The phone rang early in the morning, waking me up. My little sister was on the line, and I knew immediately from the breathless tone of her greeting what she was about to say. Qaddafi is dead. Killed in a gun battle in Sirte. I switched on Al Jazeera, rubbed my eyes, and stared silently at the screen. One by one, the congratulatory phone calls, emails, and text messages began to pour in, but I found myself in no mood to celebrate.
For so many Libyans, the significance of this moment is impossible to express in words, because it is the product of a particular type of lived experience -- it represents the culmination of countless other moments that have lead up to this one, and which saturate it with a deep sense of history and meaning. It sounds morbid, but today was a day I had pictured over and over again in my head since I was a child, wondering how it would happen and how we would all find out, imagining my parents' overjoyed faces in that moment of truth, along with the faces of everyone else in our community, many of whom had personally experienced dispossession, loss, torture, humiliation, imprisonment, or exile.
But I wasn't alone in my reverie. Growing up in a tight-knit community of dissidents in the United States, political discussions were a ubiquitous feature of daily life. Even a young child's consciousness was permeated with images of the tyrant, and the mundane aspects of everyday life were punctuated by a grand narrative of perpetual struggle. Whether at the dinner table, on weekend picnics, or on holidays, whenever Libyans in the United States got together, they talked politics. The thing was, politics in Libya meant only one thing -- one man -- and you could never escape him.
What happened on Oct. 20 was the realization of a dream that had long ago crossed over into the realm of fantasy. It represents something which millions of people have been waiting, even praying, for. Such an admission may not be politically correct, yet nothing about Libyan society over the past 42 years has been, frankly.
But one man's death cannot reverse generations of trauma. There is a palpable sense of pensiveness, even mourning, surrounding this moment, not only because of the thousands of innocent people who have been killed, maimed, and traumatized over the past eight months -- but also because our loved ones who passed away over the years of his rule, and who prayed and dreamed of his demise along with us, will never know the feeling of this moment.