Sandstorm: Libya in the Time of Revolution

 By Nicky Armstrong

Rasha Qandeel, a presenter with BBC Arabic was joined last night by Lindsey Hilsum to discuss her experiences in Libya and her new book Sandstorm Libya in the time of Revolution.

Hilsum, a  International Editor at Channel 4 News, began by telling the audience the reason why she chose to write a book on the ‘bizarre’ dictator and the fall of his regime:

“One of the reasons I chose to write about Libya was because I felt like I sort of got it, I understood it, it wasn’t that difficult.”

She described with enthusiasm how it was one of the greatest times to be a journalist:

“It was about as good as it gets as a journalist, such fun, things are happening all around us, also quite often as a journalist people are trying to stop you finding out, these people were desperate for us to find things out, they were just so thrilled to have us there.”

Hilsum discussed personal accounts that she has written about in the book and gave an insight into why Gaddafi at the start of his 42-year dictatorship was loved by some:

“I think that one of the things about Gaddafi that is so interesting is that when he first came to power in 1969 lots of people did love him and that was because of the situation Libya was in, people thought that Gaddafi was their Nasser, and that was exactly the image he tried to portray.”

Despite Hilsum’s humorous anecdotes of asking a 17-year-old rebel fighter “does your mother know you’re here?”  She also talked of events such as the 1996 massacre of Abu Salim prisoners:

“I learnt that this was a massacre where 1270 men had been herded into a courtyard in the prison and gunned down.”

NATO’s involvement in Libya will always be controversial. Inevitably the conversation turned to the reasons for their involvement and Libya’s oil.  Upon discussing the casualties caused by the NATO strikes Hilsum expressed that she thought that there were far fewer casualties than Iraq or Kosovo and that the world was aware that this could turn into another Rwanda or Srebenica and the West had to act upon this.

Gaddafi’s vast, if somewhat strange, support for various groups that held anti-western sympathies such as the IRA, the Japanese Red Army and the Workers Revolutionary Party was all an attempt to overthrow the Western democracies. Gaddafi ploughed millions into Africa and was even titled the ‘King of Kings’ by traditional African leaders, money that Libya is doubtful to get back.

Hilsum ended the discussion making it clear that the future of Libya should be left to the Libyans to decide:

“In the end it is up to the Libyans, and if the secular parties do not get their act together and unite to make a proper political part that works, and the Islamic do, what are you going to do about it, It’s up to Libyans, I do feel that it is not for the West to intervene at this point.”