Inadvertent Halloween maskalert! On Oct. 20, when we heard that the “mad dog” dictator of Libya, Moammar Gadhafi, had been killed, we immediately picked up the phone to see how apeshit our Libyan people were going. As you may recall, we ran a story this summer about local Syrian- and Libyan-Americans who are telecommuting activists for their home countries’ respective revolutions, at the risk of never being able to see their families again if their efforts failed (see “Point of no return,” July 7). One such agitator is Wafia Sayf, whom we featured in our original piece for her fundraising – cough libyagear.com, cough – and her presence at regular pro-democracy protests at Lake Eola earlier this year. We couldn’t reach her, but we do know that she hosted plenty of other young Libyans at her place for a party that night, and Nader Mehdawi, a grad student at UCF working on his masters in civil engineering, was among those raging. Naturally, he had already done plenty of celebrating that day – starting at 7:30 a.m., when he was dragged from bed into his living room by two excited Libyan roommates. “I thought that [Gadhafi] would just disappear, or run away,” Mehdawi told us, explaining that he was hesitant to celebrate, given that the Libyan revolution is no stranger to rumors and hearsay. “After we saw his picture, and the video of the rebels capturing him, then I started screaming … Allahu akbar!”
Meanwhile, in Tallahassee, a totally jealous Alaa Kabuka – a 21-year-old Libyan-American international affairs student at Florida State University – lamented that there was no such celebration going on up in the Panhandle. “There’s a joke that Libyans are like unicorns – in the smaller cities, you won’t find any,” she said. We considered asking Kabuka which cities did have unicorns, but instead, we inquired about the apparent sense of vengeful joy that she and her colleagues were exuding on Facebook, usually accompanying an image of the bloodied and pale corpse of Gadhafi (as well as that of his son Mutassim, who was also killed).
Kabuka replied that she had seen a few nods to this criticism on her news feed – “I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy” was the Martin Luther King, Jr. quote used – but also suggested that Gadhafi’s extraordinary evil called for extraordinary celebration. “I think that if you aren’t Libyan, you wouldn’t have an idea to what extent his evilness runs,” Kabuka told us. We tried to approximate Gadhafi’s level of evilness with the aid of the Internet and hindsight: We found that in the ’70s, Gadhafi regularly presided over public executions of dissidents, and it was not uncommon for young schoolchildren to be bussed in to watch; in the ’80s, he employed hit men to assassinate at least 25 of his critics overseas; in the ’90s Gadhafi passed “purification laws” under which thieves were punished by having their limbs amputated and homosexuals could be given up to five years in prison. In addition, the guy was completely off his rocker: After his iron grip on power began to melt, Gadhafi dismissed the young revolutionaries in Libya as “fueled by milk and Nescafé spiked with hallucinogenic drugs.” “I would put him on par with Lord Voldemort,” Kabuka says. “He’s just insane and psychotic.”
With Gadhafi gone, the nexus of Middle East bloodshed now is unquestionably the country of Syria – there, an estimated 3,000 people have died since their uprising against the autocratic government of Bashar al-Assad began in March. Kabuka, whom this reporter met through local Syrian-American activist Dena Atassi (the main subject of our July article), says she will be “working on Syria” in the coming months, which includes her participation in Twitter campaigns which aim to propel Syria-related hash tags – like #hamamassacre – into the vaunted “trend” status.
With the lag of the publishingprocess in mind, we’re going to go out on a short limb here and say that by the time you read this, the hard-core activists of Occupy Orlando – whom we imagine are still camping out at Senator Beth Johnson Park – have not agreed upon a list of demands, a chief goal or any overarching political philosophy. This stems mostly from the (ostensibly) leaderless nature of their organization, which, in its uber-considerate and inclusive nature, needs the consent of 90 percent of its members to accept or deny any proposal.
If you’re guessing that the most important milestones of the Orlando occupation have had nothing to do with this process, you’d be right. It was a completely undemocratic decision that steered the occupation into its brilliant sidewalk strategy of its first night, and on Oct. 23, it was only a handful of activists who decided Occupy Orlando should break the law. It was around 2 a.m. that morning when Orlando police, responding to a noise complaint, arrived at Senator Beth Johnson Park. By then, according to one account, there had been some heated discussion over whether the group was being too obedient – less than two days prior, it had consented to take its village of tarps down – and thus, 19 activists seized the opportunity to become political martyrs for the glorious misdemeanor of trespassing in a public park after hours. “The way it happened ... was completely spontaneous,” Occupy Orlando spokeswoman Brook Hines says. She reminded Happytown™ that acts of civil disobedience are never endorsed, let alone discussed, by the general assembly, for legal reasons. Still, she issued a release expressing “solidarity” for the arrestees. “No one [at Occupy Orlando] stands in the way of anyone doing a civil disobedience,” Hines says.
We should say that the amorphous general assembly has made a couple of notable decisions. The next major downtown march is to be held on Nov. 5, a day on which many activists commemorate 16th century English revolutionary Guy Fawkes (who was later popularized by comic book-turned-Hollywood movie V for Vendetta). In other news, Occupy Orlando also agreed to no longer speak with a man named Tom Trento, director of a right-wing group called the United West. Upon encountering the term “Arab spring” and finding that one of the group’s leading attorneys, Shayan Elahi, is a Muslim, Trento and his followers “covertly” infiltrated the occupation and subsequently raised a “JIHAD ALERT.” You’re adorable, Tom.
You know what else is adorable? Rich businessmen paying little or nothing for rent while the other 99 percent camp out under tarps. Turns out that the neighboring Hatfields to Occupy Orlando’s McCoys, the Orlando Regional Chamber of Commerce, is indeed living virtually rent-free in that weird box of a building it calls home. According to some rather dated City Council meeting minutes dug up from 1997, the city renewed its 20-year lease with the chamber back in 1997 (the original lease was signed in 1968, which accounts for the building having the distinct feel of a Brady Bunch episode).How much has the chamber been paying the city for the distinct pleasure of being locked in a time of cigar-smoking backroom leisure? Oh, just $20, or – let’s get our calculators out – $1 per year. Populist outrage!
Now, the sweetheart deal is no big secret – we alluded to it somewhat in last week’s Council Watch – but it does come in sharp contrast to the $62,000 the city voted to throw at the chamber to buy 20 seats in the organization’s Entrepreneur Academy for rich people on October 17. Moreover, it doesn’t compare terribly well with the salary of the chamber’s president – and Commissioner Robert Stuart’s brother – Jacob Stuart, who, according to 2009 tax filings by the chamber, raked in $360,000 in direct salary and $31,600 in other related compensation. It should be noted that Commissioner Stuart abstained from voting on his brother’s corporate welfare check to avoid the appearance of impropriety, but it should also be noted that much of the chamber’s brass are already in the pocket of the mayor (again, duh). Now who’s occupying what, again?