05/06/2011, 00.00
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War against Libya a reckless outrage

by Piero Gheddo
The Bishop of Tripoli’s appeals for a truce and dialogue go unheeded. The West does not understand Libya, its tribal issues, the positive development of the country, stopping the fundamentalists. And there's room for Christian witness. Who really has interests at stake in this war?

Milan (AsiaNews) – I have been shocked and surprised by the silence of Italian press and TV regarding the Bishop of Tripoli’s condemnation of the war and proposals for dialogue, because I was in Libya in 2007 and I know Mgr. Giovanni Martinelli, born in Libya to Italian colonists, a bishop for forty years. He is speaking out and no one or very few are listening to him. Following the Pope's appeals for peace in Libya (even on Easter Sunday) for weeks and months on AsiaNews and Vatican Radio, the bishop of Tripoli has raised his voice denouncing a war without end that exacerbates conflicts, increases' hatred and violence and prepares a future certainly worse for all Libyans. Three days ago, he said: "Opening a dialogue with all parties is the best thing to do. The NATO bombs are useless and both sides should be considered, not just the rebels "and he asked" to offer the possibility of a dialogue between the parties and the end of hostilities. " Only yesterday the bishop proposed " a week long truce, out of respect for human life, for families and Libya. It is an humane gesture and the Libyans are sensitive to these acts, despite the anger caused by the war "and he called on members of the "Contact Group "(which met in Rome)" to consider the possibility of a transitional government also including members of the regime, to prevent the spreading of hatred and distrust among the people".

In short, despite the appeals of Pope Benedict XVI and the anguished words of the bishop of Tripoli, what was a "humanitarian intervention" to save the Libyans from the violence of Gaddafi has become a war in which the West has sided with Cyrenaica against Tripoli. "Everyone talks about helping the rebels - said Mgr. Martinelli - the papers write about the difficult humanitarian situation in the cities of Cyrenaica, which is dramatic, but no one talks about the population of Tripoli, also devastated by war and NATO bombing. "

The war in Libya becomes increasingly incomprehensible to Italians and people of the West, because it fails to consider three major factors. Here I will briefly outline them:

1) Libya is not Tunisia or Egypt, which have a unitary state, a robust media and intellectual class. A must read is the book "Gaddafi" by Angelo Del Boca, a serious and erudite scholar (Yale University Press 2011), to really understand how Libya is devoid of a modern mature society and instead is divided from into two regions the times of the Ottoman Empire, Tripolitania and Cyrenaica, and based on the tribe, the clan, the family and Islamic brotherhoods. By openly taking sides in the Libyan Civil War, rather than trying to initiate dialogue for unity government, the West is sinking the country into an endless abyss of guerrilla warfare, revenge, terrorism, tribal strife. Those who live locally like Bishop Martinelli, who deeply loves the Libyan people, know these things from a lifetime spent on the ground and he should be listened to when he speaks. Over the phone says, "there is no other Italian who knows Libya and loves all Libyan people like me, yet I speak and nobody listens to me."

2) Gaddafi is a dictator and that word says it all. But in the Islamic world I believe that unlike him no one else was tying to lead their people into the modern world. From the nineties until today he had used the vast resources of oil to build schools, hospitals, universities, medical dispensaries in the villages, he paved roads in the desert, provided low price housing for all, has did a lot for the liberation of women, sending girls to school and university (initially the universities did not want them!), launching more favourable laws for women in marriage, by removing in villages the high walls that bordered the courtyard where women were kept, and so on. He brought water 800-1000 meters into the desert, piping it to Tripolitania and Cyrenaica in to channels (of 800-900 km) in cement cylinders (taller than a man). Today, Libya has running water for all. I could go on. Gaddafi is a dictator and to suppress the insurgency has used means used in similar situations in Syria and Yemen. It is right to stop it, but to present him to the West as a bloodthirsty dictator comparable to Hitler and to be eliminated at all costs, means provoking more hatred not against a man, but against all those who are on his side.

3) Gaddafi did not permit political or press freedom, it's true. But he started to educate the people of Libya controlling mosques, Koranic schools, imams and Islamic institutions, which in many other Islamic countries (eg Indonesia, recently visited) are totally beyond the power of the state, spreading an anti West ideology and worship "of the martyrs of Islam", in short the suicide bomber we are all too familiar with. In Libya, this was absolutely not the case. In Tripoli, there is a committee of wise men of Islam that prepares the religious instruction for Friday prayers and publishes it well in advance in all mosques across Libya. The local imam must read that text. If you remove or add something, another is named to lead the mosque.

Not only that. In 1986, Gaddafi wrote to Pope John Paul II asking him to send religious sisters trained as nurses for his hospitals. The Pope sent a hundred, especially in India and the Filipino, but also Italian. Today in Libya there are 10 thousand nurses and eighty nuns especially Filipino, as well as many Catholic doctors from abroad. Bishop Martinelli, told me: "These Catholic women, competent, kind, treating the sick in a humane way, are changing the mindset of the people about Christianity." And this he told me on the basis of much praise received from Muslims about how Christian women are formed. Libya to date had been one of the few Muslim countries where Christians (there are also thousands of Egyptian Copts) were almost entirely free, except of course to convert the Libyans to Christianity. Who really has interests at stake in this war?
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