Wednesday, 23 February 2011

A Twist In The Paradigm

December 17, 2010: Christmas cheer, holidays, the shops heaving with goodies, strains of "Do they know it's Christmas?" in the distance. Like every year, the air was festive. Economic downturn or no economic downturn, Christian or non-Christian, it was Christmas, and we were going to have a good time. Africa, was the last thing on anyone's mind. Even though the song mentioned it. Three times an hour, every hour, on every station and music channel.

On that day, Mohamed Bouazizi, a twenty-six year-old vegetable seller, the sole provider for his family, set himself alight in protest against the heavy-handed treatment and humiliation at the hands of municipal officials in Sidi Bouzid, a Tunisian town, around 190 miles from Tunis. This desperate man's desperate attempt to make a statement about the system reeking with corruption and a government with no regard for it's people became the Arab world's Mangal Pandey moment. Bouazizi succumbed to his burns a couple of weeks later and Tunisia erupted. Protesters filled the streets. Hundreds died. Within days the president was ousted. And then it began in Egypt, then Bahrain, Yemen, Morrocco and now, in perhaps the most dramatic way so far, Libya. Many fear this is only the beginning; and they could be right

Like the events of the late 80s that led to the end of the cold war and the falling of the Iron Curtain, there will be far-reaching effects. The world as we knew it in December 2010 no longer exists. 

Much of the post-WW2 Arab world had become the ulitmate dystopian nightmare. Despots, flush with petro-dollars, kept the citizenry in check with brutal force and a brand of religious zealotry that debased and twisted a great religion into a control mechanism. For five decades the subjects remained subjugated. No one had counted on any kind of awakening. No one had counted on the power of the internet, on the realisation among the youth - who grew up far removed from the post-colonial influence their forefathers - that the extreme poverty, harsh oppression, rampant unemployment and widespread corruption were not normal. Flawed as they might be, images from the west, music, cinema, literature and ideas of freedom and liberty and democracy began to trickle in. Just as the spread of English in the Indian subcontinent acted like a unifying force, allowing the exchange of ideas with people from far flung corners of the country and helped galvanise its independence movement, the ease of communication with the internet played a role here. As did the awareness of their own image in the world. Apathy was replaced by anger and that anger was set alight by one burning man.

We're being beamed images of the stories as they are developing. Stories of joy and stories of absolute horror. We're watching one dictator fall after another. We're watching a people, a proud people take their destiny in their own hands. And we're watching western governments trip over each other looking like bumbling idiots. Each day is a developing story and there are now more questions than answers:
How much further will this spread? The youth in other countries around the world - Saudi Arabia, Iran, Burma, Uganda, Zimbabwe, North Korea, China, and even Pakistan are watching. You can feel the buzz and excitement in online forums and social networking sites. Click here for an interactive map showing the countries affected. They destroyed images of Gaddafi's Green Book in Libya. There are people itching to rip up a Little Red Book somewhere. Yesterday I received an invite to a Causes Page in India demanding the naming and shaming of corrupt bureaucrats and officials. It already has 39,000 followers. The Big State is looking shaky the world over.

What will happen next? Will true democracy take root? Do the people have the strength to see themselves through the difficult journey that is to come while each nation finds itself facing new realities? A similar revolution was once described as 'the best of times and the worst of times'. Which will it be here? Will we see human dignity returned to every man, woman and child? Will the Arab world emerge from the shackles that held it back for decades? 

What about the West? Where do we fit in? Do we fit in at all? We've always championed democracy, well guess what? It looks like we're going to get our wish. The developments render all prior calculations and assumptions useless. The old order has changed and is fast yeilding place to the new one and for once, we're not going to be calling the shots. Everything we stand for, every institution we believe in, every value we hold dear will be tested. I hope our leaders and politicians do the right thing. And I wish I knew what that was.

What of the vaccum in the power base? Will we see see the decline in the twisted religious fervour so favoured by those who sought to maintain a grip on their people? Or will we see the regions spiralling into the nightmare that my beloved Afghanistan is being skewered in for the last 33 years? I remember that revolution well, jubilant crowds shouting "Azaadi! Azaadi!" (Freedom! Freedom!) in the streets of Kabul waving little flags. Just like they are doing in Egypt today. I was 10 then. Yep, my revulsion of communists (Big State, control, control, control) runs deep. There was no religious sloganeering at the time of the Saur Revolution. All that changed a couple of decades later.

And what about security? There can be no talk of security without addressing a significant threat: stockpiles of tens of thousands of weapons, and the possibility of their proliferation into the hands of those who seek to harm us. The irony of course is that we made and peddled most of the ordnance.

What about petrol? Well, to be honest, I don't care. Free markets adjust and correct themselves. They always do. Besides, Crossrail is coming. I am sorted.

The only thing that matters now is peace and stability. There's a whole new generation of people within sights of its first taste of freedom. Let's hope it happens with the least amount of bloodshed. I choose to be optimistic. We could be looking at the beginnings of peace in the Middle East.

While barbarism continues to kill in the Middle East, nature unleashed her fury on Middle Earth.
New Zealand is experiencing what is being described as it's darkest hour. A-Six-Point-Fiver has left a nation devasted, dozens dead, hundreds injured - a stark reminder of our insignificance in the grand scheme of things. I remember Rob from my Ahlman Academy days. He was from Christchurch. I wonder if he lived there. He would be 40 now, probably with a family - kids as old as mine. It's been 30 years. I hope you're okay Rob.
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