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Muammar Qaddafi: The City

Posted: 2012-07-28
From: Mathaba
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Novel by the Leader of the Libyan 1969 Al-Fateh Revolution on the hypocrisy and selfishness that are rampant in modern day cities.

The city has been with us since ages long past, but regard its plight today! It is a nightmare and not a bringer of pleasure, as one might think, or else it would have been designed thusly. The city was not created for luxury, happiness or pleasure. In reality, the city is a scavenging multitude in which people find themselves out of necessity. People have not come to live in the city for the sake of enjoyment, but to make a living. One engages in greed, toil, and is beset by want… it is employment which forces one to live in the city.

The city is a graveyard of social connections and relations. Whoever sets foot in it will be forced to swim over its waves from one street to another, from one quarter to another, from one job to another, and from one friend to another. Because of the nature of the city, one's purpose in life there becomes self-interest and opportunism, and one's behaviour becomes hypocritical.

The Quran says: And of the people of Median, some are stubborn in hypocrisy. [1]. Thus, everything comes to have its own specific price in material terms, which is something required by city life. The more the city progresses and develops, the more complicated it becomes.

Common friendliness and social ties become increasingly remote, to the degree that people living in the same building do not know one another, especially when the building grows so large that it becomes a mere number. People are no longer referred to by their name or the tribe to which they belong, but by a number. City people do not address one another as fellow social beings or even human entities, but as 'You, who live in apartment number x on floor number x… telephone number x, license plate number on car is x' and so on.

Inhabitants of the same street do not know one another, since, after all, they have not chosen to live with one another. They have merely found themselves by chance living in the same street or lane, or apartment building, with no kinship or other connection between them. On the contrary, in the city the law of necessity separates relatives from one another, fathers from their sons, mothers from their children, and sometimes husbands from their wives. It gathers opposites as well as outsiders, bringing rivals together while scattering relatives.

Life in the city is merely a worm-like, biological existence where man lives and dies meaninglessly… with no clear vision or insight. In either case, he is inside a tomb, whether he is living or dying. There is no freedom or rest in the city, or peace of mind. Instead, there are walls upon walls, whether indoors or outdoors, in apartment buildings, in the street, or in places of work. You cannot sit the way you would like, walk in the direction you want, or stop when you want.

If you should stop to shake hand with a friend or relative whom you have run into by accident, a stream of pedestrians pushes you along, away from him, or may hinder physical contact between you in some way. The hand that you extend to greet him will have been pushed away by a passerby, who is unaware of what he is doing or does not appreciate the situation.

If you should desire to cross the street, this will not be easy either. You may lose life or limb merely by doing so, if you do not take the proper precautions. Look to your left and your right several times. You may be surrounded in the middle of the street, so stay in your place amid the city's dangerous waves of cars, trolleys, cleaning trucks, etc., circling around you.

It is not likely that you would have the time to engage in social conversation amid the urban crowds. If such a thing does happen, it tends to be either insufferably boring or hypocritical. In the city streets, men and cats are equal… among the traffic, roads, and sidewalks. When you hear the brakes of a car, you suddenly stop and say automatically, 'It's a person or an animal.' This is because this is what happens when either is crossing the street in front of you. You would brake in the same way to avoid hitting either one of them. Even a traffic policeman will warn you, whether verbally or in writing, about accidents that are caused by a man - or a cat - crossing the street in the city.

This is the city. No one says 'after you', instead, they push. Push with their shoulders and their hands, push money from your pocket, push out any type of social consideration. It is 'push' in the city, and not 'after you'. Walls respect you more than people do; at least you may gain some support from them. Walls can guide you to where you are going, after signs and instructions have been put up, while it is very difficult for a city dweller or stranger to give such information to people who are in need of it.

If you ask someone in the city for directions, he will say, 'I'm sorry, I don't have any time… Sorry I'm in a hurry… Excuse me, I'll miss the train… the bus… the car…' He may add: 'The wall, have a look at the wall.'

The wall is the only thing stationary in the city, and people certainly cannot stand as still as a wall. In the city there is smoke and filth; there is humidity, even if it is in a desert. Your collar becomes black, even if you are a white-collar worker. Your clothes would become dirty and stained, even if you are not a painter or a repairman. As a side-effect of living in the city, you are forced to accept the filthy dust and smoke; you break out in a cold sweat, perspiring even if you are not working.

You also find that in the city, you have picked up some superficial words, expressions, and gestures that are a necessary means of communication in the city, and a way to help yourself get by. You have also picked up some ready-made responses to likely questions, which you answer without paying attention too closely: no problem… no problem… an act of God… that's the one… no, uncle… no, brother… so they said… that was ages ago please, keep walking… let me through… stay away.

But whether it is you or someone else who asks you what you said just a moment ago, you would not be able to give an answer. You would not remember that you had used these expressions, because this is the nature of the city. These expressions are used automatically, to show that life in the city is ultimately meaningless, and devoid of content.

What is it that is 'no problem'? And who is your 'uncle', or your 'brother'? What is it that 'they said', and who are 'they'? At what time? What was it that was 'ages ago'? Which way should you take in the city? If you were surrounded by such questioning, you would drown in it, unable to give an answer. It is city talk, a way of getting by and passing the time. Truly, city life means just wasting time, until another time comes to pass… a time for work, for sleep, for sleeplessness.

The city is a fad, a shouting, bedazzlement, stupid imitation, damned consumerism. Making demands while not giving anything in return, a meaningless existence. What is worse is the inability to resist the life in the city. City inhabitants are unable to resist fashions, even if they do not like them. There is no ability to resist the movement toward loss or voracious consumption.

Even if you are an intruder, a recent arrival in the city and not one of its original inhabitants, who have become used to its ways, you will in the end become its laughing-stock. If you wish to maintain what you believe in, maintain your values and your non-urban behaviour, you will become an outcast and find no one who understands you. When you change, though, in order to become urban, you will become awkward and fatuous.

In the city, a son might accidentally kill his father, or a father his son, while speeding along in a truck, car, or some such vehicle. It is the speed of the city, the traffic, the selfishness. The son may curse his father without knowing it while pushing him aside on the sidewalk or blinding him with the headlights in the road. Moreover, it often happens that people who should not come into contact with each other on religious grounds do so because of the crowdedness of the city. They meet, and then part, unconcerned by it all.

It is not, however, the fault of the city dwellers. People are the same whether they are in the city or the village; they are practically similar in all respects, in their values and morals. This is especially so for those of the same people, or religion. Thus, it is the fault of the nature of the city itself, since it forces people to automatically and gradually accommodate themselves to live there.

With the passage of time, it becomes customary behaviour. People build cities out of necessity, but cities then become unavoidable nightmares to those who built them and live in them. Everything in the city has a price, and every luxury becomes a necessity, and each price has its own material or moral price. This is where the crisis of urban life begins.

The city is anti-agriculture; is built on arable land, and trees are uprooted for its construction. It tempts peasants to leave the land and become lazy beggars on its sidewalks. At the same time, the city devours agricultural production and demands more and more of it, although this agricultural production requires land and peasants.

The city is anti-production, because production requires effort and patience, and the city is anti-seriousness and effort. By its nature, it wants to take and not give, consume and not produce; it stretches out in every direction, limitlessly. It becomes a parasite to everything around it, spreading its poisonous tentacles, killing fresh air by turning oxygen into carbon dioxide, which is then turned into carbon monoxide.

Nature is disfigured, its clear mirror blurred. The city produces gasses, smoke, and fumes, polluting everything. The stars and the moon and even the sun become hidden. The city coos, shouts, roars and growls until the noise becomes deafening, and causes headaches, tension.

It spreads out and devours arable land and the surrounding villages, enveloping them under its dirty, stifling wings. Its teeth carve out roads, buildings, and public utilities from the peaceful and secure remote villages. Suburbs are formed; they start out at the edge of the city, and then become indispensable parts of it. They are ground down by the weight of the city, changing from cohesive, productive, peaceful villages into gloomy, unhealthy cells, a part of an oppressive, sick whole, which is busy but unproductive, tiring but jobless, and finally… aimless.

The city kills human and social feelings, creating in their stead indifferent insensitivity; this is because city people have become used to the repetition of behaviour and scenes that might grab one's attention in the village, oasis, countryside, deserts.

In the city, you do not ask nor are asked about people moving quickly or gathering, moving slowly or dispersing. You are used to seeing such things. They do not attract your attention or make you curious enough to ask. Things like a fight, someone crying or falling down the street, a fire breaking out - as long as it is not close to your house - or walking past tramps and the homeless lying on the sidewalk, standing against walls, or tree trunks. They might address you and put out their hands, hoping to get money from you, but this scene is so often repeated in the city that one fails to take notice.

Scenes like this become the scenes that complete your vision of the city, and do not attract your attention. And even though at first they may have caused you to pause, or try to affect the situation you were observing, life in the city does not permit this.

Someone who attempts to get involved in such things cannot live in the city. Such things happen regularly, and if one pauses to attend such things regularly, one will be constantly busy with them. Since city dwellers are many, and are made up of many groups and social and cultural levels, and because the ties and social relations that bind them disintegrate due to the nature of city life - because of this, one does not even know who his neighbour is.

People are busy, they move frequently, and no one chooses to live near anyone else. Thus, people whose pains or joys you might have a notion of sharing are in fact unconcerned with yours, so how can you be concerned with theirs?

For this reason, the city has delegated responsibility for treating these issues to urban associations and institutions. A fire is none of your business, but is the responsibility of the fire department. This is the justification for a city dweller to ignore fires blazing away here and their - the fire department is responsible. I'm not a fireman… I'm busy.

Beggars are the responsibility of social associations. If I give to every beggar whom I run across in the street, I would spend everything I have on them. So, the issue is not just the beggar in front of me, but all of them; therefore, I will not pay them any attention. But, what if he is truly in need? He might, however, just be lazy, or pretending. Do not let appearances deceive you, because the city is made up of deceptive appearances, and the inner truth remains hidden under the exterior from.

A fight is the police's responsibility; I am not a policeman, and will not intervene. Even when honour is at stake, city people act indifferently - 'that is the responsibility of the religious authorities or the vice squad, or a religious association.' If you stop at the scene of a fire or a brawl, or at seeing a beggar or someone crying - and these scenes are repeated every day, and in every part of the city - could you ever reach your destination or make it back home? Do you have the ability to treat such problems?

Thus, one gradually becomes indifferent to such scenes and convinced that one is not responsible. In any city in the world it would become silly to not behave indifferently. An employee would be fired if he were to go out of his office to give aid to someone who has been run over in the street - fired for leaving work and intervening in an area outside his area of specialization (being that of the police and the emergency medical team).

None of those urban associations would thank you if you were to volunteer to try to help them. They would become sensitive about what you were doing and become jealous, because you would be competing with them in the area from which they make a living.

This is the city: a mill that grinds down its inhabitants, a nightmare to its builders. It forces you to change your appearance and replace your values; you take on an urban personality, which has no colour or taste to it. No smell, no meaning - a worm-like existence. 'Biology' forces you to inhale the breath of others, about whom you do not care. You attempt to protect yourself from them, rather than them protecting you or you protecting them.

The city forces you to hear the sounds of others, whom you are not addressing. You are forced to inhale their very breaths; you hear the sounds of engines, motors, and hammers going along at full blast, but at a conscious level you are unconcerned by these sounds.

Children are worse off than adults. They move from darkness to darkness; from three darknesses to the fourth, as in the Quran. In the city, houses are not homes - they are holes and caves, made drafty by the movement of air from city streets and alleyways. People there are exactly like snails in their shells, protected against the waves and currents of the sea.

The city itself is a sea, with currents and waves, flotsam and jetsam… and snails. The snails are people and their poor children, against which everything in the city presses. Their parents press them further inside the shell, fearful of what awaits them in the current of the city streets. It is no use to cross this street, since there are other snails, caves, and petrified shells on the other side.

Where are you going, you young and innocent children? Those are people's homes, and you do not know them. The ones who were there have moved; these are new people. The street does not belong to you alone; it is for traffic also. The street is not for playing in, and it oppresses you as well.

Yesterday, a young boy was run over in that street, where he was playing. Last year, a speeding vehicle hit a little girl crossing the street, tearing her body apart. They gathered up the limbs in her mother's dress. Another child was kidnapped by professional criminals. After a few days, they released her in front of her home, after they had stolen one of her kidneys! Another boy was put into a cardboard box by the neighbourhood boys in a game, but was run over accidentally by a car.

Go back indoors, to the darkness, to the cold and drafty or hot and dirty holes. God help the city, so full of filth. Do not think of trying to play next to the street, where there is nothing but dirt and rubbish. When all paths become closed to children, in frightful fashion, with the threat of death by being run over, torn to pieces, kidnapped and having a limb amputated or an organ removed, the least of the dangers that wait outside are dirt and filth. This is easier to take than confinement and boredom in dark houses. But the result is still death, albeit in a different way.

The sea of the city is like any other sea, and has its whirlpools and dangerous creatures, so how can a child live there? But they are there. What is the solution? The solution is to oppress children, punish them, and force them to remain holed up, isolated, and broken-down. Crush their natural course of growth, deprive them of sunlight and fresh air. This is life in the city: standing in line, get in and out of your car, no one outside your door is your friend.

Even kindergarten means standing in line, filling out forms, going through formalities. The school, the hospital, the market… they are all a case of open, push, close, line up, hurry up. Children grow in biological terms, but in social terms, they are receptacles for all of these forms of repression and oppression, rebuke and reproof. They become a model of the human being afflicted by complexes and psychological problems, regression, depression. This is the reason for decline of human values and social ties, indifference toward others and lack of friendliness and cordiality, and jealousy.

The village and the countryside, however, are another world, different in both their inner and outer aspects. In these places, there is absolutely no need for pressure and oppressiveness. Natural growth and living in the sunlight are encouraged, if not glorified. You do as the birds and flowers do, flying and opening up to the world.

There are no streets, no piles of garbage, no unfamiliar faces. People in the village and the countryside will always remain linked by social bonds, connected in all moral and material matters. Children are free to have fun and grow, they are children of the sun and moon, or breezes and winds. There is no fear of going out into the world, where there are no dangerous currents. No 'open' and 'close'. Everything is naturally open.

There is no need for locks in an environment in which plants and children grow; there are no restraints, and no mental disorders.

O wise, kind-hearted people… humanitarians: have mercy on children, and do not deceive them by making them live in the city. Do not let your children turn into mice, moving around from hole to hole, from sidewalk to sidewalk. The inhabitants of the city are truly hypocritical when they pretend to show their children love. At the same time, they create cages to keep their children's lovely voices far away from them, separate from their very parents.

The nature of urban life for parents forces them to devise ways of keeping their little ones distant from them. This is so that they can devote their time to withstanding the nightmare of city life; by searching for, creating, and spending money on activities which neither give nourishment or satisfy hunger: false occasions, artificial parties, insincere friendships.

Children are an obstacle to parents' involvement in such things. Parents take part as an effort to accommodate themselves successfully to the hell of city life. Nursery schools, child care centres, playgrounds, and even schools are ways of getting rid of children, these innocent creatures, a modern way of burying them alive! [2]

The city is harsh and fatuous for its poor inhabitants, forced to accept the ridiculous. They accept, swallowing and digesting these things as if they are quite reasonable. The best evidence of this are those silly interests which the city imposes upon its inhabitants. You find thousands watching a cock fight - and what about the millions who follow 22 people running around meaninglessly after a watermelon-sized sack?

In another silly, urban-type traditional exercise, the same crowds of people sit around a single person repeating almost inaudibly the same lines, like a parrot, accompanied by a noisy instrument, whose sound most of the audience cannot appreciate. One idiot or drunkard begins to applaud, and is then followed by the entire uncomprehending audience, as an expression of their appreciation of the exercise, which is in fact not the case, since they did not understand it to begin with. A type of affected, modern hypocrisy, which people are forced to engage in as city dwellers.

Millions of people sometimes watch another type of fight, this one between two mature people, in which they beat each other savagely; no one thinks to intervene, and separate them so as to stop the brutal battle, which is in fact within their power. But modern city life prevents them from doing this, because a bloody, nonsensical battle such as this is an end in itself; this barbarism is what is demanded by living conditions in the city.

Other examples are the abuse of animals in exhausting races and exploiting their blind instinct when setting them at each other in fights; the torture of people as well, hurting them and using their pain as a source of entertainment; betting on the result… these are all ways of false entertainment in the city. Unjustifiable battles between two wrestlers or fighters. After investigating these activities, one finds that there is no antagonism between participants; it is merely something that is required my modern urban life!

[1] Holy Quran, Sura 9, verse 101. Medina in Arabic refers to the city in the Hijaz, as well as meaning 'city'.
[2] A reference to the ancient Arabian practice wa'd, of burying unwanted female babies alive, frowned upon in Sura 81, verse 8 of the Holy Quran.

Novel from "Escape to Hell and Other Stories" by Muammar Qaddafi with foreword by Pierre Salinger.
© Text copyright 1998 Stanké, New York.

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