Gaddafi turns screenwriter for $40m epic about Italian invasion

The mercurial dictator of Libya has reinvented himself yet again. He has been a pariah of the West; a sponsor of terrorism; the maverick autocrat with his corps of female bodyguards; the man who comes to Brussels for a summit, erects his tent and puts his camels out to graze in the local park.

Thirty years ago with his little Green Book and his "Third Universal Theory", he proposed himself as the Mao Zedong of the Middle East, fashioning what he claimed to be a new ideology from the patriarchal customs of his clan.

But today Libya is in a different place. The worst of its diplomatic headaches are behind it – Lockerbie dealt with, the nuclear plants dismantled, the Bulgarian nurses ransomed – and the world is keen to do business. And now the ruler is trying on a new hat. Meet Muammar al-Gaddafi: screenwriter.

A series of impressionistic sketches he has written evoking his country as it was on the eve of invasion by Italy in September 1911 – placid, rustic, traditional – and then as it roused itself to fight to expel the foreigners, is to become the basis for a film costing at least $40m (£19.1m) which begins shooting in Libya next year.

Aimed principally at a non-Arab audience, and entitled Dhulm – Years of Torment, it will tell the story of Libya's traumatic experience at the hands of Europe's Johnny-come-lately imperialists.

To the other European powers, it was hard to take Italy seriously as a colonial force. Its first adventure, against the supposedly easy target of Ethiopia, ended in the worst defeat ever suffered by a European army in Africa. Libya, just across the pond from Sicily, was thinly defended by a small Turkish garrison, at a time when the Ottoman Empire was on its knees. It was expected to be a pushover.

Instead, after quick early success, Italy found itself embroiled in an insurgency that dragged on for the next 20 years. The Libyans became the first people in the world to know the terror of air bombing, among the first to be gassed from the skies, and were early guinea pigs for the concentration-camp concept. Unable to break their spirit, Italy resorted to driving them across the border into Egypt and Chad. Ramzi Rassi, the Lebanese producer of the new film, says that by the time the Italians fled home in 1943, one-third of the Libyan population had been killed and one-third forced into exile.

In his treatment for the film, Gaddafi describes the beauty of his land before the coming of the new Romans. "Tripoli ... a string of white buildings painted with the local lime ... Behind it stretches the deep blue sea, its light waves shimmering, and much clearer in the distance the wide open horizon..."

Seen from the other side of the Mediterranean it all looked so different. For Italy, unified for a bare half century, the invasion of the Ottoman province of Tripolitana e Cirenaica was a chance to prove its worth as a martial country. "The great proletarian nation has stirred!" declared Giovanni Pascoli, the Italian poet, as the invasion got under way.

Dhulm ("injustice" in Arabic), will tell the story of the invasion and the long Libyan resistance through the eyes of those who experienced it, based on real people. One of the main characters is an extraordinary journalist called Francis McCullagh from Dungannon in Co Tyrone, who really deserves a biopic all to himself. In October 1911, his zest for action unsated, he crossed the Mediterranean with the invading Italians. "He came over with the invasion force," says Mr Rassi, "and later wrote a book about the invasion almost in the form of a script. He is one of the characters in the film, as an eye-witness of what happened."

Dhulm is not Col Gaddafi's first venture into film. In 1980 his regime paid $30m to make Omar Mukhtar: Lion of the Desert, an epic about Omar the Bedouin schoolteacher who became the legendary leader of the Libyan resistance, and fought on well into his seventies until he was captured by the Italians and hanged in front of 20,000 of his Bedouin followers. Lion had an improbably glittering cast, including Anthony Quinn as Omar, Oliver Reed as the Italian commander who tries to track him down and Rod Steiger as Mussolini. But Arabs were deeply unpopular at the time of its release in 1983 thanks to Opec's price rises and other factors (including Gaddafi himself), and the film sank without trace.

Is the world readier now to hear Libya's tale of woe? Mr Rassi says it should be. "We see Armenians and Jews talking about genocide – Libya wants the truth about what happened there to be exposed, too. It's not just Gaddafi but the people as a whole: the degree of popular support for the film project is huge. And the international politics are more favourable to the idea of the film today than ever before."

Yet the first stumbling block is Italy, which shows little inclination to confront what it did across the water. Mr Rassi and the director of the film, the star Syrian TV film-maker Najdat Anzour, were in Rome this week promoting Dhulm, but with the exception of one piece by an Arab journalist, the film project has been ignored. Italian politicians are willing to talk about reparations, including a Gaddafian proposal that they build him a whopping autostrada, gratis – but just don't mention the war. When Lion of the Desert was released, it was banned in Italy on the grounds that it was "damaging to the honour of the Italian army" and has still never been shown there.

But it is time Italy made the effort – and the rest of us, too: not merely to recognise the suffering inflicted, to understand better what this country went through, and how the bitterness of a people subjected to such treatment can fester for generations without a full accounting. But also to understand and deal with the delirious joy that accompanied the rape of Libya.

Begun on the cusp of the First World War, the Libyan invasion incubated the bacillus of Fascism. And the horror of it was meat and drink to Europe's new utopians. Another journalist who crossed the Mediterranean to report on the war was Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, poet and founder of the Futurist movement. For him, the Italian forces behaved far too well: he denounced their "stupid, colonial humanitarianism". He believed more violence was required. "We want to glorify war," ran the Futurist Manifesto, "the only source of hygiene in the world – militarism, patriotism, the destructive act." For these Europeans, Libya's "liberation" was the apogee of modern civilisation.

Now of course we know different. "It was one of the ugliest forms of colonialism," says Mr Rassi, "with a scale of brutality that is unimaginable, covering the whole population. Yet very little is known about it. It is easy to understand why."

Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
Sport
Steven Gerrard had to be talked into adopting a deeper role by his manager, Brendan Rodgers
sportThe city’s fight for justice after Hillsborough is embodied in Steven Gerrard, who's poised to lead his club to a remarkable triumph
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
News
The energy drink MosKa was banned for containing a heavy dose of the popular erectile dysfunction Levitra
news
VIDEO
News
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
Environment
People are buying increasing numbers of plants such as lavender to aid the insects
environmentGardeners rally round the endangered bumblebee
Sport
Australia's Dylan Tombides competes for the ball with Adal Matar of Kuwait during the AFC U-22 Championship Group C match in January
sportDylan Tombides was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011
Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
musicBest exclusives coming to an independent record shop near you this Record Store Day
News
Ida Beate Loken has been living at the foot of a mountain since May
newsNorwegian gives up home comforts for a cave
Extras
indybest10 best gardening gloves
Arts & Entertainment
tvIt might all be getting a bit much, but this is still the some of the finest TV ever made, says Grace Dent
Arts & Entertainment
Comedian Lenny Henry is calling for more regulation to support ethnic actors on TV
tvActor and comedian leads campaign against 'lack of diversity' in British television
News
Posted at the end of March, this tweeted photo was a week off the end of their Broadway shows
people
News
peopleStar to remain in hospital for up to 27 days to get over allergic reaction
Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit