At the conclusion of my recent piece proposing some questions for John McCain on Libya, I cited translations provided by the website Feby17.info of two Libyan rebel slogans: “oh Gaddafi king of the afro, you will now see the [real] Libyans” and “oh Living, oh Sustainer, the afro will die today.” Martin Kramer informs me that the term translated as “afro” – shafshoofa – is an allusion to Gaddafi’s frizzy hair. Does this mean that the term has no racial overtones in the local context (as Martin has suggested to me)?
Well, let us consider some additional elements of that context. Such, for instance, as the mural from Benghazi shown in the following widely reproduced AP photo.
According to the accompanying AP caption, the caricature is supposed to depict Muammar al-Gaddafi and the Arabic writing is “a reference to Qaddafi’s self-declared title ‘The King of Kings of Africa.’” In fact, as reported by the BBC here, the title was bestowed upon Gaddafi by a meeting of traditional African rulers in 2008. The meeting happens to have been held precisely in Benghazi. As the AP caption notes, the writing on the mural replaces the title “King of Kings of Africa” with the phrase “Monkey of Monkeys of Africa.”
What clearer evidence of anti-African racism could there possibly be? Other caricatures from Benghazi that are readily available on the web depict Gaddafi outright as a monkey and show him wearing exotic fruits wrapped in his headdress, apparently to underscore his “African-ness.” Some of the caricatures clearly modify his physical features in order to depict him as being a black African. Crudely derogatory portrayals show him, for instance, with exaggerated thick lips and not merely the “frizzy hair” that he has, but an “afro” in the strict sense.
Indeed, inspection of the visual evidence suggests that the association of Gaddafi with black Africa and black Africans is one of the two major ideological ticks of the rebellion. The other, as I already discussed at the outset of the rebellion, is the association of Gaddafi with Israel. Just as the caricatures sometimes depict Gaddafi as himself being a black African, sometimes too they depict him as being a Jew. I hope to return to both subjects at greater length soon.
In light of the above and in light of the extensive video evidence of black soldiers being singled out for horrific abuse by rebel forces and “protestors,” there is strong reason to doubt that the rebel fixation upon Gaddafi’s “frizzy hair” is merely a matter of innocent “fun,” as many accounts in the western media suggest.
Moreover, there is at least one piece of symptomatic evidence that the rebels and/or their supporters do in fact associate Gaddafi’s hair with “African-ness”: namely, the very translations cited in my previous article. Those translations did not come from a western source. As noted, they came from Feb17.info: a site that describes itself as “Libyan Revolution Central” and that has served as perhaps the principal “showcase” of the rebellion vis-à-vis the rest of the world. On Feb17.info’s own account, the slogans and translations were assembled by “a group of dedicated Libyans.”
The latter might know better than western journalists how they see Gaddafi. As a rule, the western journalists have, in any case, ignored or covered up virtually all the evidence of racism in the Libyan rebellion.