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Q&A with Jen’nan Read

In the wake of Moammar Gadhafi’s death, the people of Libya are celebrating and reflecting on the end of a 42-year-old dictatorship. Jen’nan Read, associate professor of sociology and global health, escaped the country in 1987 and has a half-brother who stayed to fight on the front lines in Tripoli against Gadhafi’s dictatorship. Read was also recently reunited with her father, who remained behind in Libya when she escaped, for the first time in 24 years. The Chronicle’s Caroline Fairchild spoke with Read about what Gadhafi’s death signifies for Libya’s, as well as her own, future.

The Chronicle: What was your initial reaction when the news broke that Gadhafi had been killed?

Jen’nan Read: I woke up and didn’t get that excited about it because I thought, we have heard this before. I knew this was going to happen; it was inevitable; it just was a matter of when. But, I’ve counted on my fingers how many times I have heard it, so when I first heard it I just went about my day.

TC: Have you been able to get in contact with your family members who are still in Libya?

JR: I’ve been here on Skype emailing back and forth, but we can’t get a phone call through the Internet. The problem is that the infrastructure for the technology is bad to begin with, so I am sure now it is just chaos with everyone flooding the lines. I am sure I will get a hold of them later. I know everyone is OK, which is the most important, but I am very eager to talk to them.

TC: When the revolution began in February is this how you predicted it would come to an end?

JR: No, actually. I thought by April, Gadhafi would have completely squashed all the opposition. I was super excited about it, but after living in Libya for 14 years, I just knew how easy it was for Gadhafi to divide and conquer. In the 40 years on, people had been socialized and brought up in a state of fear, and I didn’t have any confidence that people would be able to overcome that fear and the danger that Gadhafi was posing. I just thought it wouldn’t go any further. But when the [United Nations] and the West rallied around and started reporting it, that’s when I started to have hope. Isolated and alone, the resistance wouldn’t have succeeded.

TC: How do you think you brother feels right now as well as the rest of the resistance force who was fighting against Gadhafi?

JR: I think there is going to be a huge, emotional, exhaustive relief. I can only imagine because I am not there, but it has been such a roller coaster. One day you hear they have taken a town and one day you hear that they have been pushed back. So it has been this tug of war inching forward successes but with this huge loss of lives. You can only imagine how exhausting that must have been not just on the fighters themselves but on their families. It’s been a rough six or seven months.

TC: U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon commented Thursday on how this is the beginning of a new era for Libya. What does that statement mean to you?

JR: This has been the question behind all the different revolutions that has swept across the Arab world: what is going to happen after?.... I have to think that there is going to be some rough times in establishing some sort of new government; there are just so many bad things to undo, and the infrastructure of the country is falling apart. But I am a little more hopeful because I don’t think that the West has taken the same approach with Libya as with other countries. We want to support internal infrastructure and government and not oppose. I think those that are the smartest about this understand that none of these countries are going to look like Western democracies, and the idea that they will is flawed. Democracy is a different term in the Middle East than it is here, and if we set as our objective to measure Libyan success post-Gadhafi as “do they look like a developed Western country?” that is a flawed approach.... We have to give it time and not expect something that mimics some image of what it should look like.

TC: In 1969, Gadhafi said “I will not leave the country. I will die as a martyr in the end.” Do you think he achieved this goal?

JR: He is definitely not a martyr. I avoid calling him crazy, because that gets him off the hook—he was not crazy. I think that it is a sad but fitting legacy for him that he would rather see his countrymen and family die just so he could prolong his existence because everyday he stayed on the face of this earth, that was another day people suffered. He is no way near a martyr. In sort of a sick way, the way he dragged out his death reflects the values that he exhibited during his dictatorship

TC: On a more personal level, what does Gadhafi’s death mean to you and your family?

JR: I think my kindergarten daughter summed it up very well.... I had to explain why I couldn’t read a book to her class that day, so I whispered into her ear, “Gadhafi is dead.” and she said, “Yay! That means we can go to Libya.” I hadn’t even thought about that but that is a very practical truism that now we can go back to Libya and be safe traveling there. That sums up to me that it is not the people in Libya who are free, but it is the people who have ties to Libya that are free as well. Those prison bars are gone.


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