. 

It hurts me to think of Libya as a nation stuck in the past. I am still proud of my heritage, but I am not proud of our stubbornness and rigid views. We are incredible people with so much potential and a rich, diverse history, and we can do a lot better than this. When will we start moving forward, and stop discussing progress as an extreme measure that is pushed on us by the West?

Look carefully, and you will see the West has its own problems, too. So instead of deflecting the conversation every time, I hope that one day we will understand that human rights and equality are not bad words, and that we don't have to understand everything for it to be acceptable.

Fatima is a Libyan writer, poet and filmmaker as well as working within the production world of advertising.

Follow her on Twitter: @fkried

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.