By Charlotte Higgins
He tells the Edinburgh international book festival that for the first time in Libya's history, ‘the idea of democracy is a real, tangible idea, not a fairy tale.'
“The moment that the Libyan rebels entered the Qadhafi compound was astonishing: and it was also slightly eerie. You could see bullets, but no faces. And to me this was symbolic of the Qadhafi regime, of how it has surrounded itself with appearances, and stories.
“This week has been like that moment when you surface from a nightmare and realise that though the nightmare-image is terrifying, it is also incredibly fragile.” Such was the description of recent events in Libya by one of the country's leading novelists, Hisham Matar, whose cousin Izz al Arab Matar, a member of the rebel front, was shot dead in Qadhafi's compound on Tuesday.
Speaking at the Edinburgh international book festival, Matar said: “For the first time in our history the idea of democracy is a real, tangible idea, not a fairy tale. Revolutions aren't about negative objectives, about simply getting rid of people. They are about discovering who we are; and what it means to be Libyans.”
Matar's family was exiled from Libya after his father, Jaballa Matar, was branded a dissident in the 1970s. Jaballa Matar was abducted by Egyptian agents in 1990, and later brought back to Libya's Abu Salim jail, an event Matar fictionalised in his novel “Anatomy of a Disappearance.” Matar declined to talk to the Edinburgh audience about whether he believed his father was dead or alive.
Any sense of Libyan identity and narrative, he said, had been hijacked by the “nightmare” of the Qadhafi regime; in fact it had been the programme of the dictatorship to capture and corrupt even the minutest details of individuals' stories.
“One of the objects of dictatorship is to create a narrative that defines what it means to be in the present and what the future might look like; in fact it even tries to rewrite history. Dictators are involved in the same thing as novelists: they are involved in narrative,” he said.
“The difference is that novelists are interested in narratives that mirror life, narratives that express conflicting empathies, that express the contradictions of what it means to be human, that express emotions, psychology.
“Dictators, on the other hand, write bad novels that are intolerant of change, that are simple-minded. And they do that by entering the most private aspects of our lives, by trying to affect even how people love one another, how people read, think about the future, about their children's education.” Where the events in Libya and countries such as Tunisia and Egypt might lead is uncertain, the writer acknowledged. “Islamism,” Matar said, “is a very important element of daily life, and part of our heritage ... resistance has to find a language, and the Muslim language is a very compelling, powerful and effective language for many people. I would be very surprised if the Muslim element doesn't form part of the eventual Libyan government.” Every aspect of the revolution, he said, has been astonishing. “It seems almost miraculous what has taken place. That you have a deceitful, limitless violence inflicted on a civilian population, and that civilian population has continued to make extra sacrifices and remain articulate and hopeful is astonishing. It is a holy moment. There is something sacred in it.”
Source: The Guardian, London