Clare Morgana Gillis: The End of History in the New Libya

Roundup: Talking About History

Clare Morgana Gillis covered the Libyan revolution for The Atlantic.

"Our enemies are targeting our nationality and our beliefs.… Throughout their history, the Arabs have faced one foreign enemy with one ambition: to divide us up."
So began the first day of school for Libya's 14-year-olds in 2010. The previous year they had been taught how the Crusades and the Ottoman "occupation" drove the "Arab Nation" back into a dark age. Now, this ninth-grade history textbook told them the story of Arab nationalism and its leader, Egyptian liberator Gamal Abdel Nasser -- the adolescent hero of Muammar al-Qaddafi. It was only a fitting tribute: Nasser, after all, had helped inspire Qaddafi's 1969 seizure of power in Libya -- a coup that Qaddafi institutionalized over four decades in power by exercising sweeping control over even the most basic lessons taught in classrooms.
Qaddafi made his eccentric ideologies the very foundation of Libyan schooling, from the warped renderings of the past in history books to the opaque political theories in the Green Book, the Qaddafi treatise that formed the core of the Libyan curriculum. Multiple generations were taught under this regime, so when the revolution came last year it was no simple matter to fix an education system needing an overhaul from top to bottom.
Members of the ruling National Transitional Council first met in the spring of last year to discuss how to purge Qaddafi's curriculum, and despite the six further months of civil war that followed, the new Education Ministry managed to dispense with Qaddafi's old books by the time schools in Tripoli reopened in September. For the time being, schools have relied on flimsy handouts and even reprints of books from the early 1970s.
The question now is how to create an intellectual basis for free thinking out of a near vacuum. What will fill the books that replace Qaddafi's? If history is written by the winners, Libya's rebels still have much work to do...

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