December 24, 2012

Benghazi: Choosing to Focus on the Truth We Share. ~ Wendy Keslick

Photo: Ahmed Elzway

The truth is that amid tragedy, a border-breaking evolution happened.

There has been so much talk and controversy in the media regarding the deadly embassy attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens along with three other Americans in Benghazi, Libya, earlier this year.

Through the chaos of constant finger pointing, blame, accusations and political rhetoric which was destined to come, the media missed the story of something beautiful that happened as a result of this tragedy—the friendship, understanding and love that manifested through connecting and sharing via the Facebook group, Libyans and Americans United for Friendship and Peace.

In the process of mourning over the loss of Chris Stevens, Annabel Park, founder of the Coffee Party, reached out and connected with people in Benghazi who were not only mourning over the loss of Chris Stevens, but also organizing and participating in demonstrations to express their sadness and to apologize to America. After meeting over Skype, Libyans and Americans United for Friendship and Peace—a group to serve as an olive branch of peace and friendship between the people of the United States and Libya—was born.

I decided to join as a way to be part of the conversation of our evolving humanity. A place to come together in a tragedy, and support one another —people to people.

Without the filters of the media, we can have access to a deeper understanding of events and know for certain that the violent acts by a few most definitely do not reflect the thoughts or ideals of the many.

People from both countries came to the group inspired by different reasons. One American member came to share her grief over the loss of her fellow Peace Corp Volunteer with whom she served. She felt that it was important to keep his vision in our hearts. Other Americans joined to show their support of Americans and Libyans.

Some Libyans expressed that they came to show that they, too, were deeply saddened by the the attack on the embassy and wanted show their love and support for Chris Stevens. In addition, many Libyans had a desire to get to know Americans on a more personal level in an environment that would offer a chance at fostering peace, love and understanding. Not surprisingly, even a few people representing other countries from around the globe joined our growing community.

Photo: Tammy Ben Dardaf

The group quickly evolved into something big and something real. It has grown to over 6,000 members and created a space to share photographs and stories of families, pets, philosophy, arts, music, religion, health tips, wisdom, culture and, of course, cuisine. We’ve shared births, deaths, weddings, poetry and holiday customs. Some members have even had the opportunity to meet in person with other members.

We are here for each other.


During the anti-militia protests in late September we stayed in constant contact with the Libyans on the ground there who were part of our group. We had photos and eye witness accounts on our computer screens before the media even grabbed a hold of the story. There’s something so real when you’re receiving the names and photos of those who were killed by the militia in real time, from people who you’ve been connecting with and have grown to love.

We cried together, prayed together, meditated together and somehow wished we could be there to show our support. A strong comradery formed within the group as this series of events unfolded.

Together, in the created space we share, members of our group watched the results of the United States presidential elections as they were coming in this past November. When Obama was declared the winner, we were together, discussing how this will shape our lives. For we recognize that there’s no separation between us, rather our futures are tied together.

When hurricane Sandy hit the east coast, our friends from Libya were quick to find out if any of us, our families and friends were among those affected. When the news reports came in of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, our Libyan friends freely offered compassion and empathy with a mutual understanding that the children of the world belong to all of us. They shared their love and support by way of messages, quotes, images and music. One of the most touching posts was a link to this beautiful and raw song by Libyan-American singer/songwriter Sami Serraj, Tragedy, which was written in response to the shootings.

Of course, like any family, the group is not immune to conflict.

There have been moments when ideas and culture collide. For example, one Libyan member took issue that, “not everyone wants to be “free” the way the U.S.A. defines it. Accepting the differences of others is letting yourself witness a new kind of beauty.”

To get through the growing pains the group is honest and open and tries to transmute any tensions into opportunities to come to an understanding and grow. Learning from each other is the way forward as we share this very small planet. This sentiment was confirmed when one member stated, “The best thing about this group is that, for the most part, even when we disagree there is a real effort to ‘talk’ it out and understand the other point of view or intention. I love seeing the love and patriotism of country from all sides.”

And our forum is one where people can speak freely, “where they personally are not being judged but their thoughts can be discussed rationally, it can really help dissolve the veil of misunderstandings, can help each of us realize our own hypocrisy, and create hands across the gulfs of ignorance and put a face on others filled with the same emotions and hopes that most individuals feel about living life.”

Sometimes respectful disagreements in our space are not limited to those between the Libyans and Americans. We also understandably witness conflict and between fellow American citizens and between fellow Libyan citizens. Everyone is different and the diversity adds depth to the the dialogue.

The biggest challenge to test the strength and commitment of our group came during the recent bombings between Israel and Gaza. This is such a delicate subject and it proved to be too much for our members at times. A growing a new group, started by Annabel Park called People of the World United for Friendship in Peace, became the place for a wider global peace movement and a forum to discuss Gaza in the context of a peace movement. But in looking back at conflicts in retrospect one member reflects, “The only bad part of our Facebook family is that sometimes we go to check in with our world wide friends when we wake up with our coffee/tea and somehow the whole day passes before we sign off.”

We will continue on our journey together in this group, confident that we’re making a small difference in breaking down the barriers that keep us apart.

We envision that our microcosm of authentic willingness to celebrate our unique differences will carry over to the macrocosm. We will have obstacles and challenges, but with the commitment to understanding and dialog the sense of oneness will prevail.

“I love you Libya. Will You Marry Me?’

Reflecting on the time when the Libyan people were protesting and marching against the militias, I felt confused—admittedly, a bit disheartened—by the lack of interest by those around me who weren’t part of the group. Why were they not getting it? How could they be going about their daily activities as if something amazing was not happening? Don’t they know that there are people standing up for justice, standing up for democracy and doing so in a peaceful way and succeeding?

Meanwhile, in Libya it was so important that people were willing to sacrifice their lives for the cause of freedom. I could not pry myself away from the group. Things were happening so quickly. I can only conclude that the lack of interest comes from the lack of connection. In the mind of many Americans, Libya is an “over there”—not part of us. Those in our group know that there is not an “over there,” or an ideology of  “us vs. them.” We’re all in this together and the sooner we all come to this realization the world we be a healthier and more peaceful home for all of us.

Salaam. Peace.

Here are some quotes that shed some light what this community has meant to the members:

“To have peace in the world one must respect one another first and foremost. We all have different backgrounds yet are here labelled as either Libyan or American which in a way also tends to separate us leading to frictions of superiority and the like.” ~Libyan

“We have created a little piece of the world where we can share our cultures and parts of everyday life. It also has allowed people to understand the frustrations of each group of people and share how people are individuals all over their world and not reflections of their governments. Besides that this group has created real friendships with others like themselves who want peace throughout the world.” ~American

“I clearly see that the group gave American participants specially clearer and different idea about Libya/Libyans.” ~ Libyan

“A friend if mine invited me, after the Consulate murders. I was rather apprehensive, but I have to admit, nothing brings us together better than finding out what we have in common. I love what I have learned about Libyian life, culture and custom from this site. These people are now my friends, that for me makes this world a little smaller and better. There is more than enough hate and mistrust in this world. I find that this site keeps me grounded to the fact that we share more values than what everyone wants us to believe.” ~American

“Because of this group, I felt the school tragedy as if it was here in Libya where my kids go to school. It is feeling the pain of others that makes us human and brings us closer.” ~Libyan

“I have enjoyed reading the posts. I have been very impressed by the heart of the Libyan people. From the postings they are very warm, peaceful and loving people. Why didn’t we know that?” ~ American

“I joined because the death of the ambassador was a shock and shame to all Libyans.  I wished to talk more about my country and show the real us.” ~Libyan

“I love this group. Even though many of us have some real differences, even amongst our fellow citizens, most have made an attempt to express even emotional subjects in a kind way. I am learning diplomacy, which I define as the ability to communicate my viewpoint without being offensive, mean, belligerent, forceful. I love the way our threads degenerate into a discussion about food. I love the way we share our personal feelings about religion, spirituality, politics, family life. I love the photographs. I especially love that we are pioneering a new way to engage each other in our concerns about the planet we share. I love that I now have friends in Libya whom I would never have met without this group. I think this group is a great beginning in our quest for peace, social justice, and a livable planet.”  ~American

“As an American/English woman married to a Libyan and living in Libya I used to feel I didn’t have a base country. When the revolution started my heart was with the people, but I was still a foreign(er), but I was truly proud of that as I wanted the Libyan people to see that we stood behind them. When marching in the streets I felt I was representing all the American and English people who wanted to be here. This page unites us all in one cause ‘PEACE,’ that holds no passport.” ~American living in Libya

Wendy Keslick is a massage therapist and after practicing yoga for over 12 years she has finally enrolled in a yoga teacher training program. Her spiritual journey includes yoga, her devotion to Rosicrucian AMORC studies and being part of the conversation of our evolving humanity.  Borderline obsessions include organic and natural living, vegetarianism and veganism, social justice issues, documentaries and current events.  She is determined to learn Arabic in this lifetime. Her daughter, international travel, exploring other cultures and green smoothies are her passions.

She also founded a nonprofit called Children Creating Bridges.  Volunteering for this organization has taken her to Syria to be part of three medical delegations to help with the Iraqi refugee crisis.

Ed: Lynn Hasselberger

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