MODERN ‘LES MIS’ The local PBS station has been broadcasting a special concert version of the musical “Les Miserables”, which is based on Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel of the same name about revolution and the struggle for redemption.
At the end of the first act of the play, a group of students prepare for a revolution that they believe will materialize after the death of General Lamarque, the only man in the government who shows mercy to the poor. When Lamarque dies, the students form a barricade in the streets, believing the people will rise up and overthrow the government. They don’t, and the students die after refusing to surrender to the French army. Their deaths are quickly forgotten.
In Libya, a real life, modern version of “Les Miserables” is being played out. Seeing the protests successfully topple the governments of Tunisia and Egypt, a series of protests and confrontations, many led by students, began last month in Libya calling for the end of Muammar Gaddafi’s 42-year rule.
Initially the protests were successful. By the end of February, Gaddafi had lost control of a significant part of the country, including the major cities of Misurata and Benghaz. There were rumors the leader was ready to step down. Instead, he lashed back with his full military might, attacking the rebels who were ill-equipped for war.
The death toll climbed and ground was lost to the Gaddafi forces, while the protesters cried out for the rest of the world to intervene and support their fight for democracy and freedom. The United Nations Security Council met on Monday, March 14 about establishing over Libya a no-fly zone that would prevent Gaddafi from using air strikes against the protesters, but no decision was made.
While Great Britain is pushing for the no-fly zone, the Obama administration has been reluctant to do so. The U.S. Senate, tired of waiting for the President to act, did pass a non-binding resolution calling for the U.S. to recognize the provisional revolutionary government in Eastern Libya and establishing a no-fly zone over the country. However, all this may be too little, too late for the protesters.
As I write this column, Gaddafi’s troops are pushing eastward and are engaged in see-saw battles with rebels. The “barricades” are coming down, but the rebels aren’t surrendering. They are dying for their cause.
National Public Radio has been covering the battles. NPR reporter Peter Kenyon interviewed 26-year-old student Ezzadine Daoud, who was recovering in a hospital bed from a bullet wound in his side. Daoud talked about how he and his fellow students, who started out peacefully protesting against a dictator, got caught up in a bloody fight.
“Why don’t the Western countries act?” said Daoud, fighting back tears. “We know Western countries believe in animal rights. What about human rights?”
The final act for this drama hasn’t been written, but Daoud’s pleas have been haunting me. I keep hearing the words of “Empty Chairs and Empty Tables” from “Les Miserables”:
“Here they talked of revolution.
Here it was they lit the flame.
Here they sang about `tomorrow’
And tomorrow never came.”
Sadly, real life may be imitating art.