.. the fear that flashes on their faces

People who live in a dictatorship will tell you the most with awkward silences, the fear that flashes on their faces, and the implausible exclamations of rote enthusiasm. It’s what they don’t say that counts. You have to consider the negative space, to trace the air that surrounds the form to get an idea of its shape, because nobody will dare to articulate the things itself. If you accumulate everything that is unmentionable, feared, stamped out, then you have an idea of just how much terror people have swallowed over the years. You begin to grade the repression on a spectrum. Egyptian politics have been languishing in a torture cell for decades, for example, but people on the street still gripe about the government and roll their eyes at the president.

Not in Libya. The people I met in Libya were locked in the basement of an asylum. Social interaction was all nervous smiles, evasive answers, and cups of tea. Nobody wanted to talk about the Leader.

– Megan K. Stack, Every Man in this Village is a Liar (2010)

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