The Story of Yousef El Musulmani [Correction]

June 18, 2012 § Leave a comment

Recently, I wrote an article “An Italian Revert & A Martyr: The Story of Yousef El Musulmani“, which I picked up from various online sources. It was a very important story closely linked to the great Umar Mukhtar (see article here).

Much to my embarrassment (at the same time enlightening), I received comments from Ennio Scannapieco, an Italian writer who has written many articles on Yousef  El Musulmani (formerly known as Carmine Jorio). Having read his comments on my article, I believe that I have to give the man his due credit by publishing his comments and the corrected version of the story of Yousef  El Musulmani. Following were his original comments and the corrected facts:

Comment #1

Ennio Scannapieco  [June 16, 2012 at 10:02 AM]

As I have written five long articles about the history of Carmine Jorio, alias Yusuf el-Musulmani, I can say that the Fathi Ali Saahli book gives us many errors. First, Jorio was born in Altavilla Silentina, near Salerno, and not in Naples; his born-date was December 8, 1892, and not 1883; he joined the Italian army in 1912, not in 1901, so he could not partecipate to the firs Italian invasion of Libya; he was in the Italian garrison of Tucrah (or Tocra), and not in Derna, when he, on the night of the July 14, 1916, left his garrison; little after, he was captured by a Bedouin caravan that left him to Ajadabiah, before the great Sanusi Muhammad Idris.

In Ajdabiah Carmine Jorio escaped to the gallows because he was taken under the protection of the Idris’ brother, Sayied Muhammad er-Rida. So the Italian deserter accepted to stay among the Sanusi Mujahedins,to converted to Islam becoming Yusuf el-Musulmani, and to fight along with his friend Omar al-Mukhtar. It is very true that, before being shot after the trial, he refused to return to his former religion, but he done that only for the honour of his two sons remained among the Mujaheddin. But is very false – or better, ridiculous – that someone offered to Jorio the life in exchange for his return to the Christian religion. For the Italian army. the Jorio’s fault of betrayal was so great that no power might save his life.
The book of Fathi Ali Saahli is an example of a strange and inaccurate way of writing the history.

Very sincerely
Ennio Scannapieco, Salerno, Italy.

Comment #2:

Ennio Scannapieco  [June 18, 2012 at 8:28 AM]

Dear Mr. Othman:

many thanks for your very kind e-mail.

The incorrectness noted about the Fathi Ali Saahli’s booklet are not offensive for me, but perhaps only for some little historical truths. In Italy the story of Carmine Jorio/Yusuf el-Musulmani (not Carmine Jorio Giuseppe) is very well-known, al least until his escape from Tocrah’s Italian garrison and after his capture (on November 16, 1928) at the Gicherra Oasis, near Jialo. Jorio was born on the December 9, 1892, in the little town of Altavilla Silentina, province of Salerno; in 1911 he married a young girl of his country, but on the March 21, 1912, he was enlisted by the Italian army, and sent in Libya with the 79° regiment of infantry.

As proved by the Italian document (a sentence to death for desertion dated December 30, 1916), Jorio escaped from the prison of the Tocrah garrison (in which he had been shut up for row and drunkenness) and began his great adventure among the Sanusi Mujahedins. These are simple truths easily checked. Then, following a story that Jorio herself told to the Italian military authorities after his capture at Gicherra, after his escape from the military prison, he was captured – still drunk – by a Libyan caravan that took him first at el-Abjar, and then to Ajdabiah, residence of the Great Sanusi chief Muhammad Idris, the future king Idris I°.

Sentenced to the gallows, Jorio was saved, at the last moment, by the Great Sanusi’s brother Sayied Muhammad el-Rida. El-Rida has been infomed that Jorio was a marks-man (or a good shot) in his regiment, so he offered to Jorio a chance of salvation, but in exchange for a “little” favour: to kill for him two el-Rida’s enemies of another tribe!… Jorio accepted, and done so well this charge, that el-Rida took him under his protection and proposed to the Italian deserter to join with the Sanusi Mujahedins, taking however the oath to the Sanusi Brotherhood. Jorio had not other choices, so he accepted the proposal. Of course, this last part of the history is unverifiable, as we have only the words of Jorio himself. It is sure, nevertheless, that the poor Italian deserter, after some months learned very well the Arab language and the Qur’an, and accepted to be converted to the Islamic religion, taking the new name of Yusuf el-Musulmani.

But the true Jorio’s conversion was another one: he understood that the Libyan people had all rights to fight against the violent Italian colonialism, so decided to help the Libyan fighters for freedom, becoming friend and lieutenant of Omar al-Muthkar. Jorio married two Arab women, the second was a girl of great beauty named, in the italian documents, “Teber ben-Mussa”, but whose correct name was, following Fathi Ali Saahli, Tibra Musa al-Majebri (but another Libyan source gives a little different name: Tibra Musa al-Miqires). In 1928 the woman was captured by Italian soldiers, and to free her, Jorio fell in the fatal trap of Gicherra Oasis.

Even if some accounts of this story were in the booklet “Il mistero di Cufra” (1932) written by the fascist author Dante Maria Tuninetti, the true story of Carmine Jorio was known in Italy only after the Second World War and the fall of the Fascism. In 1931 a good Italian journalist, Francesco Maratea (1889-1977), during a trip in Libya interviewed the general Pietro Maletti who had questioned Carmine Jorio after his arrest and during the trial; but only in 1950 Maratea could publish a long reportage about the entire story of Yusuf el-Musulmani on an Italian magazine.

In 2004 another famed Italian journalist, Gian Antonio Stella, discovered again and popularized this exotic history. Four years after Stella wrote also a historic fiction (titled “Carmine Pasha”) in which Carmine Jorio is transformed in a literary personage. My dream to write an entire historical book on the adventurous life of Yusuf El-Musulmani has been frustrated, up till now, by my inability to purchase one of the works published in Libya on this subject. Even if a book as that one of Fathi Ali Saahli give us many biographical inaccuracies, I think that it might be very useful for my aim. Might you give me an advice or help for this purpose?

Apologizing for the length of this mail, thank you for your patient attention.

Very cordially, Ennio Scannapieco, Salerno, Italy

To the respected Ennio Scannapieco, my sincere gratitude to you for taking much of your precious time to advise me on the discrepancies. In the near future, I hope to use the new information from you and publish a more accurate article on Yousef El Musulmani. Thank you so much, Ennio Scannapieco.


Umar Mukhtar: Lion Of The Desert

June 12, 2012 § 1 Comment

Umar Mukhtar (1862 – September 16, 1931), was born in the small village of Janzour, near Tobruk in eastern Barqa (Cyrenaica) in Libya. Beginning in 1912, he organized and, for nearly twenty years, led native resistance to Italian colonization of Libya. The Italians captured and hanged him in 1931.Umar Mukhtar

He was orphaned early and was adopted by Sharif El Gariani, nephew of Hussein Ghariani, a political-religious leader in Cyrenaica. He received his early education at the local mosque and then studied for eight years at the Senussi university at Jaghbub, which was also the headquarters of the Senussi Movement.

In October 1911, during the Italo-Turkish War, an Italian naval contingent under the command of Admiral Luigi Faravelli reached the shores of Libya, and demanded that the Turkish administration and garrison surrender their territory to the Italians or incur the immediate destruction of the city of Tripoli. The Turks and their Libyan allies withdrew to the countryside instead of surrendering, and the Italians bombarded the city for three days, then proclaimed the Tripolitanians to be “committed and strongly bound to Italy.” This marked the beginning of a series of battles between the Italian colonial forces and the Libyan armed opposition under Umar Mukhtar.

A teacher of the Qur’an by profession, Mukhtar was also skilled in the strategies and tactics of desert warfare. He knew local geography well and used that knowledge to advantage in battles against the Italians, who were unaccustomed to desert warfare. Mukhtar repeatedly led his small, highly alert groups in successful attacks against the Italians, after which they would fade back into the desert terrain. Mukhtar’s men skillfully attacked outposts, ambushed troops, and cut lines of supply and communication. The Italian army was left astonished and embarrassed by his guerrilla tactics

“I’m not a sweet bite of a meal anyone can swallow. No matter how long they try to change my belief and opinion, Allah is going to let them down” Umar Mukhtar

Umar Mukhtar’s struggle of nearly twenty years came to an end on September 11, 1931, when he was wounded in battle near Slonta, then captured by the Italian army. The Italians treated the native leader hero as a prize catch. His resilience had an impact on his jailers, who later remarked upon his steadfastness. His interrogators stated that Mukhtar recited verses of peace from the Qur’an.

In three days, Mukhtar was tried, convicted, and, on September 14, 1931, sentenced to be hanged publicly (historians and scholars have questioned whether his trial was fair or impartial). When asked if he wished to say any last words, Mukhtar replied with a Qur’anic phrase: “Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un.” (“To God we belong and to Him we shall return.”). On September 16, 1931, on the orders of the Italian court and with Italian hopes that Libyan resistance would die with him, Mukhtar was hanged before his followers in the concentration camp of Suluq at the age of 82 years.

Today, Mukhtar’s face appears on the Libyan ten-dinar bill.

Umar Mukhtar

His final years were depicted in the movie Lion of the Desert (1981), starring Anthony Quinn, Oliver Reed, and Irene Papas. The Italian authorities had banned the film in 1982 because, in the words of the then Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti, it was “damaging to the honor of the army”.

The last act of the government’s intervention against the film was on April 7, 1987, in Trento; afterward, MPs from Democrazia Proletaria asked Parliament to show the movie at the Chamber of Deputies.

The movie was finally broadcasted on television in Italy by Sky Italy on June 11, 2009 during the official visit to Italy of Libya’s former leader Muammar Gaddafi (who wore a photograph of Umar Mukhtar hanging on his chest while on the state visit, and brought along Umar Mukhtar’s elderly son).

from the movie Lion of the Desert:
Umar Mukhtar: We do not kill prisoners!
Arab Warrior: They do it to us!
Umar Mukhtar: They are not our teachers!

With the Libyan uprising beginning February 17, 2011, Umar Mukhtar again became a symbol for a united, free Libya and his picture is depicted on various flags and posters of the Free Libya movement. Rebel forces named one of their brigades the “Umar Mukhtar brigade” after him.

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