The Original Rebel

The grit in an opponent’s eye always rouses respect. By natural inclination, the human soul perceives acts of bravery with an admiration, even if it came from your own enemy. This is the impression that the Italian armed forces gave of Omar Mukhtar.

Omar Mukhtar, popularly known as the Lion of the Desert, was a Libyan resistance fighter who lead a geurilla war for more than twenty years against the Italian occupation of his country.

During the early years of the European war against the Ottoman Caliphate(inaccurately known as the Italo-Turkish war), Italy invaded the shores of Libya in 1911.

What followed was a particularly brutal campaign of ethnic and cultural cleansing against the Libyan population. Concentration and slave camps that imprisoned an entire generation of Libyans, mark an era of shame for Italy, for which Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi apologised in an official ceremony in August 2008 for the damage inflicted during that period.

It is easy to get side-tracked into the political and historical nature of the war, which requires a different post.

Omar was wounded in battle and consequently captured by the Italians after waging a 20 year struggle that utterly frustrated Rome. His own jailers remarked on his steadfastness, piety and bravery in the face of interrogation.

General Rudolfo Graziani poignantly described Omar Mukhtar with these words:

“Omar was endowed with a quick and lively intelligence; was knowledgeable in religious matters, and revealed an energetic and impetuous character, unselfish and uncompromising; ultimately, he remained very religious and poor, even though he had been one of the most important figures of the resistance.”

One cannot help but admire the man in photopgraphs taken after his capture. The sheer bravery and firm stance against authority is mesmorising. At 73, he stood proud and a free man.

On September 16, 1931 Omar Mukhtar was hanged in public, in front of a crowd of thousands. The public hanging was meant to act as a moral blow to the Libyan resistance with the hope it would deter other freedom fighters. It only served to galvanise the fight against occupation.

Asked if he had any last words, Omar replied: “To Allah we belong, and to Allah we return”


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