I have been concerned to learn of the attacks on the US consulate compound in Benghazi this week. My concern grew as I viewed the horrible pictures and reports of atrocities wreaked on Americans and Ambassador Chris Stevens by those whom he served so faithfully throughout the February 17 revolution when so many others fled.
One of the most concerning aspects of this news was that it seemed so very different from the Libya that I had come to know. When I visited in June, the people I met were open and inviting, thrilled to have won their freedom and committed to democratic processes. Many - particularly those who had fled during Gadaffi's reign - had become educated in the West, especially America. Many spoke perfect English. Their women were beautiful; many were educated and very, very few wore full burqas, most adopting more "Western" but modest dress and headscarves. All but one that I met were grateful for the help that Americans and other NATO allies provided (this particular young man's friend had been killed accidentally by an errant air strike, but even he wanted to move to America and loved all Americans, including his girlfriend).
These Libyans were hopeful that, now that Gaddafi was gone, they would be able to create a new life for themselves, where democracy, free enterprise, and opportunities for education would flourish. Their problems were many, including disbanding and disarming the eager, unemployed young men who still clung to their militias from the revolution. But all trusted that the new government once established would be able to solve the security issues they were then facing and put in place basic services, such as law enforcement, traffic controls (and lights!), and trash collection.
I could not find that Libya in most of the reports from this week. True, eastern Libya (the locus of Benghazi) as the seedbed of the revolution had been fomenting for greater regional representation and power in the new government. But radicalism was limited to a very small portion of the population.
I finally began to see reports such as this from the Libyan Herald. This Libya was much more recognizable. The attacks were attributed to a very small portion of the population, with most protesting against the attacks and showing their solidarity in support of Ambassador Stevens.
I received the following email (spellings and grammar corrected) from the one young man whom I knew had issues with the U.S. government:
It seems I was not alone in having a difficult time attributing this act of terrorism to Libyans.
I continue to lend my voice of support for the Libyan people, and wish them every success as they venture to create a country that is as prosperous, free, and safe as that of which they dream.