Falling Dominoes: Our Changing World

I started a posting a couple weeks ago, when Egypt’s revolution was on the verge of blowing wide open. I saved it, moved on. I’m not a political nor economic pundit, so what have I got to say, right?

But it brought to mind the oft-misattributed proverb/curse “May you live in interesting times.”

Party like it's Tahrir Square after Mubarak stepped down, people.

Boy, things are getting interesting.

Watching the Eastern world come tumbling down is like being spectator to a game of Jenga after a bottle of vodka. It’s just crazy shit. It’s terrifying, it’s beautiful, it’s mind-boggling. It’s everything I never thought I’d live to see.

Decades of corruption, oppression. Decades of us living in the west and thinking Arab countries liked their lives and those horrible leaders.

A few years ago, I did some ESL tutoring. I met this great pair of Saudi couples. They were profoundly Islamic, and very traditional, but still young and hip, living on the university’s campus, trying to take in the Western way of life for a couple of years, and finding it really hard to assimilate, because nothing says “We’re different”  louder than a full-length burqa, you know.

You might as well have a klaxon blaring “SUPERORTHODOX” as you approach a young group of kids, if you’re in a burqa here in Vancouver. We don’t get a lot of that here. And this was five or six years ago, closer to 9/11, still in the throes of war, under an idiomatic Bush regime to the south.

Yeah, it was a tough time to be a Saudi student in a burqa. So, naturally, the husband wanted a female teacher so the wives could learn some of the culture and take their burqas off, and be comfortable.

Well, learning about the culture went two ways. They were wonderful, kind, curious, sensitive people. I loved learning about traditional Islamic experiences, trying their food.

So, my attitude about the news I was getting, with western perceptions of Islam, began shifting at a faster rate. I’d also seen the documentary Control Room, around this time, and knew Al Jazeera to be a fair and well-delivered news network, not the “mouthpiece of terrorism” that our leaders were demonizing it to be.

As much as I loved the couples I got to know, I never did abandon my belief that much of the Arab world is far too patriarchal, and that the deference to their traditional beliefs was not only hindering their progress, but putting much of our world in a risky position. I’m a feminist and a leftist thinker, do the math.

Fast-forward a few years, and here we are, waiting for the house of cards to fall in Libya.

A powder keg of change has exploded in the Middle East and North Africa, and it all traces back to one man on December 17th.

Mohamed Bouazizi was a 26-year-old fruit vendor who set himself ablaze, in response to being slapped and beaten by officials, after they tried confiscating his apples and his scale.

So, when denied a meeting with the governor, he set himself on fire.

He died January 4th. The people fought in his name. By January 14th, Tunisia’s dictator had fled.

Less than two months later, the eastern world is being redrawn as decades-old regimes have begun toppling. Mohamed Bouazizi’s indignation sparked the fire that now rages.

It’s an amazing time to be alive.

Honestly, the future terrifies me. With this economy? Throwing in the uncertainty of a fast-changing world?

Where do we go now? What do populations that have been poorly educated and long-repressed bring to the societal table? How do tribal nations create democracy?

No one KNOWS how to accomplish this. Everyone’s got ideas. Everyone has a different level of “holy fuck!” they feel about what comes after all this. Every pundit’s betting on a different outcome. We have no idea.

When communism fell in Eastern Europe, that unleashed crazy shockwaves and took a while to adjust to,  but it wasn’t that bad.

This time, our cultures are completely different. Whether it’s about the roles women play (but usually don’t play) in the eastern society, or the lack of widespread quality education, or the fact that the countries have all but given up trying to export anything but oil, well, we have one hell of a road to travel.

Never mind the whole “writing a bunch of constitutions and creating safe, transparent elections” dilemma.

Simply put, the ability to effect change in so many regions, at such a pervasive and far-reaching level, is an opportunity the world has seldom ever had, and certainly not on this breadth or scale, at this pace. With technology and communications that we have today, this is an unparalleled time of potential.

For the moment, today… wow. What a thing to behold. What a time of change.

There is nothing more amazing to watch than that light-switch that flicks on when someone realises they’re entitled to stand up for themselves and ask for more.

That’s basically what’s happening to millions of people. These people are saying they’re willing to die before they’re willing to take another day of being treated like shit.

Me, I’m inspired.

Interesting times, indeed.

Tomorrow, we’ll put together the world again. I hope. Today, we’ll watch, cheer, and dream.

Fight on, Libyans.