Who would have thought that a poor, disgruntled street vendor from Tunisia would be the catalyst for the events in North Africa and the Middle East almost two months after he set himself on fire and one month after his death? But Mohamed Bouazizi is literally the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. His lone act of desperation gave rise to a outpouring of sympathy and compassion that no one around the world could have expected.
Within a month, the President of Tunisia, Ben Ali, would quit along with the Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi. Since the outbreak of protests, more than 200 Tunisians have been killed. Certainly their deaths are to be lamented. But the result of their sacrifice is nothing less that a different, and hopefully better future for Tunisia and all its people.
But the advance of this new phenomenon didn't stop with Tunisia. Algeria suddenly found itself with multiple incidents of disgruntled citizens who copied Bouazizi's suicidal formula in front of the masses. Suddenly, protests were springing up all across North Africa and the Middle East, most lasting no more than a few trembling days. To date, there are still some protests continuing elsewhere, and there are indications that this could still spread to many other countries.
Nowhere, however, did this nouveau jeu take hold more forcefully than in Egypt. The fact that Egypt is a cornerstone of US influence in the region has not escaped its citizenry who have decided to ride this wave of discontent as far as it will take them. As I write this, it feels as if I'm watching one of Mohammed Ali's greatest fights, his first one against Sonny Liston when no one knew who in the world Cassius Clay was and what would ever possess him to fight the mighty Liston.
But there has been one most amazing continuity among almost all of these protests. Whether in Tunisia, Algeria, Yemen, Jordan or Egypt, the people have filled the streets with anger and disdain, but -- and this is crucial -- without any firearms. There have been killings, maimings, and much bloodshed to be sure, but nearly all of it has come at the hands of governments who have tried to deal with their citizenry with old, barbaric Middle-Age techniques that look almost foolish and comical to the ever-present phone/camera of the modern citizen.
In fact, every attempt by these governments to subdue their people by heavy-handed, last-century means, has come back to bite them in their derrieres. The scenes on February 2, 2011, of men on camels and horses riding through Tahrir Square would have made the highlight reels of Funniest Animal Videos if it weren't so tragic. I'm sure there are many in the Western nations who had their jaws drop to the floor the first time they witnessed this "attack" on the protesters by paid thugs of the government. Perhaps more than one marketing guru at Cirque du Soleil or Barnam and Bailey's whipped out their ipad and started taking notes.
But the people are steadfast in their demand and as equally steadfast in their non-use of firearms. Yes, there have been more than 300 souls killed in this current uprising, but the retaliation has never been, "an eye for an eye." Rather, they have chosen a more Jesus-like approach, "turn the other cheek." And while there has been a desire to defend the group, that desire has been one of defense only, not retaliation and revenge. To date, I know of no one who has vowed to kill the government official that killed their brother, or sister, or mother, or father, or... "
I am hopeful that the Egyptians will get the change that they have fought for and some have died for. I think most of the world is completely behind them, and anything short of a Mubarak ouster would be unacceptable. They have my hopes and prayers.
What if the citizens of the US tried the same thing?
Americans have a fondness for one of Thomas Jefferson's more famous quotes, "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants." This declaration has become almost commonplace wherever far right-wing people in both parties meet. Sometimes the person carrying the sign is also carrying a weapon, perhaps even concealed.
This quote has become part and parcel of those who believe that the only way to successfully fight a corrupt government is with gun violence and bloodshed galore. That's one reason why there are an estimated 300,000,000 guns in private hands in the US today. That's why the US citizen possesses 50% of the entire world's private ownership of guns. We have 4% of the world's population that owns 50% of its private guns. Things that make ya go hmmmmmmmmmmmm.
It gets worse. Of the entire population of the US, only 25% own guns. That means that only 1% of the world's population possesses 50% of the world's private guns. Many probably own enough to take out a small nearby community.
Americans are also fond of their 2nd Amendment. They point to it proudly as the wisdom of the founding fathers who knew that someday their progeny would need to lift up arms to take down a future tyrannical government that had usurped power. Certainly in the era of the 18th Century that seemed a most logical conclusion. When your enemy has a gun, you're better off matching his firepower than having to plead to his conscience and good will for a fair hand.
But that's old wisdom. That concept demands that we exclude all other possibilities. The idea that only guns will win a revolution presupposes that all other methods are doomed to failure. Obviously, Tunisia and Egypt have shown that other paths exist as well.
For a long time the US government has sold out the American people. Since the era of Reaganomics, the US has undergone a trickle-up program that has seen the top 1% of its citizenry reap double-digit increments in wealth while the bottom 20% fell deeper into debt and poverty. We have seen our poor, minority youth being shipped off to foreign shores which did not threaten the US in the least, only to be killed and buried. At the same time, our wealthy elite have raped and pillaged a large part of the third world's natural resources while our Military Industrial Complex has inflicted death and destruction on countless tens of millions of others.
And what does the modern American patriot do, his gun by his side and his vision focused forward? With the bankers stealing his money and his military engaged in world hegemony, he lashes out at the only obvious choice, other poor Americans. True to the propagandized mass media that surrounds and influences the average American, more often than not, he is likely to join protests against helping other, needy Americans.
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