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Monday, June 27, 2011

Erasing History in Az Zawiyah?

June 27, 2011

Here is a video from Sky News, aired, I believe, on May 10.  It claims to document Gaddafi's propaganda war as regards the city of Az Zawiyah, 30 miles west of Tripoli. It had fallen into rebel hands somehow (covered in a separate post - the fall of az Zawiya) in late February, and was militarily re-taken by about March 10.

Here, buildings are draped again in green flags and streamers and portraits of col. Gaddafi to show its acceptance of his rule. A small group of a few dozen pro-government demonstrators is shown. The correspondent/narrator, Stewart Ramsey, said in his low, grave, unamused tone: "There are 200,000 people in Zawiya. We're not convinced this dozen [sic] actually come from the town itself." No, even twelve-to-fifty supporters in a town of that size is too much for them to imagine. Another Ramsey report lazily blames similar demonstrations elsewhere on the "Gaddafi rent-a-mob," showing a sentiment that "defies credibility." Speaking of credibility...

But the main subject was the purported attempt to cover up and disappear the signs of the rebellion from the world and especially the city's residents. "The gardens where the dead were buried have been dug up," he said, and indeed, grave-sized holes are shown. Here, the first rebel dead and perhaps their victims, were buried in the only area they controlled - the city's main square. It wasn't a garden, but a large patch of bare soil (On closer look, it is the central garden, right next to the main square). It also was not a graveyard. The bodies there were likely dug up for proper burial somewhere besides downtown. Or, as Ramsey intones with a hate-filled sneer, they were "trying to erase history in this place." (the graves are also covered and shown in the fall)

More perplexing is how the Mosque seems to have been torn down. Ramsey says it's so, and there is a video of the scene as the mosque's destruction was wrapping up, with the damaged minaret still standing but the rest just dirt.  I have video and satelite imagery showing where it was, and it seems to not be there now. The real reason isn't clear, but that doesn't stop Ramsey from being certain. Now with the building gone, somehow, "we'll probably never know how many people died here."

And voicing his great offense, aimed at Arab viewers no doubt, he added "I can't recall any Muslim country attempting to wipe a holy place from memory." First, he's never proven they were trying to do this - they just tore it down is all we know. But sadly, many viewers will just nod in agreement at how insane the regime is to try blanking out history like this.

Second, there is at least one partial parallel in the main mosque of the world all Muslims are supposed to go to. Following the 1979 armed takeover of the grand mosque in Mecca by messianic Sunni fanatics, Saudi security forces demolished large and important portions of the intensely holy structure re-taking it. They also left the poison gas filled, death-tainted, underground Qaboo abandoned and permanently sealed-off.

I cite Yaroslav Trofimov's book the Siege of Mecca, which I recently read. Seperately, the authorities there did try to erase history, Trofimov writes, banning the episode's mention in the kingdom. Nonetheless, the legend lived on in the hearts of  those inspired by it, like one Osama bin Laden, whose network now helps to destroy Libya. And the Saudis and their Gulf friends for once agree with al Qaeda - and the NATO bloc - on this nation-destroying mission. Small world!

Back to az Zawiyah, 2011. Sky's Ramsey has built a Libyan censorship strawman, based on moving some misplaced bodies, and demolishing a damaged mosque. And he counters it with this weak one-liner: "a Sky News team was there from the start - and this is what happened in Zawiyah." What's shown (0:37 at in the video at top) is a single incident with marching protesters suddenly changing course at the sound of heavy gunfire and a loud thud in the near-distance. They run back towards the camera crew, shouting "Allahu Akbar!" as always.

Running from unexpected warning shots is what really happened? No, it's more than that. The fuller video was posted on March 8, presumably aired by Sky News from about that same time, as the government re-conquest was nearly done, and at least twelve days after "the start," depending when that really was. In this scene, carefully unarmed protesters (no visible clubs, even!) chant and march for the camera with the monarchist flag. They're all moving towards something, perhaps government forces near downtown, perhaps looking to generate some "repression."  The reporter and her cameraman are driven to a point and let out of the truck just as the shooting starts, and close to it. They take about three steps and then duck and turn back with the others.

And that's what really happened in Zawiyah? A likely stage-managed show of fake repression, concealing a dirty little civil war the protesters started with all kinds of outside agitation and encouragement?

But again, no ... it was much more than that, stretching back two weeks or more... (again, see the Fall of az Zawiyah for a more useful chronology and some different views of the temporary freedom there.)


  1. The Sky video is now marked "private". Another video is available from Al Jazeera Two Sides of Libya's conflict which at around 0.54 shows some Libyan TV footage of the aerial view of the square with the mosque and minatet but Al Jazeera claims not to know why arrows were superimposed on the video. (uploaded by Al Jazeera, 6 March 2011)

  2. The video embedded here? It's working fine for me, now.

    On the aerial footage, it's not really clear what the arrow's pointing at. Apparently, it's at whatever's been cropped off to make room for al Jazeera's over-large orange box for unverified allegations. The intact minaret is obviously of interest, but the arrow doesn't point there. Didn't the video come with an explanation?


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