A Mass Grave Raises Questions in a Libyan Ghost Town
At an army checkpoint on the way into the Libyan city of Misrata, an angry police officer with a pistol tucked into his pants demands I give a blood sample before locking me in a trailer. For what should be obvious reasons, this is a deeply paranoid town. When I eventually get into the center of the city, a protest against the Tawergha—a black-skinned tribe that used to live 25 miles away in the neighboring town of the same name—is in full swing. Worked-up young men tell me they’re ready to kill if they don’t get what they want.
The demonstrators want to know who I am. They want to know where I’ve come from and they want to know what I think about human rights. “So what do you think of this organization, Human Rights Watch (HRW)?” Hassan, a former English teacher, asks me.
I quietly assure Hassan that I view all human rights organizations as parasitic scum feeding on the aftermath of war and turning it into dirty money to be squirreled away into its employees’ snakeskin pockets. “They turn tragedy into PR stunts,” I tell him. “They have to transform victors into villains. That’s how they make their money. It’s sad. It’s perverse. But it’s all they know.”
Hassan nods slowly while other anti-Tawerghan protesters crowd around.
"Public opinion matters a great deal to us," he says, seriously. "During the revolution, Misrata withstood great pressures and made great sacrifices. It was a hero, a champion. But now people are starting to say that we are the bad guys. It’s not right."
The acid of toxic loathing that’s disfiguring Misrata’s public image is its intense hatred of the Tawergha tribe. It’s one of many tribal feuds that have festered since the revolution, further destabilizing the country at a time when the government is struggling to maintain any semblance of control. The feuds have also helped to ensure that violence, guns, and explosions continue to slosh around the country, staining the reputation of free, postrevolution Libya.