From _Das Land_ (Tripolis, Numidia)
11 December 1974
BY SANDER KAPLAN
In the month since the 1973 census figures were released, it's
become suddenly fashionable to talk about a 'demographic
disaster' looming over Numidia. According to the projections on
page 93 of the Population Bureau's release - a page number that
has already become a colloquialism - Arabs will be a plurality in
the Tripolitania Region within two decades and a majority by the
end of the century.
To those who are worried about what Tripolitania might look like
twenty years down the line, I have news for you - the future is
already here. If you count guest workers, which the census
figures don't, the Misratah district has an Arab majority right
now. It's been a month or so since I was last in Misratah, but
the last time I looked, the city hadn't fallen into chaos and
ethnic warfare. There's an Arab mayor, but, well, he's a Civic
Republican, and CRs make the world's worst radicals. And he's
been in office since 1962.
Let's also take the time to look at the 'page 93 problem' from
another perspective. An Arab majority in Numidia won't be
anything new - there was one a hundred years ago, when this
country was still called Libya. The reason the Arabs aren't a
majority now is that we and the Germans chased them out. We
don't like to remember that nowadays, and when we do, we call it
one more tragedy in a tragic war, but the Arabs' demographic
disaster has already happened. Twice. They've lived with
_their_ page 93 problem long enough to write several books.
All the discussion of 'demographic disaster' lays bare the long-
running conflict between two visions of Numidia. This country is
a new society, a created nation - but there have always been
those who think of it as a nation created through the fusion of
Jewish and Arab cultures, and those who believe that our new
society is for Jews only. Whether they know it or not, the
people who worry about 'demographic disaster' are part of the
It isn't fashionable now to view Arabs as second-class citizens.
Lately, and commendably, the government has begun to make amends -
the wartime curfews and administrative detentions are a thing of
the past, and spending on Arab municipalities and schools has
more than doubled in the past decade. Numidia is a country with
Arab legislators and district governors, Arab corporate directors
and Arab vitavision personalities. All the 'page 93' rhetoric,
however, shows how far we still have to travel.
Reconciliation requires more than laws - it has to be a state of
mind. As long as we still think of Arab population growth as a
threat to our society rather than a valued addition to it, we will
not be truly reconciled with our neighbors. We will be reconciled
when as many Arabs marry Jews as are elected to Parliament. We
will be reconciled when Arabs and Jews mix as freely in parks and
cafes as they do in courtrooms and executive suites.
We will be reconciled when we realize that, when the next century
arrives, Tripolitania will still be 100 percent Numidian.