Korean-American Student Joins Libyan Rebels, “Thought It Would Be Cool”
Summer is winding down and the worst of the heat is over. For many, school is just around the corner. Some try their best to squeeze in short trips before the grind starts all over again. For Korean-American UCLA student Chris Jeon, that short trip comprises of firing a Russian-made 12 gauge shotgun at the scattered remnants of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi‘s supporters in Libya.
“It is the end of my summer vacation, so I thought it would be cool to join the rebels,” the 21-year-old told The National, an Abu Dhabi newspaper. “This is one of the only real revolutions.” Bradley Hope, a reporter for The National and the first to encounter Jeon on the Libyan frontline, paints a scene that is at once hilarious and horrifying:
“How do you fire this thing?” he asked on Wednesday as a bearded rebel handed him an AK-47. Locating the trigger of the assault rifle and switching off the safety, Mr Jeon fired it in the air in two short bursts.
“I want to fight in Sirte!” he proclaimed, using hand gestures and pointing west towards Sirte. Whether the rebels understood him was far from clear. “It’s hard to communicate. I don’t really speak any Arabic,” he said.
Here’s a video of Jeon, decked out in a blue Los Angeles Jersey and grey kaffiyeh, palling around with his new friends:
Though The National initially reported that the rebels “had clearly taken to the mathematics student,” there are now conflicting reports. According to a Friday tweet by Al Jazeera producer Evan Hill, Jeon has since been asked (or perhaps gestured to) by the rebels to pack his bags and return to his dorm for the fall semester.
However, Bradley Hope has since contradicted those claims. On Sunday he tweeted that Jeon is still very much “celebrated” among the rebel brigades and was recently spotted sleeping in a rebel hospital in Ras Lanuf before hitching a ride back to the frontlines:
This is the last report we have of Jeon’s whereabouts. His friend Cody Soto told UCLA’s newspaper The Daily Bruin, “As soon as Chris says he’s going to do something…He’s so spontaneous.” The interview also reveals that Jeon had spent the summer interning at an investment bank in San Francisco, presumably so that he could fund his secret trip to Libya. His parents were unaware of his plans and Jeon had begged Hope not to reveal that information. It’ll be hard for Mr. and Mrs. Jeon to not know at this point.
There has been much debate about the value of Jeon’s actions. Certainly, the young UCLA student, described as having “no obvious political leaning,” has no direct investment in the Libyan rebel victory. Does he understand why there has been a revolution? Perhaps not — but then again, information may be even muddier for those who have been on the ground far longer, waging unclear battles to defend their homes and communities on a daily basis. Yes, he knows little of the “issues.” But he will learn more about the life of a Libyan rebel — sleeping in substandard conditions and bearing the blazing heat — than many of us will ever know. Yes, he has the luxury to choose whether he can travel to Libya or stay home in California. But he actually made the choice, while we continue to bicker overseas, unable to help in any concrete way.
What do you think of Jeon’s trip to Libya? Is he a lunatic, an overprivileged American, a daring adventurer, or a little of all three?
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TAGS: Chris Jeon • Korean • Libya • Muammar Gaddafi • UCLA
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