For the past three years, uprisings and revolutions have dominated the headlines. The Arab Spring and its spirit of freedom touched many African and Middle-Eastern countries, including Egypt, Libya and now Syria. The clash of class, power and ideas still throbs throughout the region. Its people seek to take back not only their country, but to take back their own story.
As Americans, we take our story and history for granted. Simply stating the word “history” brings to mind droning, bespectacled professors bearing dusty tomes. We don’t realize how much bigger history is than the classroom; in fact, it appears everyone but us sees that.
Muammar Qaddafi, when he rose to power in 1969, definitely knew the power of a nation’s story. And that story did not align with his own agenda. So he buried it. He buried it in the sand and in the wilderness, cutting off Libya from the rest of the world in the process. As knowledge would crack his vice-grip, his lackeys patrolled the classrooms, making sure the next generation committed to memory The Green Book, his tangled philosophy which displayed Libyan history in two stages: the dark days of Western imperialism and the enlightened age of the Brother Leader.
By the order of the Brother Leader, Libya’s rich cultural past faded away. Remnants of Italian and Roman architecture fell to be replaced by parking garages. The statue of Septimius Severus, Roman emperor who claimed Libya as his birthplace, disappeared from the main square, Martyr’s Square, in Tripoli. The glorious past of Libya as a cultural and economic crossroads was wiped away with the pen of a chaotic dictator.
But the people remember. They remember who they are and are not willing to give up their birthright – their identity and their potential.
Identity, which history teaches us, allows us to know who we are and where we came from. Without knowing where we come from, we cannot begin to understand where we are going. We, as Americans, are in danger of losing our history and identity; not at all because of a dictator, but because of our own lethargy.
History as a subject is almost a sham. In no other profession is the scholar’s knowledge and research so dramatically different from classroom lessons. Multitudes of myths and charming vignettes choke our history textbooks until they are no more meaningful than a packet of fairytales. Why do we still teach Columbus as the daring explorer, when in reality he was a seeker of riches and made no lasting contributions in discovery? Why do we look away from the massacres our ethno-centric ancestors (and brethren!) committed and still do commit to this very day? Why do we fail to acknowledge the truth of our nation’s mistakes (Vietnam being just one of the most glaringly obvious)?
More importantly, glossing over our nation’s true history keeps “the beast” asleep. The beast of the Republic, who desires to carve out equality for his fellow man, woman and child. Who desires for equal treatment between all races. Who desires his birthright of identity… and thus, the means to attain his true potential.
Because of this, I urge and challenge you to reconsider who you are and where you came from. Don’t depend on your elementary history lessons to do the job – they are as elementary as they are useless. Be skeptical. Observe. Forget about your few years on this terrestrial ball and consider: who are we, truly? Where have we been, and what have we done? And what can we now do, so that my brother, my sister, that all of humanity, may move forward?