Libyan Americans React To Gadhafi's Death

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As Libya looks toward a future without Moammar Gadhafi, Libyans living in the U.S. are taking stock of the situation as well.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

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The death of Moammar Gadhafi is a milestone for Libyans who live in the United States. NPR's Martin Kaste has been talking with some exiled activists. As he reports, they have been waiting for this day to come.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: Rashid Bseikri lives in suburban Seattle. But his thoughts, as always, are on his home in Libya.

Are you...

RASHID BSEIKRI: Come in.

KASTE: ...streaming Al-Jazeera?

BSEIKRI: Yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

KASTE: As a law student in the early '70s, Bseikri was imprisoned and tortured by the Gadhafi government twice. He's been in the U.S. for 32 years. He raised a family here. And he works in retail at Nordstrom. He's on his feet a lot, he says, as he rubs a sore knee. But all these years, his vocation has always been anti-Gadhafi politics: organizing exile opposition groups, putting out statements, even as the years dragged on.

BSEIKRI: Lots of people, you know, gave up. We did not.

KASTE: It was especially hard, he says, on the exiles' families back home.

BSEIKRI: Whenever they see us in the media or hear about us in the public, they go and they give them a hard time and get your son or brother or your relative back home and shot them down.

KASTE: As the Gadhafi regime warmed up to Western governments in recent years, some exiles dared to go home again. One of those was Professor Hussein Elkhafaifi.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken)

KASTE: This is one of his Arabic language students reciting the Quran in his office at the University of Washington.

HUSSEIN ELKHAFAIFI: (Foreign language spoken)

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

KASTE: Elkhafaifi, self-exiled from Libya since 1972, risked a trip home earlier this year. He was with his family in Benghazi when the rebellion blew up all around them. It was deeply gratifying, he says, but it didn't feel complete until Gadhafi himself was dead.

ELKHAFAIFI: You know, it's not something to rejoice over anybody's demise, but this creature is not a human being. And I'm definitely very happy from the bottom of my heart.

KASTE: As long as Gadhafi was alive, he says, life in America could be awkward. At social gatherings, he got tired of all the mad dictator comments.

ELKHAFAIFI: Oh, that crazy guy. What's his name? Oh, Gadhafi.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ELKHAFAIFI: So just because I felt like it was so embarrassing just to say Libya. We love our country. We're very proud of it. But at the same time, sometimes, just to avoid any follow-up questions or conversations, you just have to say, you know, I'm from New York.

KASTE: Elkhafaifi and Bseikri have families now - American families - so they don't plan to move back. But Gadhafi's death has a more immediate effect on younger Libyans here in the U.S.

ABDUL MOHAMMED: When I first saw it, I thought it's just another rumor.

KASTE: Eighteen-year-old Abdul Mohammed is studying biomedical engineering at Washington State University. He's one of 30 or so Libyan students on campus, most of them there on Libyan government scholarships. Mohammed welcomes Gadhafi's passing, though he doesn't share the glee of some of the older expats, especially because of reports that Gadhafi may have been captured alive and summarily executed. Still, he gets why that might have happened.

MOHAMMED: Those people might just not be able to think morally in this moment. You know, they have been seeing a lot of stuff in these last few months, and it certainly affected their decision making.

KASTE: It's been frustrating, he says, watching the revolution from afar while his friends fought and some died. He's planning to go home during winter break. It will be his first time on Libyan soil without Colonel Gadhafi in charge. Martin Kaste, NPR News, Seattle.

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