Belkacem Lounes, president of the World Amazigh Congress, wrote a letter to Muammar Qaddafi responding to an offensive speech Qaddafi made. On March 1, Qaddafi made a speech denying the existence of Berber peoples in North Africa.
Just a few notes for those who may not know much about the Berbers in Libya. The Berbers were in North Africa at least as far back as the 5th Century B.C., when the Phoenician traders of Tyre made commercial treaties with them.
According to Note that Many Berbers prefer to call themselves the Amazigh, which means “the ones who are free” in their own language. Now let’s get on with it.
Lounes points out that official Libya is not for all the Libyans, but rather is explicitly described as of and for Arabs at every turn.
“You say that ‘Libya is for the Libyans’ and that you will not accept anyone’s saying that they have this identity or that identity.
“So be it – but then [you] must immediately suppress any reference to Arab identity in all of the country’s legislative texts, as well as in the names of political, economic, and cultural institutions, starting with the Arab Libyan Republic, Libyan Arab Airlines, the Union of the Arab Maghreb, etc. Then we will be entirely [favorably] disposed to speak of a ‘Libyan Libya,’ with its history, languages, and cultures. But if your conception of Libya is one of an exclusively Arab country, then for us, the fight for our identity continues…
“You menace the Amazigh, warning that whosoever asserts their identity will be considered a traitor in the service of colonialism… Thinking that diversity is a danger is an archaic and totalitarian idea that is contrary to all of the principles of universal rights.
Lounes also asserts the role played by the Berbers in the anti-colonialist struggle against Italy in Libya and against Spain, England and France in the rest of North Africa.
“As for colonialism, history proves that the colonizers did not need us in order to occupy our country. On the contrary – the first to have fought them were the Amazigh, because they felt that they were defending their country, their ancestral land.
“In the Algerian national movement, when the Amazigh of the country posed, in the 1940s, the question of Algerian identity after independence, the Arab nationalist clans immediately accused them of dividing the movement and of playing colonialism’s game, and excluded them.
“More than half a century later, at a 2005 colloquium in Algiers on the history of Algerian nationalism, the historians [at the conference] unanimously confirmed that the true patriots were precisely the group of those excluded, as they laid the foundations for an authentic and democratic Algeria – an Algeria that is first and foremost Algerian, rich in its Amazigh identity and in all of its linguistic and cultural components.
“There is an identical ingratitude towards the Amazigh of Morocco, who provided the largest contingents in the struggle against the Spanish and French occupiers in the Rif and the Atlas. Today the heroes of this resistance are neglected in official history.
“The same misfortune befell the Amazigh of Libya who, after very many of them had consented to make the supreme sacrifice for the liberty of all Libyans, find themselves today menaced, reviled, and deprived of their very right to existence by those at whose side and for whom they fought…”
“We like to think that colonialism no longer exists… But there is no worse colonialism than internal colonialism – that of the pan-Arabist clan that seeks to dominate our people. It is surely Arabism, in that it is an imperialist ideology that refuses any diversity in North Africa, that constitutes a betrayal and an offense to history, truth, and legality.
“Even the Muslim religion has been put into the service of these projects of Arabization and domination. The Berber Queen Dihya was the first, 14 centuries ago, to have understood this colonial strategy – which is why she declared to the Arabs who came to attack her kingdom: ‘You say that you are carrying a divine message? Fine then, leave it here, and return whence you came’
It’s something to keep in mind whenever you hear a friend of Palestine complaining about the evils of Jewish or American colonialism.