Monday, March 21, 2011

The Paradox of Change

It is impossible not to feel the breeze of the winds of change sweeping through the Arab World today. Mesmerized by the news, and totally awestricken by the sheer fact that fear is gone; we the people of this region have finally reclaimed our long muted voice.

The speed with which the recent changes have taken over our lives has served as a centrifugal force of all indifference and passivity. Purgatory is no longer an option, it’s either hell or heaven; and the choice is ours! Consensus on the definition of what each means was also formed with a dizzying speed: hell is the status quo pre Tunisia, and heaven is the reality that we will proactively and collectively create together. All of a sudden, our vision has become that of an eagle in its clarity, and our mission that of a saint in its good will. Boundaries in all their forms have melted erasing with them all manifestations of apathy and numbness. Our outlook is now vibrant, energized, empathetic, and full of hope. We suddenly found ourselves falling in love with life, with action, with thinking, with history, with ourselves, and ultimately with one another. Our defeated souls no longer haunt us. We have trumped defeat with a vengeance, and we have all made a tacit pact among ourselves that never again will we be subject to the humiliation that we once helplessly and ashamedly suffered in silence.

In contemplating our future, it seems as if we all agree that the ball is in our court now, and it is up to us how we play it. There are varying views on what is the best way to go about asserting our right in determining this future. Regardless of what the means are, the end result must ensure building democratic institutions that would eventually transcend the individuals behind their creation. The foundation of these institutions is a rule of law that is just in its essence, and enforceable in its application. In this institutionalized system, universal equality might be farfetched, while equity must be its cornerstone. As for the skeptics who have long championed the condescending claim that Arabs aren’t ready yet for this neat exercise of institution building, my answer for now is anarchy!

Quoting the popular Arab adage “it doesn’t get constructed unless it gets destructed”.* The process of constructing will necessarily have to coincide with a radical phase of destruction. Bakunin, the well known theorist of collective anarchism said: “ The urge to destroy is also the urge to create”. Incidentally this urge, in its most absurd form, resembles to a large degree what the Arab world is going through today: a process of negation, without necessarily claiming to know what the best alternative is. What is certain today is that all forces of oppression- be they political, economic, cultural or moral are being confronted and attacked with unprecedented determination. More important, central to this confrontation is the proclamation of absolute confidence in the masses, as well as the absolute rejection of the stifling status quo that has for long symbolized the source of suffering and humiliation for many.

If politics were to resemble art, then drawing parallels with the Dadaist movement would be appropriate in this case. Nearly a century ago, Dadaism was formed as a direct result to the cataclysmic events of the turn of the 20th century. Today at the turn of the 21st century, we see Arab revolutions and upheavals taking place as a direct result of mind boggling oppression felt through accumulations of abuses, defeats and failures over the years. Dadaism response was “a rejection of the values of a society that had allowed such tragedies to happen”; and so is the Arab response in its rejection of anything associated with autocracy and dictatorship. Tristan Tzara summed up the Dada attitude in its manifesto of 1918: “Let everyone proclaim that we have a great work of destruction and negativity to accomplish. Sweep and clean. The cleansing of the fellow will take place after a period of total madness and aggression, the mark of a world left for too long in the hands of bandits who are tearing apart and destroying the centuries”. In effect what Tzara was describing was an anarchism that did not last, but nevertheless was catalytic in the creation of some of the greatest art that the 20th century witnessed including surrealism and avant guard styles.

Similar to Dadaism, the Arab world must go through this dialectical process of the struggle between the forces of destruction and construction in order for it to transcend into a full fledge independent and democratic society. A society that spouses the interests of its people and respects its will at large. A society that is dynamic and participatory. In this society, values of freedom reign supreme, and citizens are equal in rights and opportunities.

Finally it would be naïve to assume that the individuals carrying out the revolutions today are better intentioned than their predecessors decades ago who saw themselves just as progressive and good willed. The decisive factor of success today is the ability to build functioning and dynamic institutions that supersede and transcend the events leading to their creation. The day we see loyalties lie in protecting a system that we painstakingly create, rather than the individuals behind its creation, is the day we know that we have made it.

* تخرب لما إلا بتعمر ما