Archive for January, 2011
There was a story in the New York Times a few days ago about how the “revolution” in Tunisia was sparked in December by the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old, befuddled roadside green grocer. Like so many young Arabs, he was born poor and only dreamed of providing for his siblings and his mother. He had been to college, where he studied law, but had found no employment possibilities. So, given the basic dignity often found in people in places like Tunisia, he chose to humble himself and find a halal means to generate some income. But he kept running into problems with the police and government inspectors until the fateful day in December when they confiscated his cart and his produce, saying he didn’t have a proper permit, and leaving him with an unpaid loan with which he’d bought the goods. At the station, upon attempting to reclaim his cart, he was slapped and humiliated publicly. His already deferred dreams had clearly dried up. Bouazizi left an apologetic note for his mother and set himself on fire in front of the local government building.
Four weeks later, the protests sparked by his death brought down the government of President Zine el Abdidine Ben Ali, who’d ruled Tunis with an iron hand for 23 years.
I have had the good fortune of visiting Tunisia many times. During my last visit, which was in the early nineties, I was harassed by the Mukhabarat (secret police), and the family that I was staying with was also questioned. That left a bad taste for me, and I decided not to return to the country and have not been back since.
To God belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth, and the day on which the end of time will happen, a day on which prattlers will lose out. And you will see every people kneeling; every people will be summoned to its record: “Today you are being repaid for what you used to do. This record of Ours speaks about you in truth; for We have been transcribing what you have been doing.” As for those who believed and did good works, their Lord will admit them into divine mercy. That is the evident success. And as for those who scoffed, were not My signs recited to you, yet you were arrogant, and were sinning people? And when it has been said that the promise of God is true, and there is no doubt about the end of time, you have said, “We do not understand what the end of time is; we suppose it merely speculation, and we cannot be sure.” And the evils they did will be manifest to them, and what they used to sneer at will have surrounded them.
– Qur’an, 45:27-33
No matter what a Man’s foul character may be,
Though he imagines it is concealed from the people,
It shall be revealed.
– Zuhayr b. Abi Sulma, Favorite seventh century Arabian poet of Umar b. al-Khatab
In the seven years I spent with Mauritanians who are Bedouin people of the Sahara, what struck me most about them was the transparency in their lives. They live without walls, and hence what the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung termed the “shadow self,” which holds our repressed weaknesses and darker side, seems wholly absent from their personalities. I never saw the Bedouins hide anything from me. Even when they go to relieve themselves, it is often in open space. Once I was with a particularly gruff Bedouin, and in the middle of our conversation, he turned around, walked a few paces from me, and, taking cover with his outer robe, he dropped his pants, squatted, urinated, cleaned himself with sand, returned, and continued the conversation.