Libya's Fighting Guitar Heroes

A picture of a guitar-strumming combatant has emerged from Sirte

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There's a steady stream of dramatic photos and videos emerging as National Transitional Council forces move ever closer to seizing Muammar Qaddafi's hometown of Sirte and scoring a definitive victory over the ousted Libyan leader's remaining loyalists. But one photo in particular has captivated the international press: a shot--or series of shots--by Aris Messinis of Agence France-Presse showing an unnamed anti-Qaddafi fighter strumming a guitar on Monday in Sirte while bullet casings fly and his fellow soldiers fire their guns around him.

Something about the guitar player's equanimity amid chaotic warfare and the bright orange acoustic guitar drowning out drab green uniforms and bullet-pocked gray walls has resonated with people. "It shows pure human spirit and proves war doesn't help!!!" one commenter at the Facebook page of the U.K.'s Channel 4 News declares. The mystery of the moment is also intriguing. "Nothing is yet known about the musician," Australia's Nine News observes. Channel 4, which reports that its "technical wizards assure us [the photo] has not been Photoshopped," asks its viewers to suggest songs the fighter may have been playing (some criticize the question or argue that the photo is staged, but others take the bait). Here's another angle on the stunning scene, in which you can literally see smoke spewing from one of the guns:

This isn't the first spotting of a guitar-strumming rebel fighter, however. Over the summer, Xan Rice wrote a piece for The Atlantic in which he described how a fighter named Abdulfatah Shaka would play the guitar during lulls in the fighting in the besieged city of Misrata, and taunt snipers by singing the Pink Floyd song "Mother," particularly the key line, "Mother, do you think they'll drop the bomb?" Qaddafi's troops stole Shaka's acoustic and electric guitars when they raided his house, but the 22-year-old later found a guitar with a broken neck when clearing a building used by snipers.

In April, the AP ran a story about Massoud Abu Assir, an amateur 38-year-old "Libyan Bob Dylan" whose rock band had split up after his bass player was captured by Qaddafi's forces and his drummer joined rebel fighters. "My homeland will be strong. My homeland will be free," he sang in one performance for rebels on the battlefield outside the city of Ajdabiya. A month earlier, the Los Angeles Times described another Abu Assir performance of the same song:

Fellow fighters put down their weapons and joined in the chorus, belting out lyrics of defiance aimed at Moammar Kadafi's regime in Tripoli.

A rocket whistled in and exploded about a hundred yards away, spraying sand dunes with shrapnel. The singing fighters yelped and ran for cover.

Getty captured Abu Assir singing, guitar and gun slung over the same shoulder, in April:

There are other powerful images emerging from Sirte beyond the photo of the latest guitar-playing Libyan fighter. Check out this video footage from Al Jazeera:

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.