the libyan experience


Those were dangerous times. It was the early 1980s. The Libyan dictatorship was targeting dissidents abroad. We had recently read in the newspaper about the death of a renowned Libyan economist. He was stepping off a train at Rome’s Stazione Termini when a stranger pressed a pistol to his chest and pulled the trigger. A photograph of his dark figure, partly covered in a white sheet, was printed beside the article. His shoes were polished. That detail troubled me. Another time there was a report of a Libyan student shot in a café in Athens. I don’t recall seeing a photograph, but I tried to imagine how it might have happened. I pictured the student sitting on the terrace of the café, a scooter clumsily coming to a stop by the pavement and the man sitting behind the driver pointing a gun at the student and firing. Then a Libyan BBC World Service radio newsreader was killed in London. And, in April 1984, there was the now infamous demonstration in front of the Libyan embassy in St James’s Square. One of the embassy staff pushed open a sash window on the first floor, held out a Kalashnikov and sprayed the crowd. Yvonne Fletcher, a policewoman, died and 11 Libyan demonstrators, mostly students, were wounded. These events were in the background, but I didn’t consciously link them then to my brother’s abrupt return from school, his changed face, his silence and altered manner. All I cared about was that he was back. His friends, those boys who I thought were the coolest people in the world, started visiting. He gradually regained his spirits.

more from Hisham Matar at the FT here.