The Corner

World

A Young Woman from Libya

Asma Khalifa in Mexico City, February 2019 (Jay Nordlinger)

I’ve done a podcast, a Q&A, with Asma Khalifa: here. She is in Mexico City, participating in a meeting of the Oslo Freedom Forum. Asma is an extraordinary person. She is a young woman from Libya, a Berber. She is a democracy leader and human-rights activist.

Last year, I heard her tell a very moving story. I asked her to tell it again, on this podcast. During the Libyan Civil War, she sided with the rebels against the dictator Muammar Gaddafi. After a close friend of hers was killed — executed, along with many others — she decided to join up: as a field nurse. She witnessed many terrible things.

She did not like what was happening to her. She was engulfed in hatred. “That’s not me,” she said. So she asked a doctor to assign her to a particular ward of a military hospital: a ward where enemy soldiers — Gaddafi’s forces — were kept. Almost no one went there.

For two weeks, she cleaned them, fed them, gave them medications. But she didn’t speak to them, or even look at them. They did not speak to or look at her either.

Then, early one morning, as she was giving a round of antibiotics, one wounded soldier looked at her. She saw in his face the same pain and bewilderment that she herself was experiencing. They were two young people, two Libyans, caught on opposite sides of a war. Neither one had planned on it. He said to her, “You make me feel inhuman.” That’s the way Asma translates it into English. Literally, he said, “You make me feel like a dog” (very low in Arab countries). Then they held hands and cried. Asma’s stint in that ward ended, and she and the soldier never saw each other again.

Anyway, an extraordinary young woman. She has recently helped Syrian victims of rape. In our podcast, we talk about Libya, Syria, and other matters. I think you will like getting to know her a little.

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