[“Sabbath” looks at work we do beyond our careers.]
The Work of Courage and Freedom
A few weeks ago, a movement began in Tunisia. Now it has spread to Egypt. Brave women and men, young and old, are stepping in front of riot police and tanks. They sending a message to their governments: It’s time to change. In Tunisia, the long-time President/Dictator fled the country. President/Dictator Hosni Mubarak is hanging on in Egypt – for now.
These stories and the video that accompany them inspire us. For Americans, they remind us of the stories of our own country’s founding. However, we often forget the work and risk that go with rebellion. In the Spring of 2009, protesters rose up in Iran. A young girl named Neda was shot and bled to death on the street. That image inflamed the country for a few weeks, but the government cracked down. Protest leaders were jailed. The police and paramilitary thugs took back the streets. During the current situation in Egypt, the government has shut down the internet. It is logical to assume that it is also tracking calls and email from people identified as protest leaders. Let’s hope Egypt doesn’t follow the path of Iran.
Courage shows in situations like these. During the Tiananmen Square protest in 1989, one man stood in front of a column of tanks. When the tanks tried to move around him, he stayed in front of them. This action can be dismissed as symbolic since the Chinese government eventually smashed the democracy movement. However, one person’s courage stands, and now it is born again in the people of Tunisia and Egypt.
Freedom comes after courage, and it is even more difficult to achieve. Revolutions in Cuba and Iran began with the noble goal of kicking out the dictator. The governments that followed brought in new types of repression that have done little to bring power to the people. In China and Russia, governments preach economic freedom while finding new ways to control their citizen’s lives. Where can we find hope? South Korea was under a dictatorship for several decades before its people rose up and took their country back. Similarly, in the Philippines, democracy was established after years of dictatorship. Sometimes, people can win their freedom when their risk their lives. Let’s hope north Africa is going to be like one of those happier situations where a seed of democracy blooms.
In our work and personal lives, we follow routines. They keep us focused and straight. Those who dare to go into the streets risk that security. When commentators drone on about the politics behind the protests (and see everything through an America-first lens), let’s take a minute to think about the individuals who dare to take a stand. They put everything on the line. Whatever the outcome of these rebellions, their courage deserves our admiration.
Sunday extra helpings:
Al Jazeera English has produced some of the best coverage of what is happening in Egypt.
Professor Juan Cole’s blog Informed Comment is a must-read for understanding the complexity of the Middle East. Cole’s position is too liberal for some. Others call him anti-Israel. I think those charges are nonsense. He gives his readers plenty of source material to back up his claims. Cole is a scholar in the truest sense of that word.
What’s a Sabbath post without a poem? Check out William Butler Yeats’ “Easter 1916,” which captures the emotion and courage of those who led the Irish revolt as well as Yeats’ self-critique of his reaction to the event. This is one of the great poems in English literature because it brings together music, philosophy, and history (all the human’s arts). Enjoy.