Archive for February, 2011

Revolutions, Children, and the Glimmer of Possibilities

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

In the last weeks before a child is born, for those waiting, many points of awareness creep into place while awe stands at the precipice. You have to stare at or put your ear to the mother’s fleshy globe while thinking, “There’s a human being in there.” You don’t know what sort of proportions and characteristics from his parents he’s taken – you wonder if he can hear you, and most importantly, understand. When he pushes his small foot or his bottom against her raised flesh, you must graze your hand over the area and smile or squeal – you know that it’s real. There’s a human being in there.  Your attraction to the swell of belly, whose rise came from fire, is a warm greedy one. It glows under your roving fingers. You wonder how he’s holding on, then what flips him around, his head having become so low your sister can barely walk. How does he know it’s time to break through? What tells him that he’s finished, has no further room to grow in this tight globe, ready to cross over – to be amongst the rest of us?

Is this instinct of crossing over akin to the actions of revolutionary men and women? Can we look at the events during the past month in Tunisia and Egypt and now Libya, Yemen, Iran, and Bahrain, which started with men literally aflame, catching across the Middle East, igniting people who determinedly, literally and symbolically standing their ground, demanded their freedoms, their rights to be human, as an inherent instinct to break through, cross over, to be born again in a new world that provides enough room to grow? And if so, should we figure in the same awe of the bystanders whose hearts ooze at the possibilities of this new life as well as the proverbial “growing pains” that wait on the other side? Can we admit that we know very little of what the future holds and what we have ushered in? How do we feel about that when it’s our sense of freedom that is on the line?

Egypt’s revolutionary success garnered much different reactions in the U.S. than it did in the Middle East. Well, at least in Illinois and Lebanon – which is all I can speak for. It was while I waited for my nephew to be born in Illinois that I watched Egypt’s revolution unfurl into blog posts, Web pictures, You Tube videos, talking heads, and conversations around every corner. Most of my American friends found the revolution pretty awesome and had their TV’s tuned in; although interested, they knew little about the context and wondered from me if I had a take on the situation.

Fox News warned of the Muslim Caliphate and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood; some news sources reminded everyone what happened as a result of the 1979 Iranian Revolution — this was surely the same thing, 32 years later (of course there are arguments as to how it’s different). These theories and fears have been echoed by some, who repeat them as fact and with a regret for the current events. As if what should have happened is that the Egyptians and the many, many others across the Middle East who reddened and swelled at the possibilities – that they could possibly have a voice in their futures – should just get real, go home, shut up! and swallow another 30 years because surely the alternative is much, much worse. But for those Egyptians in the streets of Cairo on the night of February 11, they were reborn – if only because they tore away that thick layer of doubt that was built into their country for over a generation, that the only way was oppression. I’ll bet most of them and the many who celebrated from their homes that night were awake till dawn, their fingers and toes, their fresh faces wet with dew.

In Beirut, taxi drivers offered congratulations, mabrouk, to passengers. People danced till morning in celebration. People had been glued to the Internet for weeks, waiting to see if it was possible, if Egypt could bring down their enemy at home. It all meant something. That the “birth pangs of the new Middle East” could be self-determined, something that no one else should or could conceive. As I write, Yemen, Bahrain, and Iran mourn their own martyrs while in Libya civilians are being massacred by their own army in the attempt to bring down their own dictator-enemy of the last 40 years, who has manifested just how deulsional, deranged, deceptive, and of course rapacious, one becomes after “owning” a country for 40 years, while leaders around the world think it’s a good idea to hold sanctions against Libya and not deny their refugees. This red-hot sprawl of freedom-fighting across the Middle East – is it possible that the delay of revolution had been rooted in a collective doubt? That is, that people had been convinced that corruptive rule was the only way for them?

“Our generation let our children down,” my friend, who’s 45, tells me. “How did we accept these leaders to be in power for all this time?”

How did a man on fire present a tipping point in history? Hadn’t thousands of others gone up in flames by blowing themselves up in the name of “freedom”? Is humanity gaining a foothold over ideology?

As Tunisia’s revolution set forth, Lebanese did not hesitate to show solidarity – even as their own government switched hands, even as the sectarianism lives on – the red flag suddenly in eyeshot on Facebook profiles and dormitory windows. These red flags in Lebanon were an expression of the desire of many to see humanity trump ideology, to see something better for their futures – because they know and have seen that it could be better.

The snow hadn’t stopped falling for 24 hours. My friend’s husband sat in his recliner in Chicago, Illinois, while the biggest snow storm to sweep the country in decades covered ¾ of the U.S., and the Egyptian Revolution rocked across his TV screen. The family room window was frosted over and the kids were tucked warmly in their beds. He began typing furiously when his wife asked him what he was doing. Call it instinct, a glimmer of possibility, or the triumph of humanity that inspired him, when he said “I’m starting a revolution.”