Hitting close to home

Protesters with family and friends in Libya showed support for the uprising Wednesday.
Columbia resident Haitham Alramahi wraps himself in a flag and and yells for Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi to end his reign during a rally Wednesday afternoon at Speakers Circle. The event was organized by the Muslim Students Organization and other Columbia residents.

Chants demanding Libyan freedom from Moammar Gadhafi’s tyranny echoed from Speakers Circle early Wednesday afternoon.

Although the conflict in Libya is playing out on the other side of the globe, the violence strikes a personal chord for some Columbia residents who once called Libya their home.

Protester Ahmed el-Walid said Libyans demand a democratic society independent of Gadhafi’s iron fist.

“Gadhafi is attacking any protester that wants a democracy,” Walid said. “He stated that if the protest against his regime doesn’t end, he will cleanse Libya of protesters house by house and is currently bringing mercenaries in from other parts of Africa.”

Libyan unrest began Feb. 15 as a result of opposition to Libya’s autocratic ruler Gadhafi. What originated as a series of protests has since evolved into violence. Gadhafi openly declared war on his people in an attempt to maintain his 42-year reign.

The rally was a collaborative effort between members of Columbia's Libyan community and the Muslim Student Organization. MSO spokesman Mahir Khan said a few Columbia residents with family ties to Libya contacted MSO to help organize the event.

"It was something really simple that we could do," Khan said. "It's important because we wanted to show the solidarity that we have, even all the way over in Missouri, for Muslims in Libya, Egypt, Bahrain and all across the Middle East where these revolutions are taking place."

Columbia resident Haitham Alramahi, wrapped in a Libyan flag and hoarse from two hours of screaming, occasionally interjected with chants like “Game Over, Gadhafi” and “Too late to repent, Gadhafi, go back to your tent.”

“Being the president is like a game to him,” Alramahi said. “It's like a joke. He's more like a ‘Scarface.’ He's sick. He’s psycho. He's crazy. If anyone tries to stop him, he will kill them.”

Despite the violence, protester Fatima Bendardaf said Libyans will fight until all lives are lost because they’ve got nothing left to live for. The time for revolution is now, she said.

“We’d all go to Libya today to fight,” Bendardaf said. “We’d die today. We’d do that. There are photos on Facebook of coffins and of Gadhafi’s regime opening fire at people’s funerals. The people of Libya want him dead. They want the man to suffer. I want him to be taken to court like Osama, but the list of crimes he’s committed is too long for that.”

Bendardaf said communication with her family in Benghazi has been limited. Recent phone calls have been frantic with audible gunfire and shouting in the background, she said.

“I want to see some sort of justice in the lifetime of my parents,” Bendardaf said, choking back tears. “The only thing I’ve wanted for my dad is (for him) to see this and be able to go back to his country and see his parents’ graves.”

Throughout the morning, men, women and children fought off the cold while waving signs and chanting anti-Gadhafi sentiments.

Protesters donned black “Free Libya” shirts, complete with the country’s flag, waved small flags and chanted along to cries of “Down, down Gadhafi” and “Free, free Libya.” Some protesters wrapped keffiyeh scarves around their necks to signify support of solidarity in the Middle East.

Walid said what’s happening in Libya is an atrocity.

“How do you attack the people you’ve been leading?” Walid said. “The United States and the United Nations are just standing and watching. The United States issued a statement three days after Ghadafi began attacking his people and blamed the delay on President’s Day.”

Columbia resident Ahmed el-Tayash who led the anti-Gadhafi chants for the majority of the rally, said the event was the best viable option to voice opposition to Gadhafi's reign in Libya.

"We're just here to show our support and show that we want Gadhafi out and call him out for what he is — a tyrant, a murderer, a killer, a thief," el-Tayash said. "This is all we can do unfortunately. We can't be there with them so we have to at least shout for their cause."

Bendardaf said Libyans have no voice.

“Ghadafi has silenced them by cutting off their phones and Internet,” Bendardaf said. “There is not one Libyan here who hasn’t been affected. Not one Libyan here doesn’t have a family member who hasn’t been imprisoned, murdered, tortured or forced in to political exile.”

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