Mai 68, fall of the Berlin Wall... Thoughts from the Beach

The rebellions taking place in the Arab world are a major event, similar to the riots in the spring of 1968, the fall of the Berlin Wall and demise of the Soviet Union and empire.

Is there something wrong about commenting on current events from a beachside bungalow on an isolated island in the Maldives? On the one hand, news is hard to receive except occasional CNN and a spotty WiFi that seems to come and go like the tides. On the other hand, and this is obviously my justification, there is a wonderful sense of distance in place and time that allows more than just a rapid commentary on major events. There is a much larger perspective.

I will not comment on similarities or differences for the moment suffice it to say that the timing of all three was not well anticipated. There seems to have been no Plan B for those in power, although the Obama Administration is flaunting a document that was supposedly ordered in the fall about the potential for unrest in the Arab world. No, they are a major event and they were not expected. Worries about Muslim fundamentalism had blinded many in the West to the possibility of internal rebellions that would be calls for freedom, and not necessarily terrorist destabilizations. Autocratic regimes were accepted as allies in the War on Terror if not the arms trade. Business was moving forward with the usual allies as partners.

What is so ironic and sad about the rebellions by the young is that the very ideas they are espousing - freedom and dignity - are the very ideas on which Western democracies are supposedly based. The irony and sadness is to see Western heads of states trying to balance stability with freedom at a time when the young are shouting phrases taken directly from Enlightenment thinking. How has it come to be that in the streets of Tunis, Cairo and Tripoli rebels are crying out for democracy and freedom that Western democracies hesitate to fully endorse? Who is afraid? What has happened to the ringing words of President Obama in Cairo?

The pounding of the waves on the shore are part of nature's rhythm. Calls for freedom have historically been part of human advancement. In the streets of the Arab world, that call is coming forth loud and clear. It is ironic and sad that some people are having trouble hearing the call. The generational fight taking place in the streets of the Arab world is also taking place in Western capitals with no obvious victors in either place.

February 22, 2011




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