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Just like us

On February 28th, 2011

All of us in the West took a ring-side seat to watch in jubilation as Tunisia and Egyptian protesters recently managed the unthinkable: the non-violent overthrow of their countries’ repressive, corrupt political regimes.
As other countries in the Middle East — Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, Morocco, Jordan — follow suit, we cheer them on with the tacit thought that it’s about time they all embraced our political and economic values, became open and fair democracies – became, in effect, just like us.
It’s clear that Egyptians as a people want an open and democratic society.  According to Time magazine, a majority of Egyptians believe democracy is the most preferable style of government; 90 per cent of Egyptians support freedom of religion, 80 per cent support free speech and 75 per cent are opposed to censorship.
Much of the press about Egypt has focused on its ‘backward,’ ‘corrupt’ and ‘repressive’ regime, which cracked down on political parties, and silenced newspaper criticism or open intellectual forum.
‘Over the past three decades Egypt became a place where few serious books were written, universities were monitored, newspapers carefully followed a bland party line and people watched what they said in public,’ a February 3 Time magazine article by Fareed Zakaria noted recently. ‘In the past 10 years, the war against Islamic terrorist groups . . . allowed Mubarak’s regime to clamp down even harder on Egyptian society in the name of security.’
In the three decades since I’ve lived away from the US, America has become a place where less and less criticism of a regime is tolerated, in the name of ‘national security’; where newspapers, now governed by vast corporations, follow a bland party line; where people are careful about what they say— about gun control, for instance — lest they be considered un-American; and where laws and lawmakers are mostly bought and paid for by lobbyists and powerful corporations.
In the 10 years since 9/11, the war against Islamic terrorist groups has allowed the government to remove many civil liberties and create repressive laws in the name of security.
A recent BBC documentary about the rise of the homeless in the US, for instance, was not aired in America; a well-researched British book questioning the cause of the 9/11 terrorist attacks was never published in the States.
Several years after the World Trade Center attacks, Vanity Fair, virtually alone among American publications, finally revealed aspects of the events to Americans already well known by Europeans, such as the fact that during the countrywide flight ban imposed immediately after the attacks, one of the only flights permitted by the Bush government was carrying members of the bin Laden family.
Although I am certainly not suggesting that the West has the same level of repression as a Middle Eastern country like Egypt, but - while we’re talking about ‘free’ and ‘open’ and ‘democratic’ - we should acknowledge that a country like America is getting less open and democratic by the day.
Yardstick of fairness
The other cause of the Arab spring was a deep yearning for a fairer society. As I’ve mentioned in these pages before, a fundamental impulse within us, as powerful and fundamental as eating and sex, is the need for fairness, for our fair share and only our fair share.
Within any society a sense of fairness spontaneously evolves as a basic part of society. Fairness is the ultimate and most constant yardstick we use to measure the worth of our society, even our neighborhoods.
Throughout history the fact that there is a wealthy group of individuals at the top of a society has not automatically made for revolution. Poorer levels of society are usually prompted to rise up in rebellion only when conditions are manifestly unfair, such as when food is deliberately made scarce.
In the wake of the worldwide financial crisis of 2008 the fury that most ordinary citizens felt toward bankers and traders had nothing to do with income resentment but a deep and compelling sense of unfairness that investment houses like Goldman Sachs still paid record bonuses after the recession they had helped to create caused so many others to lose their jobs.
In Britain Sir Fred “the Shred” Goodwin, former chief executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland, unapologetically paid himself a £700,000 pension (about $1.05 million) despite the bank’s sustaining, under his stewardship, the largest corporate loss in history, requiring a £24 billion government bailout.
Shortly thereafter aggrieved citizens attacked his Edinburgh villa and smashed his Mercedes S600. A statement sent to the Edinburgh Evening News read, “We are angry that rich people like him are paying themselves a huge amount of money, and living in luxury, while ordinary people are made unemployed, destitute, and homeless.
Lessons for the West
The lessons of the Middle East are salutary and extend beyond a case of one style of government being replaced by another. They stand as a moral to the West about the long-term consequences of unfairness.
At the moment, the West is at its most unfair in history. America houses half the world’s billionaires and yet tent cities like “Dignity Village” in Oregon, for people who have lost their homes through mortgage foreclosures, number among America’s fastest growing neighborhoods.
Even the current outcry in Wisconsin against threatened deep governmental cuts is not a partisan issue but a cri du coeur about intolerable unfairness.
Like the Middle East, the growing protests across America signal that the US may be ripe for its own uprising against the growing economic divide and a government largely run by the corporate machine.
Even more fundamental than democracy is fairness, and when it is not present, a society will insist on it. To borrow from Sylvia Plath, the bloodjet of any society is fairness: “there is no stopping it.”
When conditions are so manifestly unfair between the haves and the have-nots, people will tend to demand a fairer society, one way or another.
Now is the time for all of us to look to the Arab world in hopes that it becomes a place where a new vision and a fairer democracy can be born — not just like us but better than us.  And then perhaps the West can follow suit.


Comments

comments

0 responses to “Just like us”

  1. Wouldn't that be the "cat's meow," if the Middle East experienced 'fairness' before the US! I think it would be greatly ironic if in a few years, the Middle East is covering the 'story in the US' of political upheaval with 'citizens joining together in DC' to stand for change. Heck, it would make for a good movie...

    With Love and Gratitude,

    Jeremiah

  2. Phil Stott says:

    Be careful regarding news from the Arab states. There is some indication that the current uprisings have been partially caused by US/British interests - read between the lines and remember who is supplying your news.

    There also seems to be an agenda to magnify the role of the Internet in these rebellions - Social media, twitter etc. are being touted as a major tool.

    The truth is that less than 10% of these populations have access, and even when the Internet was shut down in Egypt the crowds continued to grow. Watch out for a possible move by western governments to use these rebellions to push for more control of the Internet at home in the name of "national security".

  3. Zora says:

    I agree with Phil about not accepting the news presented to us at face value. There are many reasons Western interests would like to destabilize the Middle East.
    -Z

  4. Marjolein Hofland says:

    Thank you Lynn for this well written and thoughtfull piece about the Middle East.
    I do so hope they will be able to go on as they have started and thar slowly but surely the middle east will be changed and a better place for its people.
    I have lived there and never enjoyed it because of the fear you could feel you could feel.
    So lets all sent positive intentions to this area

  5. Just says:

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  6. Sue says:

    I have to say - WELL DONE!!! I was a little afraid of where you were headed with what was in the email box - sort of a "Who are you and what did you do with Lynn" kind of thing!

    A bit of clarification, tho

    Most of our so-called "Founding Fathers" were dead set against democracy, considering it as actually worse than the monarchy they'd just fought to free us from, as they felt it was inevitable that all democracies degenerate into anarchy, or evolve into dictatorships. What we had here was actually a republic.

    It is certainly not anarchy here..... But its been heading toward dictatorship for a long time (at warp speed for the past several decades).

    While the American press and government, largely hijacked by corrupt politicians and corporate entities has become more fascist by the day, many individual Americans are waking up, and things won't be staying this way in our country for very long, either.

    Success and peace to all those in the middle-east - and everywhere - who are now beginning to realize not only their collective, but also their individual worth and inner power! The entire world is watching, and shedding tears of joy and pride for you!!!
    ------

    When considering the American press - I leave you with a quote -

    John Swinton, editor of NY TIMES, 1860's) "the business of the New York journalist is to destroy the truth, to lie outright, to pervert, to vilify, to fawn at the feet of Mammon....We are the tools and vassals of rich men behind the scenes. We are the jumpingjacks; they pull the strings and we dance. Our talents, our possibilities and our lives are all the property of other men."

  7. marian Cook says:

    I thank God for you Lynne. The voice of common sense as well as 'Spirit".

    The brave & dignified Muslims & Christians in the Egypt protected each other while they observed their obligations to pray. As they fight to birth democracy in the midlle East, Americans watch idly and gullibly listen to Right Wing propaganda in their own land. All the while allowing the Far Right & "big Money" to highjack democracy from under their very noses.

    The Right Wing demands to know what kind of "Christian" a potential candidate for President might be as they demand that any such candidate reflect their "Christian valaues" but destroy "entitlement" programs. Since when was Social Justice an "entitlement program" to be demonized? Is the Sermon on the Mount' or the Beatitudes too "left Wing" & "UnAmareican" for them?

    Good Luck
    Marian

  8. Gene Costa says:

    I think that the jury is still out on the Egyptian uprising. The big question is who is going to take over the country with Mubarak gone. Mubarak was at least a friend to the west and followed the Israeli peace accord. If the Muslim brotherhood gets control over Egypt then they will attack Israel and this could be the start of a nuclear WWIII. Sort of beginning to sound a bit like Armageddon. This might not be a good thing. This movement is clearly an orchestrated effort to get all the Arab states to come together and eventually gain control over the west. After all isn't that their goal. To create a global caliphate. I say watch out. It’s coming.

  9. Gidi says:

    Fairness indeed is a huge factor for people to stand up. A more spiritual view is to acknowledge the fact that we are living in a evolunionary speeding up time, waking up not only the people in the Arabic world. Kosmic factors ( solar flames and winds) might be the cause. Nothing to be afraid of if individually we are open to change. The youth are showing us, the older generation, the way. Nothing to be afraid of. Just follow the flow. A new consciousness is being born.

  10. Sadashiv says:

    It must be the effect of intention for fairness.

  11. Gene Costa says:

    Gidi you just have to look at what happened in Iran when the Shah was removed. A non-secular government took over the country and look at the mess that gave us. This is very similar to what happened in Iran. Everyone was rejoicing then as well. It's time to look at facts instead of allowing the wim wam of nature take over your life. This is a planned attack against the West. Wake up and get out of fantasy land.

  12. Sadashiv says:

    May be it is time we become non-judgemental and start to love unconditionally.

  13. Luis says:

    Yes Gene thanks for the warning. I am now going to get my blankie and hide under my bed so them evil Arabs don't get me.

  14. Ian James McAuley says:

    We need to get people intending a division between religion and state in the Middle East before democracy is at-al feasable.

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