Staging Memory

Myth, Symbolism and Identity in Postcolonial Italy and Libya

by Stefania Del Monte (Author)
©2015 Thesis 133 Pages


Memory in postcolonial Italy and Libya has been used, reinterpreted and staged by political powers and the media. This book investigates the roots of myth, colonial amnesia and censorship in postwar Italy, as well as Colonel Gaddafi’s deliberate use of rituals, symbols, and the colonial past to shape national identity in Libya. The argument is sustained by case studies ranging among film, documentary, literature and art, shedding new light on how memory has been treated in the two postcolonial societies examined. The last part briefly analyses the identity transformation process in the new Libya.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Abbreviations
  • Memory Misrepresentation, Identity Distortion and Total Repression in Postcolonial Libya
  • A special contribution by Libyan writer and historian Muftah Al-Sayyid Al Sharif
  • Introduction
  • Why Memory?
  • Staging Memory
  • The Italian Context
  • The Libyan Context
  • Methodology
  • Chapter 1: Memory in Postcolonial Italy: Myth, Amnesia, Censorship
  • 1.1 Italian Colonialism: Building a Myth
  • 1.1.1 The Roots of Italian Colonialism
  • 1.1.2 Building a Myth: Italiani, Brava Gente (Italians, Good People)
  • 1.2 Memory Repression and Forgetfulness
  • 1.2.1 The Pact of Silence
  • 1.2.2 Repressing and Forgetting Colonial Memory
  • 1.2.3 The Issue of Compensations
  • 1.2.4 Memory Revision between Amnesia and Relativism
  • 1.3 Memory, Myth and Censorship in Media
  • 1.3.1 Myth and Propaganda: from ‘Istituto Luce’ to ‘Incom’
  • 1.3.2 Memory and Media
  • 1.3.3 Media and Censorship
  • 1.4 The Brava Gente in Tobino and Monicelli’s Libya
  • 1.4.1 The Deserts of Libya
  • 1.4.2 The Desert Roses
  • 1.5 Censorship and Propaganda: Lion of the Desert
  • 1.5.1 The Plot
  • 1.5.2 Who was Omar Mukhtar?
  • 1.5.3 The Critics
  • 1.5.4 Political Censorship
  • 1.5.5 A Dual Perspective
  • Chapter 2: Memory in Postcolonial Libya: National Identity from Alienation to Self-Awareness
  • 2.1 Postcolonial Memory in Gaddafi’s Libya
  • 2.1.1 Colonial Memory and National Identity
  • 2.1.2 Memory, History and Identity
  • 2.1.3 Revolution or Terrorism?
  • 2.2 Symbols, Rituals and Myth in the Quest for National Identity
  • 2.2.1 Symbols and Rituals
  • 2.2.2 Representing Memory
  • 2.2.3 Constructing Reality
  • 2.3 The Green Book and the ‘Third Universal Theory’
  • 2.3.1 The Green Book
  • 2.3.2 Freedom, Socialism and Unity
  • 2.3.3 From Symbol of the Regime to Symbol of theRevolution
  • 2.3.4 A Tool of Postcolonial Struggle
  • 2.4 Alienation and Displacement: Ahmed Fagih
  • 2.4.1 Gardens of the Night
  • 2.5 The Transformation of Memory: Ali Wak Wak
  • 2.5.1 Art, History and Memory
  • 2.5.2 From Death to Life: Reshaping Memory
  • 2.5.3 ‘Souls of Matter’: Memory and Self-Awareness in the New Libya
  • Conclusions
  • Staging Memory
  • Memory Representation and Constructed Reality
  • Memory Representation in the Media
  • Memory and Power
  • Concluding Remarks
  • Limitations of the Research
  • Suggestions for Further Research
  • Appendix
  • Bibliography
  • Newspapers (Texts)
  • Dissertations, Theses and Essays
  • Official Governmental Documents (Texts)
  • Videography (Films, Documentaries, TV Interviews)
  • Webography

← 12 | 13 → Abbreviations


Azienda Generale Italiana Petroli


African National Congress


British Broadcasting Corporation


Divisione Investigazioni Generali e Operazioni Speciali


Ente Italiano per le Audizioni Radiofoniche


Ente Nazionale Idrocarburi


Istituto Affari Internazionali


Industria CortiMetraggi


Irish Republican Army


Member of Parliament


Movimento Sociale Italiano


Pan American World Airways


Prime Minister


Partito Socialista Italiano


Radiotelevisione Italiana S.p.A.




United Kingdom


United States

← 14 | 15 → Memory Misrepresentation, Identity Distortion and Total Repression in Postcolonial Libya

A special contribution by Libyan writer and historian Muftah Al-Sayyid Al Sharif

In addition to deeply analyzing memory issues, Stefania Del Monte’s book poses the accent on the willful removal, by Italy, of the crucial events that characterized the colonial occupation of Libya. Events that struggle to emerge even seven decades after the end of Fascism. Del Monte carries out a meticulous analysis of this phenomenon, significantly contributing to the work of researchers who, like in my case, have spent years studying and writing about Italy’s rule in Libya. As underlined by the author, memory today is the result of a dissonant chorus of voices and the only certainty on which we can all agree is that no two people invoking the term memory use it in the same way. The work well demonstrates how, after the war, collective memory in Italy was a victim of legend, amnesia and censorship and how, since Gaddafi’s raise to power, in 1969, his media machine made an extensive use of the Italian occupation, mainly with the intent of polishing the profile of the tyrant and feeding his narcissism.

It is also true that after the revolution of 2011 the Libyans started working on the restoration of their lost identity, as during the Gaddafi era the numerous attempts – by the dictator – to transform Libya into an Islamic State, first, and a Pan-Arabic and Pan-African one, later, had contributed to the formation of a distorted Libyan national identity. Even the word “al-Jamahiriya” that Gaddafi used to name his State is, in the Arabic language, not a name but simply an adjective.

Particularly interesting is the researcher’s analysis of Lion of the Desert. If at international level the instrumental use of Omar Al Mukhtar’s image by Gaddafi’s regime is undisputable, it is also necessary to point out that – within national borders - the dictator tried in many ways to obliterate the hero’s collective memory. For example he moved Mukhtar’s body remains from his burial place in Benghazi (which was later blown with dynamite) to the remote village of Soluq, where the Libyan fighter had been hanged. ← 15 | 16 → On the other hand, despite Gaddafi’s personal exploitation of the film, Lion of the Desert had the merit of filling the Libyans with pride, representing a rare example in which the struggle of occupied Libya could be seen all over the world. In this sense, the censorship exercised by Italy on the movie assumes a strong political meaning, as well as a missed opportunity for what is considered one of the most civil countries in the world to make amends with its past.

Gaddafi was well aware of Italy’s weakness towards all matters concerning the colonial occupation of Libya and took advantage of such weakness to enhance his personal aura: he resorted to populism and repeatedly evoked the horrors perpetrated by the Italians; he fabricated stories to gain consensus, like for example the episode mentioned by historian Angelo Del Boca regarding Gaddafi being injured by an Italian mine during his childhood and which most Libyans know not to be true; and he governed in a very controversial way, for example by burning all musical instruments to cut links with the Western culture while also declaring, in an interview to a German magazine, that every night before going to bed he was relaxing by listening Beethoven’s music. Memory misrepresentation, together with excessive narcissism and a total blackmail and repression of his opponents were therefore the recipes of Gaddafi’s regime.

Del Monte also well describes the duality between bad Fascists and good Italian soldiers that emerges both from Tobino’s book The Deserts of Libya and from Monicelli’s film The Desert Roses. It is peculiar, however, that both works were placed in 1940, i.e. well after the war of independence fought by the Libyans between 1911 and 1932: this might be interpreted as another form of manipulation and another opportunity of steering the attention away from the Libyan struggle.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2015 (June)
roots of myth colonial amnesia postwar Italy censorship
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 133 pp., 9 coloured fig.

Biographical notes

Stefania Del Monte (Author)

Stefania Del Monte is a writer, journalist and communication specialist with extensive international experience. She holds a Masters Degree by Research from Royal Holloway University of London and a BA in Communication and Political Sciences.


Title: Staging Memory
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135 pages