“Gadhafi was such a flamboyant character on the world stage. And he ended up torn from limb to limb,” Hilsum said.
Hilsum,the international editor for Channel 4 News in England,reported from Libya during the Arab Spring. She made four trips to the country and has documented her experiences in “Sandstorm: Libya in the Time of Revolution.”
She recounts events in Libya during Gadhafi’s reign,during the revolution and after the revolution “through the eyes of Libyans.” She spoke about the book at Politics & Prose Bookstore.
“For 42 years,this was a people who had not been able to speak,who had not been able to be honest with anybody outside of their families,” Hilsum said.
Many of the families that Hilsum interviewed were related to victims of the Abu Salim Massacre.
In 1996 rebels who openly opposed Gadhafi were held at the Abu Salim prison. Many of the prisoners died of starvation and disease. On June 28,1996,approximately 1,270 prisoners were placed in a courtyard and murdered by Libyan soldiers. The Libyan government denied involvement in the mass killing. Hilsum said most of the families were unaware for many years that their loved ones were dead.
Hilsum said the “Abu Salim Families” became a group of protesters. However,many had given up hope until the rebellions in Tunisia and Egypt occurred,launching the Arab Spring.
Hilsum said rebel groups planned to start a revolution in Libya Feb. 17,2011. But on Feb. 15,the Abu Salim Families started protesting.
“The revolution in Libya was started by a group of little old ladies. And I love that,” Hilsum said.
Remaining safe in Libya was an issue for Hilsum and other journalists. She said one of her colleagues was shot and killed by Gadhafi forces and several others were captured and “treated very badly.”
“Journalists paid a high cost for covering that war. I was lucky,” she said. “But one of the good things about the book was I was able to go back when things were a little calmer and re-interview some of the people.”
Shahrazad Kablan,a former teacher and social activist from Reston,Va.,was born in Libya and lived there until 1994. In support of the revolution,on March 30,2011,she helped to start Libya Alahrar,the first free television station in Qatar. Kablan attended Hilsum’s reading and knows firsthand about the revolution in Libya.
She took a leave of absence from her job to protest at the White House to bring attention to Libya.
Kablan said Hilsum’s book is very important because it is the first time that Libyans are sharing their story with the world.
“Libya before this revolution was only about Gadhafi,his family and his propaganda. It is very important that people hear the Libyans story and struggle and understand how brutal the Gadhafi regime was,” Kablan said.
Hilsum said she does not think that Libya will transform from a dictatorship to a democracy overnight,but Libyans are on a historic path toward transforming Libya into a new country. And as a journalist,she said she feels it is important for her to be where history is happening.
“For me,it was the greatest privilege to be there. This is one of the great events and changes of my lifetime as a journalist,” she said. “And so for me to be in Libya was about as exciting as it gets. And yes it was dangerous,but this is what I went into journalism for: for a year like that and a story like Libya.”
Reach reporter Meagan P. Downing at [email protected] or 202-326-9868. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.