In This Review

Genocide in Libya: Shar, a Hidden Colonial History
Genocide in Libya: Shar, a Hidden Colonial History
By Ali Abdullatif Ahmida
Routledge, 2021, 213 pp

Ahmida, a political scientist, was born and raised in eastern Libya, and he draws on a wealth of sources for this examination of the extraordinary history of attempted ethnic cleansing during Italy’s colonial rule of the country, which lasted from 1911 to 1943. He succeeds in revealing a long-obscured and gruesome past through the reminiscences of his own elderly relatives, the disciplined excavation of suppressed official archives, the interpretation of long-recited epic poetry, and the creative deployment of comparative histories of genocide, war, and imperialism. The Libyans referred to the traumatic experience of dispossession and detention in Italian concentration camps with the term shar, or “evil.” Ahmida evokes the German Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt in his discussion of the varied facets of this evil, including the great powers’ indifference to Italy’s conduct in Libya and the callous appropriation of this history by the regime of Muammar al-Qaddafi. This slim, painful, and at times polemic volume is not for the faint of heart. Ahmida’s account is important, however, and should provoke consequential debates about the long, dark shadow of history in North Africa.