Tag Archives: freedom

Qualifying Democracy

By Zeinab Khalil, LSA Sophomore at the University of Michigan.

It’s been one year since a young man from Tunisia lit himself with a fire that continues to emblaze our world today. One year since the 26-year-old, college-educated-turned-fruit-seller Mohamed Bouazizi immolated himself in an act of severe frustration and desperation against a corrupt, unaccountable and brutal police state. Just ten days after his death, following the rage and protests of the people, Ben Ali’s dictatorial regime was over. And now, the puppet presidents and ruthless tyrants of the region continue to drop, one after another, like dead flies.

Egyptians of all ages voting for the first time.

It’s been one year since the start of the revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa, an inspirational phenomenon that has captured the hearts and minds of people all over the world – rightly earning the title of the soul of the global revolution that we are witnessing today.

The vain despots and their loyal forces have demonstrated that they are willing to do everything they can to maintain their authoritarian grips on power, while the protesters have just as passionately demonstrated their will and determination to drive them out of power. Thousands of protestors have been killed and continue to be killed in cold blood by the repressive state security apparatuses. Thousands more have been injured, losing an eye (both eyes in some cases), limbs and in many cases, have become paralyzed for life. Yet it is the determination and perseverance, the hope and vision of something better that keeps these people coming out day after day despite the fact that their bare chests are met with live bullets, their signs with tear gas canisters, and their chants with mass arrests and criminal convictions. All because they dare defy an oppressive authority that tells them that they can’t.

And yet, despite the bold and poignant images and stories we’ve seen and heard by these ordinary citizens doing extraordinary things, some continue to question and undermine the efforts of the movers of these revolutions, who are restless and steadfast in their demand for freedom, dignity and accountability. Some have decided to take on the official voice to continue to tell the people that they can’t.

Tear canisters shot at protesters.

Just this week, Israel’s vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon declared that Arabs aren’t ready or worthy of democracy. “We are not sure, to say the least,” he said, “[if] what we’re witnessing now is real democratization.” He continued to dismiss and disparage one of the many achievements and tools of the people in forming nascent democracies by arrogantly asserting that Arabs aren’t ready to vote and that elections for them are actually futile. “We believe that you can’t reach democracy by elections. We believe in a long process.” And of course, as if his comments weren’t uninformed enough, he couldn’t miss the opportunity to dehumanize and invalidate all Palestinians, “We believe the Palestinian society is not mature (enough) to exercise civil society.”

I have something to tell Yaalon and any other Orientalists out there who use their rhetoric to subordinate Palestinians and disdain Arabs by justifying dictatorships and authoritarianism.

My 80-year-old grandmother went out to vote for the first time in her life this week. After waiting for so long, she does not need to be chastised or slapped on the wrists for practicing an inalienable right that she and her fellow Egyptians have had to fight vigorously for. And she certainly does not need to be told that she isn’t ready for democracy by supremacist politicians who dismiss the freedom and dignity of others for the sake of some pseudo stability. She’s already heard enough of that nonsense under the military dictatorship that’s haunted her country for many years, as have many Arabs with their respective, repressive dictators for the past decades.

How hypocritical and shameful of a government that prides itself as being “the only democracy in the Middle East” to not want democracy and freedom for other countries in the Middle East. How embarrassing that Yaalon’s words sound exactly like the words of Mubarak in his last speech, who claimed that Egyptians did not have the “culture of democracy,” or Saleh and Ben Ali who both claimed that Arabs couldn’t possibly understand how democracy works, and used this bigoted ideology to justify their perpetual reigns and fruitless thrones. Of course, Yaalon’s words and Israel’s stance on the pro-democracy revolutions are not new. While government forces in Egypt intentionally ran over protesters with armored police vehicles, President Shimon Peres maintained, “We always have had and still have great respect for President Mubarak” while Ari Shavit contended that Obama had betrayed a “moderate Egyptian president who remained loyal to the United States, promoted stability and encouraged moderation.” (Yeah, running people over cars is actually a moderate thing to do; it’s their fault they weren’t protesting on the crosswalk.)

Pro-Democracy protests erupted across the Middle East and North Africa against authoritarian regimes.

For Israel, it isn’t an issue of democracy or elections coming at a bad time. It isn’t even about elections or time. For Israel, Arabs will never be ready for democracy. Israel does not give a hoot about democracy for people who aren’t Israeli. How can it when it beats down any talk of the self-determination of Palestinians? How can it when it feeds off the propaganda and deception that it is the only democracy in the Middle East?  Without that title, without defining itself against the uncivil and immature Arabs, it loses a big chunk of its identity.

For years, Arabs have been told over and over by their aging tyrants that they aren’t smart enough or wise enough or sophisticated enough for democracy. That they simply aren’t cut out for it. This rhetoric was meant to silence the people, to keep them thinking that the lousy governments they have now are better than not having one at all; as any real attempt towards democracy would ultimately lead to civil war, a failed state, or some other morbid scenario. It helped the tyrants maintain their illegitimate authority and defend their personal interests and financial gains at the cost of their nations’ best and brightest. But the people know better. They’ve proven that they’re smarter and wiser than that and have risen against the indignities imposed on them by their governments, but Israel insists on clinging on to the dying narrative that Arabs are an uncivilized people incapable of self-determination or democracy. By reinforcing these trite, racist labels, Israeli politicians are fooling only themselves, and their words are ultimately irrelevant because the reality of the actions of those on the street from Tahrir to Der’aa to San’aa speak much louder than this empty fiction.

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All Men (Except Palestinians) Are Created Equal

By Suha Najjar, LSA Sophomore at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor

Article 3 Of The Universal Declaration Of Human Rights states: Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.”

This past summer, I was in Jabalia, Gaza visiting my uncle’s home. It was about 2:15 am, and my 3-year-old cousin, Susu, thought it would be funny to start throwing peaches at me. Meanwhile my mother, brother, sister, uncle, and his wife, were counting down the last minutes until the electricity was supposed to come back on. We had gone 11 hours straight without electricity that day. Suddenly, for the third time during my 2-month-long visit to Palestine, the sound of an explosion rung in the living room. For a second, I thought that the missile had hit our building, but then I remembered the descriptions my friends and family had given me when explosions hit nearby. Shaking walls, shattered glass, and blinding dust were all a part of their vivid recounts, something that not many people around the world have to live through, but all the people of Gaza do. Our building wasn’t hit, but our cores where shook. Although it had happened twice before, this was a sound that I could never get used to. Susu immediately began crying and my uncle ran to him and embraced him in his arms. As he stroked his hair, all he said was “la la yaba” (“no, no, daddy”) until his son stopped crying. My uncle looked at me and shook his head. The only thing I thought to say at that moment was “Don’t be afraid, Susu, it’s going to be okay.” My uncle smiled and put Susu down.

Jabaliya refugee camp is one of the most deprived and densely populated areas in the Gaza Strip.

“How do you know that, Suha? We don’t have the right to make promises like that anymore. Actually, we never did. We Palestinians don’t have the right to promise our children anything. We can’t promise them college, we can’t promise them bread, we can’t promise them a home, we can’t promise them security, we can’t even promise them life. What kind of fathers and mothers are we? We don’t have the right to be parents. Look what they did to our people, we’re not even a people anymore, we’re just animals. Actually we’d be lucky if we were treated like animals. Why do I have to see my son crying and shaking in fear almost every night? Why can’t I have the peace of mind knowing that my son can someday just have the HOPE of having a happy life, away from missiles, away from bombs, away from this shit that we live in?! I don’t even know why your father lets you come here. Our lives are worthless. The world has forgotten about us. Or they never cared to begin with. The Arabs are shit and America is shit. The whole world is shit! We don’t have anyone but God. And it looks like He’s not on our side either. Do yourself a big favor in the future, don’t ever let your children get a Palestinian citizenship or even come back here. Stay American. At least you’ll be a human being.

The conversation was interrupted as my uncle’s neighbor shouted to him from outside. He and my uncle tried to get a generator working, knowing that it would be a while until the electricity is restored.

My mind drifted back to my life here in the states. I remembered all the protests that I was a part of, the ‘stands in solidarity’, the ‘dialogues and discussions.’ Things I always thought would some day change the atrocious conditions my family was living in. In that brief moment that dragged excruciatingly on, they all seemed so worthless, so hypocritical…

There were two lands that I called home, Palestine and the USA. One’s name is imprinted on the F-16’s, the machine guns, the tanks, the tear gas that is used everyday to dehumanize, disillusion, and slaughter my other home. Yet, I still thought that America and the rest of the world would always defend my right to “life, liberty and security of person.” The rights I always thought I had simply because I was human, suddenly became the ones I owned only because I was an American, and that privilege was lifted the moment I stepped foot into the occupied territories of Palestine. That cringing sound of an airplane that would never cause me to flinch in America, now caused my heart to drop as I would pray it wasn’t my last night.

Up until that moment, I always felt that I was a victim. After all I had been an Arab-Muslim woman living in America, but in reality, it was the opposite. I was a part of the human race as long as I stood outside of Palestine. I still had a voice, I still had the right to plan and promise, I still had hope, something that my people couldn’t fathom they’d someday own as well. Guilt overtook me as I realized that when I lived in America, I was a part of the ‘they’ my uncle was referring to. I was a part of the ‘they’ that allowed my uncle to become demoralized and dejected. I immediately decided to stop thinking about it and returned to tickling and playing hide and seek with Susu until the night was over. I was uncomfortably comforted by Susu’s innocence, wishing I could be in his shoes, have his views, if only for a little while.

We left around 5 a.m. to our apartment in Rimal, still no electricity. Before I went to bed, my dad took our passports in order to reserve us a spot on the Gaza-Rafah border so that we could plan our leave weeks later. When I pulled out my two passports from my dad’s waist bag, I stared at both documents. In one hand I carried what made me a ‘human’ and in the other, the exact opposite. A feeling of hypocrisy, contradiction, and overall confusion overtook me whole. I am a living paradox, two incompatible entities housed within one body. But the truth is, I have yet to grasp what it means to be a Palestinian, an American, and a human being living in the world today. One thing that I have become completely conscious of is that the right to liberty does not apply to every human. The right to life is selective at best, and the right to security of person is a mere façade. I’ve realized that these rights are the standards of select human beings, but not for Palestinians. Not yet. The hope that this may one day be a standard for Susu and his grandkids is a dream too far down the road to be declared a universal standard. For the sake of accuracy, a decree ought to be issued to call it by its true name: ‘The Universal Declaration of Human Rights for everyone, but Palestinians.’

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