Literature in Danger by Rima, Libya

In 2013 a group of young students and I, at the University of Tripoli, created a book club. At first it was an initiative by the student union and another active team working at the university: the LES team. None of us knew anything about the each other, only the fact that we loved reading.

We held a small election and they picked me as the Book and Culture Manager, and it was one of my best life experiences at the university. Somehow, day after day we all became friends, we met almost every single Thursday of the year to talk and discuss different types of topics, to read great books, and learn from them, going through our different points of view. We read books such as: 1984, The Catcher In The Rye, Animal Farm, The Unbearable Lightness Of Being, The Forty Rules Of Love, and other famous books, including Arabic books, and famous authors like Naguib Mahfouz. We attracted a lot of students to come and read with us. We met so many different minds and experienced so many different thoughts. We sat together and discussed sensitive matters, side by side with the secular, the islamist, the liberal, the atheist, the Salafi, and the extremist (both sides) in a friendly environment in ways that even the current “grownups” politics couldn’t.

Unfortunately, we had very weak support from the university. We had a lot of troubles finding a place to meet which  was not annoying. Some people removed us from empty rooms that were made for studying, because they were not OK with groups of girls and boys doing anything else but studying. Some annoyed us telling us about the topics we should talk about and the ones we shouldn’t mention. Finally, in 2016 the student union offered us their meeting room every week for our book club meeting. All of us in the club knew that students who were not legally supposed to be there were ruling the union, and they were highly supported by a political Islamist group who had their own goals and “militias.” As a consequence we could not organize in the room that the student union had promised us. One of our members, who is also a student, received threats based on something he said during one of our meetings… we did not know how his words got our of the room and of our small group.

Our activities began to weaken and I ended up resigning. One day, we received an invitation from the new president of the union to start our meetings again and fix our problems, but on the condition that we send them our topics and book titles before discussing them, and that we would be forbidden to talk about the current Libyan political situation, and religion in general. That was, as we say here, the straw that broke the camel’s back, we had to close the club, and we never talked about what they told us because it would have threaten us. I needed to talk about it but everybody warned me that it was dangerous because of the power they had. I have never felt this weak and powerless, the club meant more than just a weekly meeting, it was for me the only group of people where I felt I belonged. It was the the kind of environment that we wanted Libya to be in.

I believed in this club, so my friends and I started meeting again, making a new, independent book club, where our dreams of peace and acceptances inside our society could be seen in each other’s eyes. Our first book was Literature In Danger, by Tzvetan Todorov, who inspired us with his words. He discussed how literature is not just for joy, that it is what brings a better life for us, what connects us with different cultures and the whole word. It melts the line  between us. And I am quoting, “Literature is connected with everything. You can’t disconnect it from politics, religion and ethics. It is the expression of people’s opinions about one of these things. And like all things in nature, it’s the same time the cause and the reason. Drawing it as an isolated phenomenon means not drawing it at all.”

 

This is just one example of the important work produced YaLa’s citizen journalists, a program funded by the European Union’s Peacebuilding Initiative in order to enable young leaders from across the Middle East and North Africa to document and share their experiences of the region.

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