Fascist Imaginations & Colonial Realities: Italy’s Settler Project in Libya


As the Fascists consolidated power in Italy’s imperial core following the March on Rome, one of the first questions the growing movement had to answer was the place of the colonies in their new version of the Italian state. With this question came a growing insecurity about the administration’s authority over Italian borderlands, especially when those borderlands existed in their current state outside the Fascists’ definition of the state. Italian Fascists began to see the definition of “the nation” as “a community with a moral, historical, and ethnic unity.”1 When the Fascist government came to power following the March on Rome, it inherited a messy skeleton of a colonial system in Libya that did not fit within the bounds of the Italian nation. The initial justifications for the initial Italian conquest of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica in 1911-1912 were to return the lands that once belonged to Rome to the Italian state, and to act as a way to resettle Italians that no longer could fit comfortably in the “over-crowded” peninsula.2 By 1922, Italy was over a decade on from its initial conquest and its dreams of a Romanized Libya had not nearly come to fruition. 

Ronald Horvath defines settler colonialism in contrast to traditional forms of European imperial rule over foreign territories. To Horvath, settler colonialism has a more acute power imbalance between the dominant colonial power and the dominated indigenous population, compared to imperialism. The hierarchy that such a system constructs allows for a settler colonial system to carry out an extreme degree of violence against the indigenous population with the expressed goal of extermination.3 This new form of imperial strategy was spearheaded internationally by both Japan and Italy as a way for the period’s new authoritarian regimes to centralize authority over their vast and growing empires.4 For the Fascist Italian state, the dream of a centralized state necessitated Italian emigration from the peninsular heartland to the country’s disorganized colonies. To the Fascist inheritors of the Italian Empire, settler colonialism in the previously conquered Italian lands in North Africa became a state priority in order to create a new geopolitical vision of expansion and conquest alongside the new state in construction. The Italian fascist colonial venture in Libya, colored by ideologies for an imaginative ‘nation-empire’, took its disordered material form as a product of the tumultuous landscape of state-authorized violence, settler colonial projects, and indigenous resistance. 

I. Fascist Imaginations of Colonial Libya 

Grappling with the unfinished reality of Italy’s colonial ambitions in its conquered North African territory, the Fascist state began to imagine the colonial periphery of the Italian state occupying an important space through which Italy could be reimagined as a “nation-empire.”5 Mussolini’s speeches about reinvigorating the lost Italian Empire took a distinctive turn, as Mussolini mobilized the new state apparatus to begin settlement programs in Italian borderlands. Fascist Italy’s vision was not merely of an empire where Italians reaped the benefits from extractive trade with non-Italian colonies. The state wished to repopulate the current borderlands of the empire with ethnic Italian settlers. 

In building the Italian “nation-empire,” Fascists harkened back to the initial call to arms for the conquest of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica, even expanding the state’s gaze further across the Mediterranean. Many scholars are of the belief that Italian aspirations across the Mediterranean during the 1920s and 1930s were both expansionist and ideologically driven.6 The state mission of Fascist Italy was to create what they termed a spazio vitale, a “living space” for the Italian Empire and specifically the Italian people. According to Davide Rodongo, the goal of the spazio vitale was to create two zones across Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. The first zone was called piccolo spazio (little space), designed to be inhabited exclusively by ethnic Italians, and the second zone, named grande spazio extended far beyond the reaches of Ancient Rome and was intended to be populated by nations under the Italian sphere of influence.7 The spazio vitale was intended to span from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indian Ocean, with the Mediterranean Sea acting as a strategic center for Italian dominance. 

The piccolo spazio during the Italian Fascist period marked the state’s first earnest attempt at a settler colonial project. Even though the public justification for the conquest of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica had always been to resettle peninsular Italians, the unfinished nature and degree of indigenous resistance had previously prevented the settler project to begin in earnest. Prior to the consolidation of Fascist power in Italy, the Italian empire had largely been ruled with the economic and political framework of a traditional European imperial state. Settler projects failed to come to fruition not only in Libya but also in Eritrea.8 After 1922, the traditional framework of Italian rule over colonies survived largely in the form of the imagined grande spazio, while the piccolo spazio marked a novel departure from traditional Italian colonial administration. The ideological notion of Italian supremacy over the Mediterranean Sea fit neatly with the preexisting justifications for territorial expansion that had motivated the Italian state to seize Tripolitania and Cyrenaica. Since Italian Libya was situated on the shores of the Mediterranean, it fell within the boundaries of what the Fascist state imagined to be the future piccolo spazio

As imagination turned to action, it became apparent that Mussolini and the new Fascist state’s dream for Italian Libya was to turn the occupied land into a pilot of settler-colonial development. The largest obstacle standing in the way of the Italian state in its aims to incorporate Libya into the piccolo spazio was the indigenous resistance to Italian occupation that had been growing ever since 1911. The state in turn mobilized its fascist ideology brewed at home to manufacture consent for the destruction of indigenous nationhood in Italian Libya. The Fascist state described the Arab and Muslim inhabitants of Libya as “subhuman, primitive, unruly, and anti-modern nomads” that needed to be expelled from the land to make way for Italian settlements.9 As the indigenous inhabitants began to be societally labeled as less than human, the “pacification” program began. Ahmida argues that the “pacification” of Libya happened in three distinct stages, each ideologically driven by the Fascist expansion plan. Firstly, the Italian state mobilized its superiority over modern weaponry to crush the well-organized networks of indigenous resistance. Secondly, the party militias turned their attention towards civil society, targeting any individual that was suspected of aiding the resistance. Lastly, the Italian colonial apparatus waged an all-out war on indigenous life itself through its program to intern all non-settled indigenous people in Libya to desert concentration camps. With the final step a success, the Italian state in theory could eliminate the resistance completely, alongside its ideological goal of clearing the land for Italian settlers.10 

As the groundwork for settlement was underway in the colonial periphery, the imagination of Libya in Fascist Italy began to take center stage in the new administration. In shorthand, Fascist administrators both in the colony and in the Italian heartland would not refer to Italian North Africa as “Libya” but as a “fourth shore” for the Italian state.11 Libya occupied a unique role in Fascist Italy’s imagined piccolo spazio. Many of the areas that Italians had hoped to include in the “little space” were not yet under the control of the Italian state — future conquests for a later date. Libya was both already under the internationally recognized administration of Italy and not yet inhabited primarily by ethnic Italians, a sweet spot for the Fascists to use as their playground to test their “pacification” experiments. Tactics used by party militias in Libya varied, but all were instrumental to the Fascists’ end goal of eliminating autonomous indigenous life from their conquests in North Africa. 

II. State-Authorized Violence and the “Pacification Process” 

Before the Fascist ascent to power and the Libyan governorship of Pietro Badoglio, the Italian state had been at war with guerrilla resistance factions operating across Tripolitania and Cyrenaica for a decade. Libya did not exist as a singular entity prior to Italian colonialism, instead being populated by various, largely autonomous local tribes ultimately ruled by a limited Ottoman colonial administration. These tribal distinctions and connections provided indigenous resistors with an organizational structure to disrupt the Italian colony-building process. Even though the number of resistors to Italian rule remained limited, the geographic and tribal diversity of resistance factions made quelling revolt near impossible for the Italian army. To many of these factions, resisting Italian colonial rule was a holy war, further strengthening the moral resolve of combatants.12In Cyrenaica specifically, indigenous tribes that resisted Italian rule united under the Sanusiyya, an Islamic revivalist movement that had roots in the Ottoman period. The Sanusi movement began as a call to unify the masses within Ottoman Tripoli during the nineteenth century. The image of a united Tripolitanian people was put into practice with the creation of “educational policies, institutions, and organized trans-Saharan trade.”13 Under the relative autonomy that tribes enjoyed during Ottoman rule, the budding Sanusiyya movement was able to replace the colonial government in a number of social services, including tax collection, construction of religious lodges, and inter-tribe relations.14 The past cementation of Sanusiyya power structures allowed for the religious movement to pivot towards becoming a focus on resistance to the new, more present, colonial power after Italian conquests in 1911-1912. The Sanusi movement initially was able to outmaneuver the Italian colonial forces not only due to its entrenchment in local society, but the entrenchment itself was born out of a desire for national autonomy. When the renewed Italian colonial effort under the Fascists came to restrict the autonomy of the budding Libyan nation, the Sanusi were already organized to resist. 

In order to manufacture consent for an all out war on a well entrenched indigenous society, the Italian state crafted narratives that normalized violence within the framework of Fascist state-construction. The state narratives that described indigenous Arabs as “subhuman” also worked to justify settler and militia violence against them. Indigenous power structures were constructed in stark contrast to the Fascist ideology. Rather than an authoritarian nation-empire organized via rigid hierarchies of power, indigenous systems created by the Sanusi “were neither nationalist nor ethnic but pan-Islamic and inclusive, and reflected from the bottom-up the local values of the community.”15 The Italian state was able to exploit these cultural cleavages in order to paint the indigenous inhabitants as uncivilized peoples without the mandate to rule their own lands. Ryan argues that the transition from the liberal colonial period to the Fascist colonial period was less the differing ideology’s impact on the colonial reality but the degree of violence that each ideology allowed. The “clear break” narrative that separated the colonial past from the colonial present was utilized by the Fascists in order to promote an image of reconquest, in line with the “politics of prestige” line of thinking that was taking Italy by storm. The result was a large degree of state sanctioned violence that the settlers largely turned a blind eye to, if not participated in themselves. 

The political climate of Italy allowed for the mass import of Fascist party members organized into militias, as an inexpensive apparatus in order to cement state control in the untamed colonial landscape. The party members selected to make the journey to Libya were those who were not wanted in Rome, supposed “loose cannons” that could not be trusted to create a functioning party in the metropole.16 These young, power-hungry Fascist party members came to impart the violence necessary to sustain the Italian state in Libya. With intense violence did not come stability, as indigenous resistors were forced to use greater violence against the settler state in response, especially once the violence they were confronted with resulted in a constant threat of extinction. 

Both the invisibility and socially-cemented presence of resistance factions in Italian Libya posed a large threat to the Fascist regime’s emboldened projects of settler colonization. In reaction, starting in 1929, the colonial government under Pietro Badoglio shifted strategies, implementing a “scorched earth” policy to eliminate Libyan civil society in its entirety.17 After massive gains in the “pacification campaign” during the late 1920s, the state ramped up its narrative rhetoric to maintain the image that violence against indigenous Libyan society was ushering in an age of Roman resettlement.18 Eliminating Libyan civil society had a dual benefit to the settler colonial mission, clearing the land for Italian settlers and removing the threat of indigenous resistance entirely. Pergher describes war against indigenous survival as a war against all aspects of indigenous life. In addition to killing tribal inhabitants of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica en masse from air and land, the Fascist forces ensured that their enemy could not survive by taking further escalatory action. Property, animals, grain stores, and wells were all destroyed across indigenous towns and villages.19 Destroying the infrastructure that indigenous Libyans depended on to survive established that the Fascist state had complete control over the resources Libyans needed to survive. The aim was to create a docile indigenous population with as few avenues to resist as possible. If they did not submit to colonial domination, the Fascist state could use its exclusive control over life-sustaining resources to wipe out entire populations. Italy’s genocidal actions ensured that the Fascists secured control, suppressed resistance, and thus facilitated Italy’s settler colonial project. 

As the years of the Fascist administration of the Libyan project continued, programs of mass deportations of indigenous Libyans to desert camps became the preferred method to corral and control the non-Italian inhabitants of the colony, paving the way for more permanent settlement opportunities in preferred, previously populated locations. E.E. Evans-Pritchard described the Fascist war against indigenous life as “fighting a people, not an army, and a people can be defeated only by total imprisonment or extermination.”20 By the end of the 1920s, over 100,000 Libyans were interned in desert concentration camps.21 Many of the strategies used by the Fascists to intern the civil population of Libya were piloted by the liberal Italian government in the decades prior. On a much smaller scale, the Liberal government had exiled suspected aides to the resistance to southern Italian islands, both depriving them of life sustaining resources as well as a connection to their homeland. Ahmida remarks that at the four main camps, interned inhabitants usually only had one pair of clothes and could not bathe for up to three years.22 The horrid living conditions of Italian internment camps paved the way for a tool of genocide that allowed the Italian state to passively exterminate indigenous civilians: disease. Due to intentional withdrawal of medical supplies, lack of basic hygiene services, and rampant malnourishment, smallpox and typhus spread indiscriminately across the desert camps. Out of the 225,000 indigenous inhabitants of Libya, 110,000 were interned, and 83,000 were killed.23 

Ahmida, in telling first-hand accounts of experiences of Libyans in desert camps, often emphasizes the harsh realities that the genocidal state policy had on the indigenous inhabitants of the land. It is, however, just as imperative to highlight that due to the limited ability of the Italian state to turn its settler colonial dream in Libya into a reality, the Libyan people survived the genocide they were forced to endure. While 83,000 Libyans were killed, 142,000 survived. 

In the camps, Libyans continued to resist Italian rule even in the face of mass extinction. Resistance looked different within camp walls, often with the conditions both minimizing the impact of disruption as well as decreasing the ability to collaborate and organize. Ahmida reports several first-hand accounts of acts of resistance, including the following interaction between an old man and a young boy. 

An old man was lying in the shadow of a tent, but a line of ants was on his arm. When a passing boy tried to remove the ants, the old man said not to. Only later did the boy realize the old man wanted to keep the ants because they were carrying grain from the camp supply store.24 

Indigenous Libyans interned in desert camps could no longer target the regime in actions with the impact they were able to during the earlier periods of organized rebellion. Acts of resistance against the camp’s day to day operations became the primary vehicle for Libyans to maintain both their own humanity in the face of genocidal conditions while continuing to disrupt the state using the methods available to them. The state responded with harsh retaliations against open resistance, no matter how small. In his research, Ahmida interviewed a survivor of Agalia camp who witnessed a man receives 100 whip lashes after failing to salute a commander, followed by 700 more lashes for refusing to say “long live the King of Italy,”25 

On top of overt violence and neglect, psychological warfare was also utilized by the Fascist colonial state in order to demoralize the civilian population, especially those who may be incentivized to further incite resistance. After his capture, resistance leader Umar al-Muktar was brought to Slug Camp to be publicly executed in front of 20,000 interned Libyans.26 Public displays of violence across the internment camps of Libya constituted the state’s preferred reaction to the rise in violence against the colonial project, spurred on originally by the creation of the internment camps themselves. The increasing escalation of violence that the Italian state inflicted upon Libyans throughout the 1920s and 1930s created in turn a cycle of violence that permeated all aspects of life in the colony. 

On the Italian peninsula, the cultural reforms growing within the fascist administration began to shift Italian colonial policy and hierarchies. The new fascist government prioritized and rewarded violence and aggression, leading to the creation of a political culture hallmarked by, what Eileen Ryan calls “politics of prestige.” On the international stage, Fascist Italy intended to signal the strength of the Italian Empire in its aims to pacify and expand its heartland, and in order to do so, the state authorized higher degrees of violence against Libyans.27 The emphasis on international image worked in tandem with the novel piccolo spazio plan, differentiating settler administrations of Italian colonies like Libya from traditional forms of imperialism commonly found in Liberal Western states. After the 1922 gubernatorial appointment of Luigi Federzoni, the colonial government began rewarding blackshirt militia members with promotions and resources for the violence they inflicted against the indigenous population.28 The degree of violence that followed in the next two decades was instrumental in maintaining the genocidal success of Libyan internment camps, but pushback within the administration from Liberal-era administrators continued to complicate the fascist vision of a manicured, settler state in Italian North Africa. 

The party’s connection to its colonial apparatus in Libya instead was facilitated by the opportunistic young party leaders sent to Libya to be physically distant from Rome. The young party leaders were more ideologically driven to create a settler state than the peasant settlers themselves, and primarily used violence as a way to subdue resistors. Back in Italy, the violence of the squadrismo was convenient for the Fascists to gain power and notoriety prior to the March on Rome. After the March, the Fascists in Rome hoped to cement power by coalescing their amorphous leadership into a sustainable and directional vanguard. After the squadrismo leaders were excluded from this structure and instead sent to Libya, they came to imagine themselves as the vanguard of the party ideology in the colonies.29 With such distance from Party leadership, many squadrismo leaders were able to act more extremely with little consequence. Their connection to the party came from state propaganda instead of state bureaucracy, enabling the extremist policies of the already emboldened young militiamen. 

The allowance and encouragement of state violence against indigenous Libyans initiated and sustained the three-stage settler colonial process laid out by Ahmida. Blackshirt militias were able to crush resistance with superior weaponry because the state agreed with arming militia groups to make indigenous inhabitants invisible. The “politics of prestige” carried over to internal Libyan administration, incentivizing both militias and colonial administrators to make examples out of individuals or populations seemingly connected to the resistance. Understanding the gravity of their international colonial image taught Fascists in Libya to prioritize harm and humiliation as methods to quell rebellion. The creation and maintenance of the desert concentration camps could only have been possible under past Liberal administrations under exceptional circumstances. The Fascists brought with them to Libya a clear vision: violence was normative and necessary for the state to perpetrate, as long as the end result could expand the Italian heartland. 

For the Libyans who did survive the desert camps, many were not able to return to their lands under the Fascist system, especially once the settler program began in earnest. Instead, survivors of the camps were displaced further, onto lands where agricultural production was near impossible to sustain a population.30 The lands previously belonging to indigenous Libyans were reserved for Italian settlers, serving a second purpose of keeping indigenous life outside the view of settlers and the rest of the world. Even if indigenous Libyans were not exterminated completely, they could be made invisible to the Western world in order to maintain the Italian empire’s international prestige. 

III. Settler Colonial Projects 

Dispossession marked the central theme in Libya’s history following the March on Rome, paving the way for Italian settlers to occupy previously inhabited land. Between 1938 and 1939, 20,000 Italian settlers landed in Libya to work on farms once many of the indigenous inhabitants did not survive outside of internment camps. On a state visit to Libya at the same time, Hermann Göring observed the settlement process was inspired to recreate the same system in his own backyard.31 To Göring, Italy’s mission to “cleanse” the land by displacing indigenous peoples and re-settling Italians was eugenic in nature, fitting perfectly with the growing state ideology of racial and genetic purity that was sweeping Germany. When it came time for Germany to begin imagining its rule over conquered Eastern European territories, Göring inspired Nazi leaders to look at Italian policies in Libya as inspiration for how Germany could “cleanse” their own periphery as well. Instead of Italians settling in Arab lands, Germans would settle in Slavic lands.32 The Nazi dream for Eastern European became eugenic and ethnically hierarchical in nature due to the example Italy had set in Libya. 

“Politics of prestige” also worked to motivate the Italian settler to move to Libya. To replace the 100,000 interned Libyans, the Fascist state began an aggressive program promoting migration to Libya, citing the same justifications used to manufacture consent abroad for Italian conquest. In addition to aiding the Italian state in returning to its Roman-era borders, settlers were also enticed by the prospect of social mobility.33 Pride, power, and propaganda all played integral roles in motivating the settler to move to the unfinished colony. Since the colonial administration allowed indiscriminate violence against indigenous inhabitants, settlers felt emboldened to join in the “pacification” of the land. 

Long before settlers arrived in Libya, the state prepared for the wave of migration by employing a department of “colonial scientists” to survey the land and prepare it for its new inhabitants. Soils and water tables were tested, intensive road networks were designed and constructed, and lands were cleared and prepared for agricultural use. The state vision of mass resettlement necessitated such a large infrastructure plan as the expected number of settlers in Italian Africa was projected to be anywhere between 1.5 million and 6.5 million by 1950.34In reality, the number of settlers that came to Libya was a fraction of the number initially anticipated. In the first wave, only 20,000 colonists arrived on Italy’s new shore.35 

The settlers who were present in Libya during the Fascist period were emboldened by their continued connection to the Italian heartland. Many settlers were encouraged to make the move to Libya because they trusted Mussolini to his word, as he promised in this new era, they were living “on Italian, not foreign soil.”36 The reality was much more complex, as the material reality of Italian Libya never fulfilled the Fascist imaginations of turning the land into the breadbasket of Italy, as the Fascists had imagined it to be in Roman times. 

What many settlers did not realize until their arrival in the supposed “fourth shore” would be the intrusion the Italian state would have into their lives and private affairs. While they were supplied with Italian farmsteads, Italian homes even fit with Italian matches, settlers came to realize that their lives and their autonomy too would be controlled by the state. Pergher compares their experience to the American frontier, where even areas and populations praised for their “self-reliance” had their material reality framed by state conquest and administration of occupied territories.37 State intervention into the private affairs of settlers led to growing resentment across settlements, contributing to settler pushback against state planning in the colony. Settler families often had their own ideologies on how to run their families and farms, oftentimes coming at odds with the rigid Fascist standardization protocol.38 For a settler population that was smaller than expected in a land with active resistance still flaring across time and space, the need for standard procedure across settlements was paramount for the Fascist state to solidify power. When settlers began to ignore or disobey guidelines handed down by the colonial authority, the state itself began to lose its ability to function optimally. Additionally, this vacuum of power allowed for resistance efforts to gain a foothold and challenge the weakened colonial regime. 

Pergher’s account of the settler experience includes interviews she conducted with former settlers. Many of her accounts chronicle how the persistent state propaganda of “Italianizing the Fourth Shore” actually had the opposite effect in much of the consciousness of the settlers. The resistance of the settlers to the state’s messaging indicated the degree to which the settlers themselves acted as independent agents, separate from the state’s vision and imagination of Libya. The state’s continuous manufacture of consent for the settlement of Libya allowed for settlers to realize just how “un-Italian” their land of conquest was. 

The habits of Italian daily life were missing … the Arabs were different, … [it was] “another world.39 

Luigi Bacchiega, an Italian settler who moved to Libya when he was twenty-four years old

In the dreams of Fascists of Rome, Italian settlers were to have a much closer relationship with the party. In order to settle, the state mandated that at least one member of the family had to be a party member. In reality, this ambition fell flat. The settlers that came to Libya were largely from peasant backgrounds with little connection to the party, as the state could not incentivize Italians with stronger party loyalties to move to the state’s “fourth shore” in construction.40 The peasant populations were allowed to settle in Libya due to the low demand from other segments of Italian society. While also motivated by nationalistic ambition, many peasants saw settlement in Libya as a means to an end to create a new, more prosperous life than what they had on the peninsula. Many peasant farmers arrived in Libya to homes and farms that were considerably more lavish than what they were used to in the peninsula. There was an implicit tension in the requirements to settle that the Fascist state dictated. The settlement of Libya was branded as a pathway to upward mobility for those in Italy who were landless or unemployed, allowing those populations to gain their own subsistence homestead for the first time. This however was in conflict with the party line of sbracciantizzazione, standardizing agricultural labor by favoring economic expansion for those who already own land.41 The tension between the imagined and constructed agricultural policy led to institutional mismanagement and further erosion of the Fascist dream of an economic standard for the Libyan settler colony. 

For many settlers, work did not begin for at least several months after they arrived, allowing them to establish seeming “lives of luxury” before the farm season. Once the real work began, settlers began to further resent the state apparatus controlling them from across the Mediterranean.42 The result of the state’s relaxation of ideological demands on settlers created a more heterogeneous settler population than initially expected, contributing to the seemingly incomplete nature of Libya as a Fascist settler colony. 

Even with the express state goal to make all indigenous Libyans invisible, the lack of Italian settlers motivated to make the colonial project self-sustaining required a re-evaluation of the “problem of the Arab-population.” Some in the colonial regime seeked to assimilate Libyans they deemed as “advanced” by granting the population “metropolitan citizenship.” Others vehemently opposed any concessions to the state line of indigenous extermination. The belief held by many in the colonial administration was that if waves of settler migration could create an Italian ethnic majority in Libya, the so-called “Arab problem” would become obsolete.43 As the years dragged on, the uptick in settler migration never came, and the settler colonial administration was left to scramble to project legitimacy and control in the limbo of its own creation. The Fascist state’s lack of ideological consensus on the status of indigenous Libyans after the initial failures of the first waves of settlement speaks to the threat that the survival of the land’s indigenous people posed to the shaky foundations of the settler state. 


The settler projects in Libya were created with the express purpose of replacing one people with another, replacing indigenous society with an Italian “Fourth Shore.” The violence that paved the way for the settler period continued on into the years of settlement. The Italian state at many opportunities purposefully targeted not only indigenous peoples, but the institutions that maintained their way of life. Because resistance to Fascist colonialism was born out of Sanusi institutions, the Fascists made dismantling these networks of solidarity and community care a state priority. Up until the final demise of the settler state in 1943, agricultural supply chains were exterminated, educational programs were closed, and indigenous practices of community governance were eradicated.44 The precision and degree of destruction used to level all indigenous networks of community, economics, and governance meant that when independence was finally won for the nation, the afterlives of Fascist policy haunted the population for decades. The Libyan identity formed alongside and in opposition to the Fascist state forced onto the people within Italy’s colonial borders. What began as the Italian state’s conquest of fractured indigenous societies on the hinterlands of the decaying Ottoman state was then forced into a rigid, genocidal state apparatus that attempted to implement the Italian’s new state ideology beyond the land’s pre-existing boundaries. Upon freedom from fascism and later national independence, the first task the Libyan people faced in building their state upon the ashes of an incomplete Fascist system was what it meant to be Libyan, independent of resisting foreign foes. 


1 Roberta Pergher, Mussolini’s Nation-Empire: Sovereignty and Settlement (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017), 37.

2 Pergher, Mussolini’s Nation-Empire: Sovereignty and Settlement, 37-38. 

3 Horvath, Ronald J. “A Definition of Colonialism.” Current Anthropology 13, no. 1 (1972): 47. 

4 Patrick Bernhard. “Hitler’s Africa in the East: Italian Colonialism as a Model for German Planning in Eastern Europe.” Journal of Contemporary History 51, no. 1 (2016): 68.

5 Pergher, Mussolini’s Nation-Empire: Sovereignty and Settlement, 22. 

6 Nir Arielli, Fascist Italy and the Middle East, 1933-40 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 2.

7 Davide Rodongo, Fascism’s European Empire: Italian Occupation During the Second World War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 47. 

8International Crisis Group. “THE MAKING OF INDEPENDENT ERITREA.” In ERITREA: THE SIEGE STATE. Brussels: International Crisis Group, 2010

9 Ali Abdullatif Ahmida, Genocide in Libya: Shar, a Hidden Colonial History (New York: Routledge, 2020), 9.

10 Ahmida, Genocide in Libya: Shar, a Hidden Colonial History, 9-10.

11 Pergher, Mussolini’s Nation-Empire, 38.

12 Pergher, Mussolini’s Nation-Empire, 38.

13 Ahmida, Genocide in Libya: Shar, a Hidden Colonial History, 5. 

14 Smits, Rosan, Floor Janssen, Ivan Briscoe, and Terri Beswick. “Libya’s Recent History and the Path to Revolution.” Revolution and Its Discontents: State, Factions and Violence in the New Libya. Clingendael Institute, 2013. 

15 Ahmida, Genocide in Libya: Shar, a Hidden Colonial History, 147.

16 Ryan, Eileen. “Violence and the Politics of Prestige: The Fascist Turn in Colonial Libya,” 125.

17 Pergher, Mussolini’s Nation-Empire: Sovereignty and Settlement, 45. 

18 Pergher, Mussolini’s Nation-Empire: Sovereignty and Settlement, 49.

19 Pergher, Mussolini’s Nation-Empire: Sovereignty and Settlement, 45-46. 

20 Evans-Pritchard, Edward Evan. 1949. The Sanusi of Cyrenaica. Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 171. 

21 Pergher, Mussolini’s Nation-Empire: Sovereignty and Settlement, 6.

22 Ahmida, Genocide in Libya: Shar, a Hidden Colonial History, 9-10. 

23 Ahmida, Genocide in Libya: Shar, a Hidden Colonial History, 3. 

24 Ahmida, Genocide in Libya: Shar, a Hidden Colonial History, 75.

25 Ahmida, Genocide in Libya: Shar, a Hidden Colonial History, 66. 

26 Ahmida, Genocide in Libya: Shar, a Hidden Colonial History, 17. 

27 Ryan, Eileen. “Violence and the Politics of Prestige: The Fascist Turn in Colonial Libya.” Modern Italy 20, no. 2 (May 2015): 135.

28 Ryan, Eileen. “Violence and the Politics of Prestige: The Fascist Turn in Colonial Libya.” Modern Italy 20, no. 2 (May 2015): 123. 

29 Ryan, Eileen. “Violence and the Politics of Prestige: The Fascist Turn in Colonial Libya,” 126.

30 Bernhard, “Hitler’s Africa in the East: Italian Colonialism as a Model for German Planning in Eastern Europe,” 68. 

31 Ahmida, Genocide in Libya: Shar, a Hidden Colonial History, 10.

32 Bernhard, “Hitler’s Africa in the East: Italian Colonialism as a Model for German Planning in Eastern Europe,” 67. 

33 Roberta Pergher, Mussolini’s Nation-Empire: Sovereignty and Settlement (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017), 6.

34 Bernhard, “Hitler’s Africa in the East: Italian Colonialism as a Model for German Planning in Eastern Europe,” 68. 

35 Bernhard, “Hitler’s Africa in the East: Italian Colonialism as a Model for German Planning in Eastern Europe,” 75. 

36 Pergher, Mussolini’s Nation-Empire: Sovereignty and Settlement, 117. 

37 Pergher, Mussolini’s Nation-Empire: Sovereignty and Settlement, 117-118.

38 Pergher, Mussolini’s Nation-Empire: Sovereignty and Settlement, 129. 

39 Pergher, Mussolini’s Nation-Empire: Sovereignty and Settlement, 118.

40 Pergher, Mussolini’s Nation-Empire: Sovereignty and Settlement, 122. 

41 Pergher, Mussolini’s Nation-Empire: Sovereignty and Settlement, 124.

42 Pergher, Mussolini’s Nation-Empire: Sovereignty and Settlement, 125.

43 Pergher, Mussolini’s Nation-Empire: Sovereignty and Settlement, 161. 

44 Ahmida, Genocide in Libya: Shar, a Hidden Colonial History, 145-146.