I’ve never met a single person who has visited Libya for pleasure. For the generation that fought World War II, names like Benghazi and Tobruk rang bells, associated to Rommel and the desert war. The era of the famous Kubelwagen, designed by Ferdinand Porsche. An aircooled engine in the desert? Sounds silly at first glance, except when you realize there’s no water.

One bullet in the radiator, and that’s it. The British troops (aka the desert rats) came back with one word from Libya: benghazi became the cockney rhyming slang for khazi, or toilet. The word khazi itself is of uncertain origin, but may have its roots in northern India, from British army slang during the Raj. Given that the cockney rhyming slang for ass is Khyber, as in Khyber Pass,  from which enduring expressions such as “up the khyber” emerged, this theory may, like the toilet invented by Thomas Crapper, hold water.

By the way, a quick search of the net casts serious aspersions (sorry) on whether Crapper did in fact invent the flushing toilet, some sites question his very existence. To some this may be a Santa Claus scale disillusion. Wikipedia is categorical as to his existence, and even shows his picture. So it must be all true. Father Christmas lives!

An optimistic portrayal of Libya

When I finished college I returned to a Portugal that had increased in population by over ten per cent since the time I had departed. The change from the nine million I learnt at school to the ten million I found on my return had a name: Africa. One million people from Angola and Mozambique had been repatriated after the 1974 Portuguese revolution. They were fleeing the brave new world of communist-backed independence movements like the MPLA and FRELIMO, and the replacement of colonial war with civil war.

I taught English and Portuguese, for want of a job opportunity that matched my training, and at one point was assigned some students from the Libyan embassy in Lisbon. They had come to me by way of some of the female teachers: the Libyans considered it beneath them to be taught by women. I was with them for a couple of weeks, and no fond memories remain. I did try to persuade them to part with a copy of the coronel’s green book, since I was quite keen on understanding what prompts a patently deranged man to feel that wise!

The pictures being shown on the networks do not match the idyllic image above, showing instead a set of tribes pretending to be a nation. Oil in the east, power in the west, not really so different from the Sunni and Shia split in Bahrein or Iraq. And running through it all the sore of unemployment, young people without a future.

Libya was widely thought to be impervious to the fall of the dominoes around it, its people well heeled with oil revenue, the regime more than autocratic enough to maintain the status quo. What is happening there tonight  is as non-linear as it comes, a true wake-up call for Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Where is all this heading? First, revolution will not bring democracy, just change. I still see very few women on the street (Egypt excepted, a far more open-minded nation), and a democracy without women is like a plane without wings. Second, the everpresent signal of Friday prayers ties these movements with Islam, and I’m always suspicious about mixing religion and politics. Let’s face it, each is obscure enough by itself. Democracy is by definition a secular institution, and there isn’t one single example of a democratic Islamic nation.

Religion is the will of God, democracy is the will of the people. 

When all the dominoes have fallen, there will be a broad area of turmoil. We know what the people don’t want, but there is no clear image of what they do want. I’m sure it will be a variety of things, varying from country to country. In a study published yesterday, thirty percent of the young people in Arab countries want to live somewhere else. I’m pretty certain women’s rights will not be high on the agenda. One thing that really is needed, and ties in with that, is birth control. Without that, the population growth rate will always exceed the capacity to feed the people.

No one speaks about it in these revolutions that are taking place, because the matter is clearly set out in Islam.

Firstly, what the Muslims should do is to try to have as many children as they can, because this is the command of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him), who said: “Marry the one who is loving and fertile, for I will be proud of your great numbers before the nations.”

The quote above is from a must read website where replies to some simple questions (e.g. can I use condoms or contraceptive pills?) are posted. There are no “ifs” in the reply, it is crystal clear. Below is the wisdom on contraceptive pills:

A woman should not use birth control pills, unless the following conditions are met: 

1-She should need to use them, for example if she is ill and cannot cope with a pregnancy every year, or she is physically unfit, or there is some other reason that getting pregnant every year may harm her.

2-Her husband should give his permission, because the husband has the right to have children. There must also be consultation with the doctor, to find out whether these pills are harmful or not.

The broad issue then, no matter what political system ends up on top, boils down to carrying capacity. In other subjects, for instance when you farm shrimp, or oysters, carrying capacity can be grouped into four categories that translate well to human society: physical (space); production (food); ecological (environmental harmony); and social (poverty, gender balance, corruption, education). The stocking density on the kinds of farms I mentioned should be a function of these categories.

Fifty thousand fish cages in the Taiwan strait. The consequences of exceeding carrying capacity.

In human society, whenever carrying capacity is substantially exceeded, the consequences are swift and predictable:

Exodus, reduced growth and food security, disease and environmental disasters, social strife. All of these have one common denominator: death. Nature’s great leveller. Despite the fact that we live and die, breathe and breed, we have somehow developed a notion that we are not animals. This is not only very peculiar, it’s plain wrong.


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