The town that sang rebellion. Jadu, Libya.

Where do you want us to go? To Benghazi, homeland of freedom is calling us! Give me your hand and let’s go, homeland of martyrs is calling us! So sang a close band of rebel fighters, gathered round the campfire, with each verse exchanging one town for the next: Where do you want us to go? To Nafusa...  Zintan.... Az zawia… Misrata... Playing gentle guitar and Arabian drum, they stare into the fire singing whole heartedly; ready, contemplating, for the next push forward.

 Amjed Asid has a twinkle in his eye as he shows me a video of these brothers in arms, the friends he grew up with. He talks about his hometown of Jadu, Libya and the courage of his blood brother who died in the conflict. I sense a wistfulness too; Amjed couldn't be there with them. He was here, in the UK, studying, watching. Jadu, he tells me, was crucial to the rebel victory, it was in his own words "The Key," and here's why:
The town of Jadu sits on the southern side of a long ridge of the Nafusa mountains that run south west of Tripoli to the Tunisian border. Its geographical location, on a protected rib penetrating south behind steep north facing slopes, proved impenetrable to the loyalist forces of Muammar Gaddafi. Ordnance launched towards the town crashed into nearby hillsides long before reaching its target, while long southern views allowed for a command over potential areas of attack from the east and west. For a period of the conflict the town was, in effect, besieged.

With it’s natural defences Jadu has historically been a centre of resistance to invasive forces from roman times, if not earlier. As a consequence it has maintained a deep tradition of Amazigh Berber culture more influenced by the Mediterranean than Arabia. Family ties lie very much at the heart of everything. During the revolution, under the watchful gaze of their mothers, the children performed comic plays mocking Gaddafi as the men went into the mountains to fight. There had been a long-standing mutual hatred between the town and the dictator; Gaddafi it seems, was threatened by the strength of their culture.

The men of the Jadu and surrounding areas numbered no more than 200 but played an essential role in the rebellion. Peering through binoculars on the north side of town the village of Shakshuk is revealed at the end of vast u-shaped river valley. Overlooked by high peaks it was overrun by Gaddafi forces and militia –paid mercenaries from Africa- who cut the electricity supply to the district. The men of Jadu, many of whom were youths, managed to take back Shakshuk, reconnect the electricity and open a route west to Tunisia. This allowed armaments and food to flow freely over the border and formed an essential umbilical cord, supplying the resistance.

From here the liberation of the west allowed the rebels –accountants, teachers, mechanics, everyday people- to gather and move east towards Tripoli. By pure coincidence and without co-ordination the people of Benghazi and areas east of Tripoli were also marching on the capital. It was the beginning of the end for the fleeing Gaddafi.

Today the people of the town would like development and progress but not at the expense of their culture. Culture married with modernity sign posts the required way forward. The culture is racially and religiously diverse, open, and older than Islam. Guitar music, poetry and festivals link to a tradition that forms an essential part of the social fabric. During the war the cultural life of the town carried on as normal and this same expectation is held as Libya enters a new era as a frontier for inward investment and international business. A sign in the village reads: “We don’t need government to forget culture.” Amjed, my guide in this story smiles: “Our culture is very good!” while holding thumbs aloft in the in the air.

In the coming year Amjed plans to go home, to friends, to family, and to a town he hasn't stepped foot in for two years. What has changed since leaving, what are the challenges on return, and has the fall of Gadaffi truly brought the freedom the men gathered around the fire sang of?

In the coming months we hope to bring you the story. In the meantime enjoy the song:


Popular posts from this blog

The Brits in Kosovo

Christians, Muslims, Brothers.

Following in refugee footsteps