“The Politics of Self-Absolution”

I thought this section of del Boca’s article was really interesting, because I think a lot of countries with histories that are often somewhat shameful fall into this same trap. Italy made a symbolic gesture to “absolve” the sins of colonialism, but still fails to own up to the grave moral wrongs committed.

Honestly, though, I think all countries do this. For instance, almost every other year in elementary school, middle school, and high school, we were required to take American history. However, we always started at the very beginning with the Native Americans and the explorers and the pioneers, and we would never make it past the Civil War. While the way we treated Native Americans was truly awful, it’s hardly talked about. And then all of the more recent horrible stuff is omitted because we don’t get to it. But I have a theory that they do that on purpose, so that we’re never really exposed to things like Japanese internment camps, because the U.S. doesn’t want to own up to that still. It’s still rarely ever discussed, similarly to what del Boca was saying about colonialism in Italy.

Overall, while I agree with del Boca’s point, I honestly think it may be a little too idealistic when you consider the context of how countries strive to preserve national pride and image.

Margot’s Post on “Obligations of Italy Toward Libya.”

I am always the first to criticize the Italians for their actions in Africa. Even after all the readings we have done, I find it very hard to find any legitimate justifying reason for the Italians being in Africa. (Crispi’s attempt to build a nation is not legitimate) What really bothered me about Del Boca’s article is that he only talked about the bad aspects of Italian colonialism. At one point he does state: “I do not wish to deny that the Italian presence in Africa had some positive aspects,” but he doesn’t discuss any of the positive aspects.

It is also somewhat contradictory to say that no scholars condemn colonialism when Del Boca spends the whole article talking about the horrors of Italian colonialism, and mentions other scholars like him who write the same things. (The most recent source in the back of the article is 1999, the portrayal of colonialism has changed in Italy since then).

Del Boca does discuss the apology on the part of Prime Minister Massimo D’Alema. D’Alema was the first to publicly denounce Italy for her actions in Libya and stated that “The relationship between our two countries has had different moment in its history, including the negative period of colonialism, but today it is possible to build a relationship on a new basis of friendship, collaboration, and reciprocal respect… here (Libya) the national heroes were executed by Italians.”


This is an interesting BBC article about D’Alema’s trip http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/548303.stm

Italy’s Obligation

I found both of these articles interesting, though it was a little bit of deja vu from when we talked a little bit about this topic earlier in the course. One point I found controversial was at the end of the del boca article, del boca believes that Italian tourists will be the ones to repair the Italian-Libyan relationship. I really do not agree with this because the other things that we have been reading have been pointing out a lack of knowledge on the part of Italian youth about Italian colonialism and it seems that this would create an awkward situation because Libya obviously has not forgotten and it is something that is remembered amongst Libyan people, old and young. The way I see it, it would probably end up being a situation where Italian tourists were going to Libya for a casual vacation and A: Libya is probably not a good vacation spot now and B: Ignorant Italians are probably not the best ambassadors and are not the best way to say “sorry” when their government has had a lot of trouble being able to say such a simple word.

Gaddafi and Berlusconi. Gaddafi dressing weird and "captain-smiles" behind Berlusconi

Del Boca: The Obligations of Italians toward Libya

What I thought of as the most interesting aspect of this article, was how the government of Italy could get away with doing things in the name of Italians, without Italians ever knowing. It reminds me of the era of secrecy in the United States during the cold war. Furthermore, it amazes me how little is known about this history, yet there are people so dedicated to defending the nation’s actions.

These articles by Labanca and Del Boca presented yet another interesting contradiction in the actions of the Italian government: Although the Italian government was the only of the colonialists to ask for forgiveness for their actions towards Libya (Labanca), they refused to acknowledge their own crimes against humanity and their abuses against the Libyan natives (Del Boca). This lack of acknowledgement of the abuses issued by the Italian government answers the question of whether the past will ever be genuinely reconciled, and it will not be until obligations such as admitting criminal activities are fulfilled.

These articles complement one another.


This article presents the question: will acknowledgement of the past finally help to reconcile the past? As the article begins by states, “the past weighs on the present,” but it seems as though the remembrance of history is the actual cause of tension today. Regardless of the events, the debate of timeliness and impact seem to be one of the biggest contributing factors to today’s inability to synthesis a genuine friendship between the two countries. This article tells the story from the point of view how colonial occupation of Libya transformed Europe.

One of the most interesting points, to me, was, “Libya was more costly to maintain as a colony….[but], ‘Tripoli, beautiful land of love’ overcame every criticism.” Beauty, in this sense, was not limited to physical attractiveness, but also included the appeal of short distance and the economic vulnerability so that Italians may “govern.” True to form, the Italian government “exaggerated” their successes and ability…. This leads me to my greatest question in regards to the historical remembrance of colonial occupancy in Libya: How is it that with thousands of Italian civilians, were the Fascists able to maintain a facade in which they hid the realities of their occupation in Italy in regards to the treatment of natives?

The Italian government even went so far as to lie in government documents, particularly in the records of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This inaccuracy combined with an influenced memory of the Africans themselves makes the true historical past difficult to fully understand, because we, they, nobody can truly know the full events of Italian occupancy in Libya. Ultimately, I appreciate how Labanca concludes the article by placing the responsibility of piecing together the past to historians.

Finally, I found the actions of Berlusconi on his one day trip to Libya to parallel the actions of Mussolini when he visited Libya after Italy entered the country.

Italian Obligations

Though I found this article to be somewhat repetitive, I appreciated its loyalty to its purpose: the importance of Italy’s moral and material recognition of and reparations for their colonizing efforts in Africa. I agreed with the sentiment of the article that Italy still has not completely made up for the damages they caused. I found it very surprising to learn that Italy had not only offered to build a hospital as a physical and financial gesture of apology, they were, in fact, contractually obligated to complete the project and yet they never did. I find myself wondering how it has gone on for this long without someone stepping in and enforcing the contractual obligations. I liked that the article ended on a positive, and also ironic note, saying that with an increase in tourism from Italy to its old stomping grounds in Africa, modern day tourists may create the vacation destination that was originally intended.

Moral Debts

Between DelBoca’s and LaBanca’s articles it seems very clear to me that there is a huge debt to Libya that has yet to be paid. DelBoca focuses on material signs of apology such as the hospital and the few words D’Almea delivered, but he also mentions a moral debt that is owed to Libya and does not mention it ever being paid. I believe that the only form of moral apology that can be given to Libya from Italy is one of acknowledgment. Acknowledgment offers something that material gifts, such as hospital beds, can not. By acknowledging what happened in Libya and teaching it to Italians Italy would be showing signs of recognition towards their actions and would be teaching it in a manner that demonstrated the wrongness and repentance of their historical actions.

Through out countless countries students learn of the horrors of the Holocaust. In Germany it is a legal offense to even deny what happened during the Holocaust and offenders face jail time. These are the types of moral debts that Germany paid all of its victims which Italy needs to show Libya. These are not only matters of respect but also of banishing pride and doing the favorable action.

Labanca mentions travel guides of Italian colonialism as well as other recent guides which are prevalent in Libya. These guides are read by travelers, Italians included. I believe that these guides are a way of Libya attempting to seek the moral debt which Italy owes. The guides are a symbol, not only of Libya’s crying out to be recognized and reconciled, but also Italian traveler’s desire to know what happened and willingness to learn of it.

Remaining in Denial

I found both of these articles to be very interesting and a great way to summarize what we should be thinking about today, with regards to Italian colonialism, as well as how others are looking and reacting to colonialism today. Both articles seemed to come to very similar conclusions: that the Italians were not thinking about colonialism and avoiding the subject all together and that the colonized were thinking about it quite a bit.

Many articles we have read claim that the Italians could make up, partially, for what they did in the colonies by apologizing and actually recognizing that it happened. A thought came to my mind while reading the Del Boca article during the part where it mentions the banning of Lion of the Desert in Italy. The article said that, “The government fears public exposure of one of the most shameful episodes of Italian colonialism: the hanging of an authentic patriot who was then seventy-four years old.” Here I could not help but think that if the Italian government had allowed the discussion and teaching of their colonization, then this movie would be “less-shameful” and more educational so as to not repeat the past which was a topic mentioned towards the end of the Labanca article.

I do agree that the Italian government is wrong to cover up their entire history of colonialism so as not to embarrass themselves and I am also a strong believer in the idea of learning from the past. They should indeed acknowledge their past actions and learn for them as well as apologize for them in a more profound manner rather than in the vague comments they have made in the past. Even while Del Boca was quoting certain things politicians have said that were considered apologizing, I could not help but think that they sounded nothing like apologizes. Instead they sounded like stated facts. For example, while D’Alema was in Tripoli, he said, “. . . here the national heroes were executed by Italians.” Yes, this is true but it is still not an apology.

One other thing that I struggle with, and that I am glad that Del Boca’s article brought up was “quantify” all of the crimes that the Italians committed against the colonized in terms of money? The answer may be first that the Italians can take steps to apologize and then from there they can move forward.

In the end, I liked the quote, “. . . and Italy’s colonial past in Libya, remain to this day – one way or another- an embarrassment for contemporary Italy.” Sometimes, bad and “embarrassing” things happen, but it is almost better to admit that they happened rather than to remain in denial.

Here is a picture that was taken during the 1999 visit of Massimo D'Alema to Libya. Here, he is meeting with Colonel Qadhafi.

Complications of Colonizing Islamic Nations

This was only very briefly mentioned in Jerary’s article, but as soon as it was said I realized how strange it was that this exact point hadn’t been a focus in more of the readings we have done. Jerary makes the point that Italy’s critical mistake was trying to bring Christianity and European-style civilization to Libya, because Libya was an Islamic, Arabic nation and was so fundamentally different from those ideologies that it could not be converted. The European lifestyle was not compatible with Islamic tradition.

The reason for this is that, more than most other religions, Islam is more than just a religion. It is very much a way of life, and in many African and Middle Eastern countries, it is engrained in the foundation of the entire nation – its laws, its culture, its values, and its compatibility with other ways of life. Because Islamic influence in Libya was so strong, Italy was weakened by its commitment to imposing a new set of ideals on them.

Margot’s Post on Damages of Colonization

Decolonization is one of the more complex aspects of colonization. How do you rebuild a society that you have spent years trying to destroy? In Libya, the revolutionaries seemed to do everything possible to show the Italians the extent to which they damaged society. This article clearly had a bias towards Libya, but it didn’t take away from the content, in fact I think it enhanced it because it showed the way the Libyan people felt about decolonization. The Libyan Studies Center has a fascinating collection of oral history that are crucial to understanding the emotional climate regarding the colonizers while it was happening, and it is a good contrast to Italian accounts.

The most informative part of this article was the section on the crimes that the Libyans accuse the Italians of. They seemed to assume the intentions of the Italians quite a bit. The first crime included, “intended medical negligence…during the Italian execution of a plan to Italianize Libya racially and culturally.” The second included, “the forced evacuation of the original inhabitants…to exhausted its human resources. This proves [the italians] wished to deplete the country entirely.” The fourth was the most interesting because it blamed the Italians for destroying unity among Libyan citizens, “Libyan society was divided between ‘betrayers’ of the people (those who fought with the Italians) and so-called ‘real Libyans’ who were loyal to their forefathers.” This aggressive language may have alienated some Libyans.