A wildfire has spread across the Middle East and Northern Africa. The flames of protest have raged on and now engulf over 15 countries. The smoke rising from the cities of Benghazi and Tripoli saturate the diplomatic airwaves. Two governments have been overthrown. And a third one is tittering on the brink of collapse.
But we all know this. We have seen the news reporters babbling non-stop in their usual fashion. What few of us know though is… how did the massive protests start? Literally, what spark ignited this whole conflict?
The spark of a Bic Lighter.
That´s right. All it took for these protests to erupt was a lighter, two cans of paint thinner and a man with nothing to lose. A single man, Mohamed Bouazizi, who set himself on fire and inspired millions to rebel.
—- Here is a scenario —-
Imagine you were Mohamed Bouazizi. Now suppose an angel came forth to you Bible-style and told you ¨Set yourself on fire, and your whole country shall be free¨. Would you be willing set yourself on fire, and like Mohamed Bouazizi, suffer the most painful death imaginable?
We, Westerners often label muslims as ¨radicals¨.
While we, on the other hand, are ¨rational¨.
Well. Here is what a rational Mohamed Bouazizi would have done: He would have appealed the confiscation of his property to a corrupt government, only to be ignored. Facing amounting debts, he would have fallen into a depression. Tired of living, and thinking life is pointless, Mohamed would have OD´ed himself on Aspirins. No massive protests in Tunisia and elsewhere. End of story.
Morale of the story: one can´t always be rational when facing injustice, corruption or tyranny. When something isn´t right, it´s the citizens job to change it. To take action. The Founding Fathers were viewed as radicals by the British Empire. The First French Republic was viewed as radical by the rest of the European countries.
It is this radical ¨muslim¨ spirit, steaming from necessity and lack of freedom, which has overthrown both the Egyptian and Tunisian governments.
We in first-world countries on the other hand:
- have food on our tables
- have a decent amount of freedom
- and thus, no need for radical spirit
The radical spirit in US and European citizens has been dormant since the end of WWII. Instead of radical, we act more “rationally”. This rational spirit is good for government stability, but taken to the extreme can lead to a conformist society.
And a conformist society is bad. Conformity stalls economic development, limits professional creativity and helps incompetent politicians (GWB) rise to power.
We, as free people, have to make sure we never lose our radical spirit. We must retain our ability to stand up and march radically against any threat to our basic human rights. We must defend our freedom of speech. And to those who say “one man can’t make a difference”.
Tell that to Ghandi.
Tell that to Martin Luther King.
Tell that to Mohamed Bouazizi.