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Christians in the Muslim World

After the war, the need for a cultural change in Libya

Interview with Msgr. Giovanni Innocenzo Martinelli, Apostolic Vicar of Tripoli, by Maria Laura Conte

I returned after a short holiday and was almost surprised, as the situation has really changed to the eyes of a person coming from outside. The people’s faces are different, they seem more relaxed. The colours of the streets and the posters are different. Even the new colours of the flag tell of the change that has come about. Before it was a nightmare, with continuous tension that made it impossible to speak freely. People can now say what they really think, no longer overwhelmed by fear and the worry of being persecuted by the regime.

 

I had a rather positive impression upon my return: Libya has undertaken a new path, to be able to renew itself from the inside
’.

 

 

You therefore have hopes for the immediate future of your country?

 

 

‘Without a doubt, even though I am well aware that the road will be neither short nor simple. It is a real tough challenge for the Libyan people: to plan their newly found freedom at all levels, the political one, but also the educational and social ones, and to guarantee it as completely as possible. The beginning of this new age however is good: it suffices to see the sort of relaxation that we can work in, not like in the recent past with the pressing fear of being heard or betrayed, and then one can understand how Libya has been freed of a heavy burden’.

 

 

Your cry against the bombs was heard the world over. What can you say about your situation today?

 

 

‘The war has been an extremely grave event, with heavy repercussions at external and internal levels. The shooting, the opposing groups and the violence have intensified old rifts and caused new ones. This is a fact that cannot be denied. And moreover this is not the end of the matter. The Colonel is still strong and makes himself heard and there is no lack of people willing to lose everything to fight for him, their chief’.

 

 

But has the bombing brought any good? What is left now?

 

 

‘Well, as things stand I can only say that I think that a phase of internal reconciliation must be built. I hope that the way can be found easily and soon’.

 

 

You said that Libya seems free today, but what type of freedom do you have in mind?.

 

 

The freedom that Libya hopes for itself is multi-faceted: it is the possibility of taking one’s own fate in hand, of reaching not only a higher economic level but also a cultural one, of openness to whatever is new. It means being able to recover and reassess its uniqueness and is linked to the original meeting between the desert civilisation and the western one. Libya has its own true colours: it is rediscovering them as unique as it is the crossroads of different traditions, Arab, Muslim, Bedouin and even western ones, which in the past and in a continuous dynamism have infected each other. It is then that Libya will rise up again and will meet neighbouring and distant countries on an equal footing.

 

 

But who can the country lean on internally during this transition phase?

 

 

‘The near future will show us very clearly who the country can count on. For the moment the recent deep wounds have to be taken care of. In my opinion there is no lack of intellectual figures capable of taking part in and stimulating the construction of not only a political programme but also a social and religious one for the country. As likewise there is no lack of international economic enterprises doing everything in their power to help Libya, it is also to be hoped that relations of collaboration with foreign cultural realties are created, like universities for example, which would foster the wide-ranging work for the promotion of culture. I would like to think that work shared with other established foreign cultural organisations would help to overcome a certain cultural inferiority complex that is felt here in Libya. Now thanks to this newly discovered freedom, it is necessary to get the cultural and media instruments going to encourage this: a new process of social-cultural growth for the country.

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