My stepdaughter is becoming a political activist. And I couldn't be happier about it. But before showing you what she's doing, a little background.
Some old-timers at Daily Kos know the story of my stepchildren and their mother. After marrying in 1980, she moved to Libya with her husband, whose home was there. And she had two children. Although she loved her extended family in Libya, it was not a happy marriage. Her husband had promised to return to the United States after a few years, but once in Libya he said he would never come back.
In 1983, he abducted the children and, for the next 15 years, kept their mother from seeing them or communicating with them in any way. He lied about her, telling them and other relatives that she didn't want anything to do with her children anymore. She, of course, thought of them every day. But because she needed his permission to get a visa to visit Libya, and he, obviously, would not give his okay, she had no way to turn those thoughts into even the briefest reunion.
The only time she got him to respond to her scores of entreaties was when she called from the United States in 1986 to see if they were OK after the Reagan administration carried out an air strike on Tripoli that killed several people, including Gaddafi's adopted daughter. Bombs fell half a kilometer from the house where the children lived. None of the family was harmed.
Then, for more than a decade, nothing. No letters, no phone calls, no photographs. Nothing. All she had was hope and what Libyans would call insha'Allah that she would someday, somehow see them again.
After she and I married 20 years ago, we did everything we could, despite immense obstacles thrown in our way by both the Libyan and U.S. governments, to find a means for her to at least have limited contact with them. Finally, in 1998, thanks to a British NGO whose work centered on reuniting families in similar circumstances, she was the only American mother in a group of mothers and grandmothers from the United Kingdom to obtain two-week travel documents to visit Libya and see their children. She did this despite the failure of the U.S. State Department to approve the trip and the U.S. Treasury to OK her spending of dollars in Libya. But that and related matters is a much longer story.
Other mothers and grandmothers soon saw their children. My wife had to wait four days until her ex-husband's family finally forced him to allow her to reunite with her children, by then 17 and 18 years old respectively. It went well. And in 1999 she had a second visit. In 2000, the four of us met in Malta for two weeks after the children's begging finally worked on their father. In 2001, my wife's children came to the United States for a six-week visit, meeting their grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. They returned to Libya on September 6, just days before the world was turned upside down by al Qaeda.
In November, my wife's son came to live with us and go to college. In the summer of 2005, her daughter came to live with us and do the same. Language difficulties, a weak foundation in elementary and secondary education, and culture shock all made their early years in America tough. But they proved to be tough themselves. My stepson now has a hard-won structural engineering degree, a wife and two children, and lives in Manchester, England. I introduced him here in March 2005 in My Stepson Has Some Words for Karen Hughes. My stepdaughter is working on a degree in kinesthesiology. And, as I said when I started, she's becoming an activist both in gay rights and against the 41-year-old rule of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya.
She's lucky she's not in Libya. Lesbians - she came out three and a half years ago - aren't looked upon favorably in Libya. And political dissidents are viewed even less so. Those dissidents who do speak up risk their lives, as you shall see.
Although Muammar Gaddafi - assisted by Saif, his smooth-talking son and heir apparent - has cranked up the PR machine to improve his image worldwide since 2001, he is still very much a dictator. But he gets a pass for his human rights violations in the United States because he has cooperated in the "war on terror" and reopened the country to oil companies. Libya has the largest petroleum reserves in Africa, and that's before a good portion of the desert that makes up three-fourths of the country has been thoroughly explored.
The crimes are plentiful. But my stepdaughter has recently focused on one, helping in the effort to get to the bottom of the 1996 massacre of 1200 detainees at the Abu Salim Prison in Tripoli. The 14th anniversary of that slaughter just passed this week. Both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have looked into the matter.
The Libyan government has denied the massacre. But that has not stopped a very brave group of Libyans from protesting. On Tuesday, the anniversary of the massacre, they were in the streets again.
My stepdaughter hopes to reach as many English-speaking people as possible to put pressure on the Libyan government over this matter. She told me to apologize in advance for the handful of typos she has yet to fix. I told her I didn't think many people would mind. Let me warn you in advance, there are a few brief but shocking scenes of public executions of dissidents. And some heart-breaking interviews. Here's her video:
[Update: The woman in the pocketdot scarf was just told last Sunday that her son has been dead since 1996.]