Review: “The Return” By Hisham Matar – Libyan Genocide & Seeking The Disappeared

the return

“The Return. Fathers,  Sons and the Land in Between” by Hisham Matar is a beautifully written and moving account by an expatriate Libyan writer of his over 2 decade search to find out what happened to his father, Jaballa Matar, a leading opponent and a secret political prisoner of the Qaddafi regime in Libya. However there are some surprising total omissions in the account, most notably the critical role of the France, UK and US (FUKUS) Coalition in the genocidal devastation of Libya.

Hisham Matar, the author of “The Return” [1], was born in 1970 in New York city where his father, Jaballa Matar, was a member of the Libyan UN delegation,  notwithstanding his imprisonment for 6 months in 1970 for criticism of Muammar Qaddafi who had come to power in a 1969 military coup. His family returned to Libya in 1973 to live in Tripoli but fled to live in Cairo in 1979 where Jaballa Matar developed business interests as well as becoming a leading figure in resistance to the Qaddafi government. Hisham and his elder brother Ziad studied overseas under assumed names for serious security reasons, Hisham in the UK and Ziad in Switzerland [2].  Indeed “The Return” recounts how Ziad narrowly escaped kidnap and/ or assassination in Switzerland (pages 7-9 [1]).  Jaballa Matar  was arrested by Egyptian secret police in March 1990 and ultimately  became a  “disappeared” political prisoner in a secret prison in Libya.

In 1993 the Matar  family received the first of several letters from Jaballa Matar indicating that he was imprisoned in the notorious  Abu Salim prison in Tripoli, and in 1995 Jaballa Matar had a letter smuggled out to a connection in the UK.  Sometime “in the years after 2004” Hisham Matar met a former inmate who had communicated with his father via  “passages” in the cell walls but who had only ever seen him at a distance. As an adult Hisham Matar has spent about 25 years trying to find out what has happened to his father: “I became a thorn in the side of both the Libyan and British governments” (page 167 [1]). During this period the UK-based Hisham Matar also became an accomplished writer and married [2]. Indeed, as recounted in “The Return”,  his literary celebrity eventually gave him Mainstream media coverage for his cause and access to politically powerful people in both the UK and Libya.

The facts about Jaballa Matar   were set out by the human rights organization TRIAL in a submission to the UN Human Rights Committee on behalf of his son, Hisham Matar,  in November 2010 : “Jaballa Matar was a colonel in the Libyan army and became a key member of the opposition to the government after the 1969 coup. Mr. Matar was arrested in 1970 and detained for 6 months. After his release, he worked a few years for the government and then resigned his position because of policy disagreement. He worked as a businessman from 1973 to 1978 in Libya but realising it was no longer safe to live there, Jaballa Matar and his family left the country in 1979 to settle in Egypt, where they spent 11 years in exile. While in Cairo, Jaballa Matar was a member of the Executive Committee of the National Front for the Salvation of Libya (NFSL), an opposition movement. As such, he wrote many articles calling for democracy, the rule of law and justice in Libya. On 4 or 5 March 1990, agents of the State Security Investigation Bureau came to Jaballa Matar’s home in the district of Mohandessin, Cairo. They took him and Mr. Izzat Yousef Al-Maqrif – another opposition figure living in exile in Cairo – to the headquarters of the State Security Investigation Bureau. Upon arriving, Mr. Matar and Mr. Al-Maqrif were interrogated by agents of the State Security Investigation. They were released by the Egyptian authorities, but their passports were confiscated. On 12 March 1990, Egyptian authorities returned and took the two men from their respective homes. The two were detained and not allowed to return home. Their families never saw them again. According to letters the two men managed to smuggle out of prison, their relatives were informed that after their arrest, the two men were taken to the headquarters of the Egyptian Military Security for further interrogation and then transferred to Libya by plane from Cairo airport to Tripoli. From there, they were taken to Abu Salim prison. Jaballa Matar was never brought before a judge nor given the possibility to challenge the legality of his detention. No charges against him were ever presented. His family was never informed by the authorities about the fate or whereabouts of their loved one. To this day [November 2010] , it remains unclear whether Jaballa Matar is still alive” [3].

As detailed in “The Return”, other relatives and associates of Hisham Matar were imprisoned by  the Qaddafi regime. Indeed his grandfather Hamed Matar was a Libyan patriot who was imprisoned by the genocidal fascist Italian invaders but managed to escape. Hisham Matar came from a very large family (he had 130 cousins) that was very influential  politically  and was based in Ajdabiya,   south of  Benghazi in eastern Libya. “The Return” makes a moving account of love of parents, family, tribe, culture, poetry and country.

“The Return” powerfully describes the indomitability of the human spirit and makes a significant addition to prison literature , alongside such diverse works as Oscar Wilde’s “De Profundis”, Antonio  Gramsci ‘s  “Prison Notebooks”, Ray Parkin’s “Into the Smother”, Wole Soyinka’s “The Man Died”,   Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham  Jail”, Nelson Mandela’s “Long Walk to Freedom”, .and recently  Behrouz Boochani’s  “No Friend But The Mountains. Writing from Manus Prison” [4, 5]. To this brief catalogue we must add works from the WW2 European  Holocaust concentration camps (notably  “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl, and “If this is a Man” by Primo Levi), from Stalinist  prisons in Hungary (notably “Political Prisoner” by Paul Ignotus and “Seven Years Solitary” by Dr Edith Bone, a cousin of my grandmother), and from other incarcerations (notably “Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number” by Argentinian Jacobo Timerman and “My Years in an Indian Prison” by Mary Tyler). The horrors of the  Russian Gulag are recounted in the novels  “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich”, “In the First Circle”  and “The Gulag Archipelago” by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.  Anne Frank’s  “The Diary of a Young Girl” describes her life hiding from the Nazis in WW2 Nazi-occupied Netherlands.  In Phillip Agee’s  “Inside the Company. CIA Diary” the author describes having a chat with a Uruguayan  police chief to whom the US Embassy supplies the names of dissidents, and who turns up the radio to mask the distant screams of a torture victim…

Hisham Matar published the novels “In the Country of Me” (shortlisted for the 2006 Man Booker Prize) and  “Anatomy of a Disappearance”, and was widely published in the Mainstream media in the UK and US. Because of his success as a writer and his public profile, Hisham Matar was able to garner  support and connect with important politicians  in relation to his campaign to find out about his father. Hisham Matar provides a fascinating and absorbing account of his dealings with Libyan  officials and in particular  with Seif al-Islam el- Qaddafi, the son of the Libyan dictator, who claimed to know what had happened but evidently strung Hisham Matar along with conditions for disclosure. A great irony is that Seif Qaddafi is wanted for a war crimes trial in The Hague but subsequent   to his capture by Libyan militia also became “disappeared” and remained “disappeared” as of 2017 [6].

“The Return” is very well written and  evidently pleased the UK and American literati because it received  excellent reviews and won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography and the 2017 PEN America Jean Stein Book Award [2]. However it must be noted that there are some striking absences  in “The Return” that would no doubt have made it acceptable  to editors, publishers, critics  and readers in Zionist-subverted America and the Zionist-subverted UK who resolutely ignore US Alliance war crimes and would like to think the best of the US,  UK and US- and UK-backed Apartheid Israel.  These astonishing absences are set out below:

(1).  There is no mention of the France-UK-US (FUKUS) Coalition that genocidally devastated Libya. Quite astonishingly there is absolutely no mention of how the might of the France-UK-US (FUKUS) Coalition bombed Libya back to the Stone Age and critically enabled the defeat of the Libyan armed forces in 2011. The “excuse” for the FUKUS Coalition intervention – all such devastating US Alliance interventions require “excuses”  – was to prevent a predicted “massacre” of rebel  forces in Benghazi  by the Libyan armed forces. In the event up to 25,000 Libyans were killed in the Libyan Civil War and as many as 50,000 wounded, with 1 million refugees being generated, many of them being migrant workers crucial for the economic survival of their families elsewhere, notably in other African  countries.  [7-12].  Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey (2019)“From prosperity to misery – the hand of NATO.  Libyans lived in safety, whereas today many need protection; migrants had reasonable living conditions as they were housed in camps, half-way homes in their trip towards Europe after receiving documentation. Today they are sold as slaves or tortured or raped. Or all three. Or murdered. Libyans enjoyed free public healthcare, in Libya and paid public healthcare abroad if they could not get the treatment they needed. Today the healthcare system has collapsed. Libyans used to enjoy a plentiful food supply and prided themselves on offering guests copious portions of their national dishes. Today a third of the population is hungry or starving. Libyans benefitted from Gaddafi’s great manmade water supply across the desert, bringing clean water to the cities and countryside alike. Today an increasing number of people have no access to clean drinking water. NATO destroyed all of that. They bombed the water supply, then bombed the factory producing tubes so that it could not be repaired, they strafed the electricity grid “to break their backs”, murdered Gaddafi’s grandchildren because they were classified as “legitimate targets”, murdered civilians, told lie after lie after lie after lie after lie after lie after lie about the Government forces attacking indiscriminately when all they were doing was try to stem the onslaught of foreign terrorists shipped in to do NATO’s dirty work, orchestrated by NATO boots on the ground, in direct breach of UNSC Resolutions 1970 and 1973” [9]. Le Monde (2014): “Estimates of their [refugee] numbers vary between 600,000 and one million by the Tunisian Ministry of Interior. If we add [to] those, many also settled in Egypt, they would be nearly two million Libyans today outside the borders of a total population estimated at just over six million inhabitants” [12]. Before the NATO invasion the GDP per capita in Libya (PPP) was about  $30,000 (the highest in Africa)  but it collapsed after the invasion, recovered slightly and then collapsed again after resumption of civil war down to about $6,000 in 2016 [10].

(2). There is no mention of the subsequent Libyan Civil War (2014-present). The Egypt- and UAE-backed  Libyan National Army led by General Khalifa Haftar now controls much  of Libya and is now besieging the UN-, Turkey- and Qatar-backed government in Tripoli [13-16]. The US continues to bomb Islamists in Libya. The UNHCR (2017): “An estimated 1.3 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance in Libya [population  million]. Hundreds of thousands of people across the country are suffering. They are living in unsafe conditions with little or no access to health care, essential medicines, food, safe drinking water, shelter or education… The country presents a complex displacement scenario with 217,002 people displaced inside the country (IDPs) and 278,559 people who have returned home (returnees)… Libya also hosts 43,113 refugees and asylum-seekers who are registered with UNHCR. Refugees are travelling alongside migrants through dangerous routes towards Europe. Up to 90 per cent of people crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe depart from Libya” [17].

(3). There is no mention of a Libyan Genocide associated with US Alliance-backed war. Although Hisham Matar does deal with the brutal and genocidal Italian suppression of Libyans in the 1920s and 1930s [1], there is no mention of Libyan Genocide in relation to the US Alliance-backed war in once peaceful and prosperous Libya and 2 million out of 6 million Libyans being forced to live outside Libya (ethnic cleansing).  Article  2 of the UN Genocide Convention defines Genocide thus: “In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such: a) Killing members of the group; b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group” [18]. Thus  the UK, the  US and their allies have been variously killing Iraqis since 1914 – there have been 9 million Iraqi deaths from Western violence or Western-imposed deprivation since 1914, this amounting to an Iraqi Genocide and an Iraqi Holocaust [19, 20].  Likewise it is estimated that  over the same period 2.2 million Palestinians died from violence, 0.1 million, or from imposed deprivation, 2.1 million, in an ongoing Palestinian Genocide. Presently of 14 million Indigenous Palestinians, 7 million are exiled from Palestine, and nearly 7 million are subjects of Apartheid Israel,  including 5 million Occupied Palestinians without any human rights and highly abusively confined to the Gaza Concentration Camp (2 million) or to West Bank ghettoes (3 million), and nearly 2 million “lucky” Palestinian Israelis  living as Third Class citizens  under over 60 Nazi-style race laws. Palestine has been 90% ethnically cleansed with Netanyahu promising to annex and ethnically cleanse the Jordan Valley i.e.  to “achieve’ ethnically cleansing of  95% of Palestine [23]. Deaths from violence or imposed deprivation in Libya may be of the order of 0.1 million since 2011 [20-22], but 2 million out of 6 million Libyans being forced live outside Libya thanks to the NATO invasion is ethnic cleansing, a “Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part” and consequently a Libyan Genocide. Just as the genocidal Zionists want the land of Palestine but not the Palestinians (a Palestinian Genocide),  so the serial war criminal  US Alliance wants Libya’s oil but not the Libyans (a Libyan Genocide).

In March 2011 I wrote thus about the NATO invasion of Libya: “ 20 March 2011 marked the 8th anniversary of the illegal, war criminal invasion of Iraq by the US , UK and Australia .  In post-invasion Iraq , violent deaths (1.4 million) and non-violent avoidable deaths from war-imposed deprivation (1.2 million) have totalled 2.6 million (so far). Yet the West ignores the carnage of the ongoing Iraqi Holocaust and Iraqi Genocide and marked this dreadful anniversary by commencing a devastating high technology war on another Arab nation, Libya . A legitimate fear from the US-backed Palestinian Genocide, the Iraqi Holocaust and Iraqi Genocide and the Afghan Holocaust and Afghan Genocide is that this latest US war, the Libyan War, will likewise evolve to holocaust and genocide dimensions and to a Libyan Holocaust and Libyan Genocide” [25]. With  2 million out of 6 million Libyans forced to live outside Libya [12], that prediction of a Libyan Genocide has been realized by this appalling ethnic cleansing.

(4). There is no mention of the Israeli shooting down of Libyan Arab Airlines Flight 114.  The destruction of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie in 1998 is mentioned in relation to Sief Qaddafi welcoming home the intelligence officer convicted of the appalling crime that killed 270 people  (page 171 [1]). However there is no mention of the Libyan Arab Airlines Flight 114 that was shot down by the Israelis over the Sinai in 1973 killing 108 people [26]. Indeed the only mention of “Israel” in “The Return” is in reference to prison handcuffs that were called “Israeli cuffs” from their manufacture there (page 231 [1]). These “Israeli cuffs” were used in the 29 June 1996 Abu Salim Prison  Massacre in which 1,270 prisoners were killed (Chapter 21, pages 220-233 [1]; [27]). Political prisoner Jaballa Matar may have been killed in this atrocity.

These astonishing absences from “The Return” are succinctly explained by the comment of brilliant Indian writer Arundhati Roy on simultaneous First World holocaust commission and holocaust denial (2004):  “The ultimate privilege of the élite is not just their deluxe lifestyles, but deluxe lifestyles with a clear conscience” [28].

We all suffer loss of relatives and other loved ones in our lives  but those situations of disappearance and   not knowing what actually happened to the “disappeared” have a continuing poignancy.  Thus only about a dozen of my wider family survived the WW2 Jewish Holocaust in Hungary in 1944-1945. My paternal grandfather, Professor Jeno Polya (Jenő Sándor Pólya, in German: Eugen Alexander Pólya) ,  was a very famous surgeon and kept a war-time diary,  but the last entry to have survived is dated 8 November 1944 when the Russians were on the verge of liberating Budapest [29]. It is assumed that he was eventually captured and killed by the Hungarian Nazis (the Arrow Cross). Thus the abstract of a review of his life  as a surgeon states: “Eugen Pólya was an outstanding Hungarian surgeon of the first half of this century, a man of international reputation. Already in 1913 on the basis of animal experiments he realised the necessity of conservative treatment in acute pancreatitis. He and Reichel (Germany) share the fame of the introduction of a modified GE in partial resection of the stomach (B-II-type). In 1944 Pólya was killed by Hungarian fascists for racial and political reasons. Nobody knows where his corpse was buried” [30]. Another review of his life as a surgeon speculates that he was arrested and killed for protesting the maltreatment of  Jews being  led  to execution on the banks of the Danube. I was introduced to a man in Sydney who claimed to have witnessed as a child  the beating  death of my grandfather in the Arrow Cross headquarters. This unresolved “disappearance” had a big impact on my father and our family.   A very famous instance of “disappearance” at the same time was that of Raoul Wallenberg , the Swedish diplomat who saved the lives of thousands Jews in Budapest in 1944 by providing them. with Swedish documents but who disappeared after the Russians liberated Budapest – it is believed that he ended up in the Soviet Gulag because the Russians were concerned  about possible US links of Raoul Wallenberg or his family [31].  5 years later my paternal grandmother’s cousin, Dr Edith Bone,  was “disappeared” into a solitary confinement as a political prisoner  in post-war communist Hungary (she escaped during the Hungarian Revolution in 1956 and wrote of her experience in a book “Seven Years Solitary” that was to inspire a teenager Aung San Suu Kyi  years before her own detention) [32, 33].

We are all obliged to “bear witness”. As described in a riveting account in “The Return” , Hisham Matar was assiduous in trying to find out what happened to his “disappeared” father, Jaballa Matar.  Because of his growing  literary celebrity, Hisham Matar was eventually able to get Mainstream media support and indeed was able to  get to talk to people in  the  top political leadership of both the UK and Libya. In my book “Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History” (about how the British with Australian complicity deliberately starved 6-7 million Indians to death in the WW2 Bengali Holocaust and then erased or “disappeared” it from history),  I made a practical suggestion for protecting all of Humanity from being “disappeared”, to whit: “Global insistence on basic human rights throughout the world… a  readily addressable computer-based register of all humanity, from those hiding in the jungles to those incarcerated in prison or “refugee camps”, so that no more Anne Franks, Jeno Polyas or Raoul Wallenbergs can simply be “disappeared” from the face of the earth without remorseless international inquiry and penalty that may save them from oblivion”  [34, 35].


[1]. Hisham Matar, “The Return. Fathers,  Sons and the Land in Between”, Random House, New York, 2016.

[2]. “Hisham Matar”, Wikipedia:

[3]. TRIAL International, “The enforced disappearance of Jaballa Hamed Matar  in 1990”, November 2010: .

[4]. Behrouz Boochani, “No Friend But The Mountains. Writing from Manus Prison”, Picador , Sydney, 2018.

[5]. Gideon Polya, “Review: “No Fried but the Mountains”  -Australia’s Manus Island Concentration Camp exposed”, Countercurrents, 11 April 2019: .

[6]. Nick Cumming-Bruce, “Qaddafi son faces criminal trial in the Hague – if he can be found”, New York Times, 21 February 2017: .

[7]. “Casualties of the 2011 Libyan Civil War”, Wikipedia: .

[8]. “Libyan Civil War”, Wikipedia: .

[9]. Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey, “Prior to 2011 NATO war Libya had the highest standard of living in Africa”, Global Research, 6 February 2019: .

[10]. “Economy of Libya”, Wikipedia: .

[11]. “Refugees of Libya”, Wikipedia: .

[12]. Isabelle Mandraud, “”Kaddafi est toujours là” pour les Libyens de Tunis”, Le Monde, 13 May 2014: .

[13]. Raf Sanchez, “Libya crisis could trigger new refugee crisis”, says EU, amid fears of civil war”, The Telegraph,  7 April 2019: .

[14]. “Libyan Civil War (2014-present)”, Wikipedia: .


[15]. John Irish, “Egypt and Qatar trade barbs at U.N. on Libya conflict interference”, Reuters, 25 September 2019: .

[16]. “Why is Libya so lawless?”, BBC, 10 April 2019: .

[17]. UNHCR, “Libya”, 2017: .

[18]. “Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide”, adopted by Resolution 260 (III) A of the United Nations General Assembly on 9 December 1948: .

[19]. “Iraqi Genocide Iraqi Holocaust”: .

[20]. “Muslim Holocaust Muslim Genocide”: .

[21]. “Palestinian Genocide”: .

[22].  Gideon Polya, “Paris Atrocity Context: 27 Million Muslim Avoidable  Deaths From Imposed Deprivation In 20 Countries Violated By US Alliance Since 9-11”, Countercurrents, 22 November, 2015: .

[23]. “Annexation of the Jordan Valley”, Wikipedia: .

[24]. “Will Israel’s Netanyahu annex the Jordan Valley?”, Al Jazeera, 12 September 2019: .

[25]. Gideon Polya, “Libyan War, Libyan Holocaust Start On Iraq Invasion 8th Anniversary”,  Countercurrents, 21 March, 2011: .

[26]. “Libyan Arab Airlines Flight 114” , Wikipedia: .

[27]. “Abu Salim prison”, Wikipedia: .

[28]. Arundhati Roy and David Barsamian,  “The Chequebook and the Cruise Missile”, Harper Perennial, New York, 2004.

[29]. “Eugen Alexander Pólya“, Wikipedia: .

[30]. Jeno Polya, “Jeno Polya’s last completed diary, Budapest 28 October  – 8 November 1944”, unpublished translated manuscript.

[30]. G. Petri, “Our surgical heritage: the tragic destiny of the surgeon. Eugen Alexander Pólya (1876-1944)”, Zentralbl Chir. 1985;110(1), 46-52: .

[31]. “Raoul Wallenberg”, Wikipedia: .

[32]. Edith Bone, “Seven Years Solitary”, Hamish Hamilton, 1957.

[33]. Aung San Suu Kyi, BBC Reith Lectures 2011: Securing Freedom, Lecture 1: Liberty: .

[34]. Gideon Polya, “Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History. Colonial rapacity, holocaust denial and the crisis in biological sustainability”, G.M. Polya, Melbourne, 2008 edition that is now available for free perusal on the web:  .

[35]. Gideon Polya, Chapter 17, “Antipodean epilogue – the moral dimension of the Lucky Country and the world” in Gideon Polya, “Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History”: .

Dr Gideon Polya taught science students at a major Australian university for 4 decades. He published some 130 works in a 5 decade scientific career, most recently a huge pharmacological reference text “Biochemical Targets of Plant Bioactive Compounds” (CRC Press/Taylor & Francis, New York & London , 2003). He has published “Body Count. Global avoidable mortality since 1950” (G.M. Polya, Melbourne, 2007: ); see also his contributions “Australian complicity in Iraq mass mortality” in “Lies, Deep Fries & Statistics” (edited by Robyn Williams, ABC Books, Sydney, 2007:   ) and “Ongoing Palestinian Genocide” in “The Plight of the Palestinians (edited by William Cook, Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2010: ). He has published a revised and updated 2008 version of his 1998 book “Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History” (see:  ) as biofuel-, globalization- and climate-driven global food price increases threaten a greater famine catastrophe than the man-made famine in British-ruled India that killed 6-7 million Indians in the “forgotten” World War 2 Bengal Famine (see recent BBC broadcast involving Dr Polya, Economics Nobel Laureate Professor Amartya Sen and others:  ;  Gideon Polya:  ; Gideon Polya Writing: ; Gideon Polya, Wikipedia: ) . When words fail one can say it in pictures – for images of Gideon Polya’s huge paintings for the Planet, Peace, Mother and Child see: and  .




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