I was talking with the newly elected head of the local council in Misrata, Libya, when he made a passing remark about the disturbed minds of his people.
I wanted to know more. "Do you think," I asked the councilman, Yusuf bin Yusuf, "that so many years under such a dictator affected the minds of Libyans?"
He answered immediately. "Gadhafi's regime has ended, but there is a small Gadhafi in everyone's brain."
It was hard to know if bin Yusuf found any irony in the statement. His city suffered cruelly at the hands of Moammar Gadhafi's troops. Gadhafi had famously promised to hunt down protesters against his rule "street by street, house by house, alley by alley," and he almost made good on that threat when his forces besieged Misrata.
But when his forces were driven away, it was the Misrata rebels who moved into a neighboring town accused of supporting Gadhafi, and destroyed it completely. Street by street, house by house, alley by alley.
Months after the war, tens of thousands of people remain homeless, with an uncertain future. The refugees are overwhelmingly black, referred to by their tormentors as "slaves."
Misrata's attacks on the people of Tawargha are so severe that the United Nations has labeled them "war crimes."
Driving south from Misrata, the first thing you see of Tawargha is a cluster of apartment buildings. It looks like they were used for artillery practice.
Then you arrive in the neighborhood beyond the buildings.
We felt like we were seeing a lost civilization. There were satellite dishes, burned out shells of cars still in the parking spaces. The destruction goes as far as we could see in every direction. Schools are empty, piles of trash are in the streets, and there were no signs of other people.
That's exactly the way officials from Misrata want their neighboring town to be.
We visited Yusuf bin Yusuf, the head of Misrata's newly elected city council, and asked about the possibility of reconciliation.
Reconcilation, he answered, can happen between people who fought over materialistic things. It cannot happen between people who killed families or violated honor, he says.
He adds that he doubts Tawarghans had the rights to their land anyway. An old story says the Tawarghans came here long ago as escaped slaves.
The city has been vacant long enough that bushes are beginning to grow in the streets. At the gate of what looks like it was an elegant house, there's a tree with red flowers, just about the only living thing left in this town because house after house has been burned out.
On other streets, graffiti is spray-painted in Arabic: "Don't buy a slave unless you also buy a stick."
[The people of Misrata] "are slave-masters of Tawargha."
"Bye-bye slaves of Tawargha."
On the road back to Misrata, we spotted another bit of graffiti in English, apparently left over from the war, when the people besieged in Misrata were seen as heroes before the world.
That graffiti reads, "We want freedom and justice. Nothing more."
Full story: http://www.npr.org/2012/06/12/154763...s-of-vengeance
Listen to Story: http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPl...37&m=154828855