By Akio Matsumura
Looking back through my last article, “Uprising in Egypt”
, it seems that it was written in a different era. So much has changed in the last month. News from the Arab world has grown and Japan unfortunately joins it in dominating the screens and the papers. We continue to pray for those who are now suffering and have lost loved ones from the tsunami and earthquake in Japan.
I have quickly realized that prediction in North Africa and the Middle East is a fool’s game. It’s uncertain what will happen in Bahrain, Yemen, Syria, Libya, and other countries in the region. Young Arabs are demanding a free future and we onlookers continue to be impressed by their bravery and resilience in the face of strong-fisted government resistance and oppression. These revolutionaries have turned history’s pages—away from the largely negative image the world held of the region—and are scrambling to ensure the next pages include one word: freedom. And although we don’t yet know what the outcome of these revolutions will be, I have no doubt that their effects will spread. They will affect the Western world’s younger people in the near future.
There is great hope emanating from the region, but I am deeply saddened that the uprising in Libya has transitioned into a civil war and possible humanitarian catastrophe. The United Nations, led by the United States, has intervened. On March 17 the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1973:
“Demanding an immediate ceasefire in Libya, including an end to the current attacks against civilians, which it said might constitute “crimes against humanity”, the Security Council this evening imposed a ban on all flights in the country’s airspace — a no-fly zone — and tightened sanctions on the Qadhafi regime and its supporters.”
In a speech on Monday night, President Obama gave a speech from the National Defense University explaining the United States’ decision to enter into war with Libya.
The president said that “confronted by (Qadhafi’s) brutal repression and a looming humanitarian Crisis,” he authorized military action to stop the killing and the United States led a United Nations-backed effort to stop Qadhafi’s regime advance into Benghazi. President Obama emphasized that NATO would begin to carry the majority of the weight from this point forward. “We knew that if we waited one more day, Benghazi – a city nearly the size of Charlotte – could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world. It was not in our national interest to let that happen. I refused to let that happen.”
Public opinion in the United States over its military involvement in Libya is deeply divided. Both political parties have criticized the president’s decision. Some say he has gone too far while others have urged for further action. Many have strongly criticized Obama for not obtaining congressional approval before entering the war.
I would like to step back a moment from these valid arguments and think over the basic nature of these uprisings and revolutions.
Since the beginning of human history, our theories of peace and war have always been based on borders. Tribal, ethnic, and state borders divide “us” from the “other”—we are safe as long as the enemy stays outside of our circle drawn in the sand, as long as we keep war on the outside and peace on the inside. Leaders inside are thus chosen or come to power based on their capacity to unify the people within and defeat the enemy without. It is a system of exclusivity. We exclude others to promote our own power.
Exclusion also promotes differences as less good, or, worse, evil. Therefore, ideologies and values are often not shared or understood across cultural borders. These differences—in religious beliefs, cultural practices, or in national identity—were created for the exact reason of unifying us and separating them. Of course they are not understood or cared for across borders. Over time human capacity has developed through the limited resources of property and education, and until relatively recently through only the resources available inside our own tribe/culture/country’s borders.
For example, we take the principles of democracy and freedom of expression for granted. But certainly we are judging these with our own perspectives, our perspectives from within our circle and our own history.
Social media snapped these boundaries very dramatically throughout the world. Through the windows of social media—through the use of Facebook, Twitter, and Google’s Youtube—Libyans, and other North Africans alike, could peer over and not just see how their neighbors in the Maghreb are living, but how their new neighbors in Tibet, Brazil, Kenya, China, Denmark, and the United States live. The Internet 2.0 pushed us into the final frontier of globalization—people can communicate inside and outside of their country with greater ease and speed than ever before.
I don’t want to paint an exaggerated portrait. Information and people traveled outside of Libya before, and the causes of the uprisings are complex and many, but social media has played an important and unarguable role in the process. Governments faced with these uprisings have been quick to pull the plug on Youtube, or the entire internet, knowing the power it brings.
Young people are discovering their own world where they can learn any information they want to know without thinking of their national boundary. (Look at the toolbar on the right, you can translate this page into any language thanks to Google). This new freedom has helped them to think inclusively, as citizens of the world instead of only their country.
At the same time, they feel frustration when they learn of their disadvantages compared to others in the world, in particular with regard to political freedoms (e.g., freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly). Libya has used its oil money to keep its people well-off compared to its regional neighbors. But Freedom House reports that Libya is the most-censored country in the Middle East and North Africa. Extremely high levels of state surveillance severely limit political freedoms. This frustration and urge for political freedom have pushed the majority of Libyans and many of their neighbors in the region to seek a new type of leadership. This push for freedom is exciting and welcomed throughout most of the world.
These countries and their new leaders will inevitably face many difficult situations and setbacks in the coming period. But let them choose their leaders, leaders who will practice their own new visions. Let us step back from our hasty urge to select their leaders and let us allow the Arab Spring fully blossom, into whatever that may be.
We are witness to the 21st century revolution, which has begun in the Middle East. Young people will continue to write their own history over the coming decades. They know it is not easy process to achieve their goals, yet they have begun. I hope they are able to continue to think globally and break down the boundaries between us and them. I hope that the rest of us continue to work to do the same. Remember, peace is a process, not a finish line.
Knowledge is the beginning of practice
Doing is the completion of knowledge
–Wang Yang-Ming, 1498