He’s an activist who has used the Internet to fight for what he believes in. He is a member of civil society committed to living in truth. He doesn’t live in Cairo or Tunis or Damascus. He doesn’t live in an oppressive society at all, unless you consider Gainesville, Florida an oppressive place. Instead of setting himself on fire, like Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia, the preacher Terry Jones has set fire to a book, the Qur’an. It wasn’t a very original idea – the first emperor of China burned books and so did the Nazis – but then, neither is self-immolation.
The great kabuki actor Mitsugoro Bando VIII was a fan of fugu, or blowfish. Fugu is a rather bland, unremarkable fish except for one thing: its internal organs, particularly the liver, are highly toxic. Japanese chefs have to acquire a special certificate to prove that they know how to remove all traces of toxin before preparing the dish. Nevertheless, a couple of people die every year from eating it, which gives the fish an exotic reputation. Diners enjoy the slight tingle that fugu sushi imparts to the tongue and lips. Bando, however, wasn’t satisfied with this slight tingle. A daredevil eater, he relished bowls of soup made from fugu liver and in this way built up a certain resistance to the toxin. But on January 16, 1975, Bando ate not only one bowl of this liver soup for dinner but also the three bowls that his friend wisely declined. That night he suffered respiratory failure and died.
In its threat to use force against the Libyan government, the international community put Muammar Gaddafi into what chess aficionados calls zugzwang. This clever gambit traps the opponent so that any move worsens his or her position. Thus, if Gaddafi continued to battle the opposition in Benghazi, several air forces were at the ready to bombard his army. And if the Libyan leader pursued a ceasefire and political negotiations, he risked a further outbreak of protests in Tripoli from an emboldened population. Along either path lay probable checkmate.
In four magisterial works, the historian Eric Hobsbawm divided 200 years of modern history into the Age of Revolution (1789-1848), the Age of Capital (1848-1875), the Age of Empire (1875-1914), and the Age of Extremes (1914-1991). The period after 1992 so far remains nameless. Let me rashly and prematurely propose a name for our era: the Age of Activism. Here’s a preliminary sketch for a history of the age in which we are currently immersed, as well as a diagnosis of where this activism is heading.
Muslims are rising up against tyranny throughout the Arab world. They have ousted autocrats, consistently called for democracy, and inspired people from Beijing to Madison to rally for justice. And yet, for some here in the homeland, Muslims are still the problem. Consider two campaigns recently launched from Washington, DC. The first is the upcoming Homeland Security Committee hearing on Muslim radicalism, sponsored by Rep. Peter King (R-NY). The second is a campaign against sharia law, spearheaded by the Center for Security Policy. Both suggest the American empire needs an enemy–not only abroad– but at home as well.
Back in 2005, Congress considered a bill to remove two dictators a year for the next 20 years. “Some people think a world without tyrants is utopian,” former U.S. ambassador to Hungary Mark Palmer told me that year. “And they think it’s more utopian to have a deadline.” Palmer, whose book Breaking the Real Axis of Evil inspired the ADVANCE Democracy Act of 2005, continued: “we’re down to a limited number of dictators, and it’s entirely feasible to get the rest of them out. Most are pretty creaky and won’t even live until 2025!”
Rage is an important energy source. It fueled the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, and is powering the ongoing protests in Libya, Yemen, and Bahrain. People in the Arab world have directed their anti-government anger at corruption, economic mismanagement, and human rights abuses. There’s no shortage of things to be angry about. The regimes may control the oil. But the people have access to the renewable resource of rage.
Thank you for your proposal for a new TV show about “a warm-hearted, middle-class Egyptian family named the Qosbis.” It’s an intriguing idea. Of course, we were thrilled by Katie Couric’s suggestion of addressing Islamophobia by creating a Muslim version of The Cosby Show. I believe, however, that she had in mind a Muslim-Americanshow, not a drama about an Egyptian family.
A nation is like a marriage, or so Lenin imagined it to be, with each partner or province having a right to get out if things go horribly wrong. The Soviet constitution of 1918 provided this right to each of the republics. It wasn’t an innovation that many other countries followed. And yet, constitutional provisions or not, the S word – secession – has occasionally brought nations to the brink of dissolution.
In the latest news out of Egypt, where people power is confronting regime rigidity, President-for-life Hosni Mubarak is doing what he can to maintain his perch. He has named a new cabinet, deployed more troops in the cities, and blocked al-Jazeera broadcasts. The opposition, meanwhile, hopes to bring a million people into Cairo’s streets to give the regime a final boot.