When Islam erupted onto the tapestry of history about 1400 years ago the monumental upheaval it caused changed the face of civilization with astonishing speed.
Even while Mohammed lived, Muslim armies swept up from the Saudi Arabian peninsula through Eretz Yisrael into Babylonia and Syria, all the way up into Turkey. Then they swept east into what is today Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. Next, they swept west into what is today Egypt, Sudan and the northern coast of Africa, including Libya, the subject of this month’s cover story.
Our cover story is fascinating for numerous reasons, not the least of which is that it is told through the eyes of Raphael Luzon, whose family roots in Libya stretch back to shortly after the expulsion from Spain and Portugal in the 1490s. Almost five centuries of history were wiped out in 1967 when Arab rioting forced all but a few thousand Jews to leave Libya, including Luzon’s family. In 1969, when the other main character in this month’s cover story, Muammar Qaddafi, ordered the destruction of virtually all remaining vestiges of Jewish life the job was complete. Libyan Jewry had become an echo of the past, a rumor.
Or so he thought.
Hashgachah worked it so that almost a decade before he met his well-deserved demise, Qaddafi felt he needed to make contact with a prominent former Libyan Jew and make amends. Whether he did so exclusively for selfish political motivations or also for some spark of humanity buried deeply in his troubled soul (President Reagan had dubbed him the “mad dog of the Middle East”) is irrelevant. In an impossible-to-predict way that only the Playwright of history could author, Hashem planted in one of modern Jewry’s worst villains the idea to reach out to Raphael Luzon.
Luzon saw the invitation — first to correspond by letter and later to personally visit Qaddafi — as an opportunity to advocate for the return of stolen Jewish property, and the protection of the remaining Jewish historical sites in Libya.
It’s a fascinating story told with Zman’s characteristic depth, one you are sure to enjoy and learn much from.
As we go to print, the headlines are dominated by turmoil in the Middle East. The “Arab Spring” has not brought prosperity, stability or real change to any of the countries swept up in the fervor of the past months. Even Libya, whose overthrow of Qaddafi was widely heralded as a triumph for democracy, is beset by political unrest and the ever-present threat of militant Islamists taking over. Having been ruled by despots for centuries, and with corruption and cronyism endemic to their societies, the “Arab Spring” is looking much more like just another bleak and bloody chapter in the “Arab Winter” of their discontent.
Be that as it may, there is only one piece of information we need to know to maintain our equilibrium: The same Playwright who manipulated Qaddafi into listening to Raphael Luzon orchestrates all events. Whatever else we may think we need to do, we first and foremost need to address our concerns to the King of Kings. Our cover story reminds of that in the most profound way.