Libya 1980

‘Inglizy, inglizy (he’s English)’, I shouted into the crowd. I wished the bearded foreigner hadn’t come. But most of the crowd didn’t pay attention to my words or to the foreigner, they were intent on their task. For a couple of hours they had been outside the American Embassy in Tripoli, angered by the US government’s despicable policy towards the new Islamic regime in Iran.  Initially they had shouted and stamped, like the almost weekly demonstrations in town (taxi-drivers or women soldiers, for example, usually shouting their support for the revolution and the Great Leader).

What had drawn the foreigner from his nearby apartment were the more unusual sounds of the tinkling of glass and sound of smashing wood. For the crowd had now broken down the front doors of the Embassy, streamed inside, shattered the windows and blinds all along the ground floor. Papers were being thrown out of the windows, and a small fire was visible on the first floor. Some of the crowd had of course brought US flags and these were burning in the street.

I knew the bearded foreigner. I was shouting that he was English so none of the crowd thought he was American and attacked him.  I was in my police uniform, and my job was to make sure there was no damage to property or harm to individuals. No damage apart, that is, from the damage our government officials had encouraged when they allowed us to let the rioters through our police lines and into the Embassy compound.