When a group of armed Libyan youth filmed themselves vandalizing graves of foreign soldiers who fought and perished in World War Two, they didn’t realize the widespread uproar it would generate or how it would shame Libya’s new government and Western allies.
The incident, which took place in February this year, is a pivotal example of the challenges Libya faces after the ouster and subsequent death of leader Muammar Qaddafi last year.
One of these challenges is controlling Islamists from imposing their ideologies, like the one that bans headstones on graves irrespective of them belonging to a Muslim or otherwise.
On February 24 and 26, 249 out of 1,238 graves in British military cemeteries in Benghazi were vandalized along with 119 other graves. It appeared that graves of predominantly Australian and British soldiers were targeted by vandals.
Many shrines across the country have also been vandalized since Qaddafi’s ouster.
However, plans are now afoot to rebuild the vandalized graves in the ruined cemetery and have them ready by September, well in time for Memorial Day in November says Drgan Bozic, the Commonwealth War Graves spokesperson in Libya.
He also pointed out that security around gravesites has been weak but security personnel complain that they are ill-equipped to do their jobs properly.
One resident says religious symbols like the Christian cross or Jewish star shouldn’t be featured on tombstones to avoid politicization, while another said that such acts of vandalism contributes to tarnishing Islam’s reputation.
A minority of ultra conservative Islamists has been trying to assert its power, with some even forming armed militias. The interim government continues to struggle in its attempt to assert its authority over such groups.