‘A sort of spiritual atom bomb exploded the chains of ancestral servitude’
From Sign and Sight:
A revolution has taken world by surprise: those at the top, in the grip of panic; those on the streets, who from one minute to the next have no idea how to overcome their fear; those on the outside – experts, governments, TV audiences, myself – blamed for not having foreseen the unforeseeable. Where does this bickering on the French belfries hail from: the Right has failed, the Left proclaims banging its drum, prudently forgetting to explain why Ben Ali (and his RCD party) was kept on as a member of the Socialist International, just like Mubarak and his monocratic party. The former was expelled on 18 January, three days after his escape; the latter on 31 January in great haste. Yet no one seems remotely bothered by this. Not the negligent press. Not the Right that is allied with Putin’s all-powerful “United Russia” which is now trying to curry favour with the Chinese Communist Party. Instead of questioning the widespread predilection for autocracy, people prefer to attack the “silence of the intellectuals”.
To reflect is not to rush off and try to catch up and overtake an event which will only take your breath away. Aside from admiring the masses for overcoming their fear, it is interesting to focus on the surprise which caught prefabricated opinions off guard. Preconception no. 1: the ancient confrontation between the two blocks will be succeeded by a clash of “civilizations”. Alternative preconception, no. 2 : the cold war will be succeeded by a peace of economic rationality and an end to bloody history. Both have been proven wrong by the implosions of the “Arab exception” that have violently destroyed all the pseudo coherence of the ethnic and religious blocks that make up the “Arab world” and “Islamic culture”. How many times has it been rammed down our throats that freedom and democracy count for nothing on “Arab streets”, as long as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rages? A refusal to avoid – or leave to Jerusalem – the question of oppression was regarded in salons and universities as the utmost Eurocentric, human rights, or Zionist affront.
Since January 2011 inevitability has ceased to exist in Maghreb and the Middle East. Whatever happens next, we welcome the upheaval with “a taking of sides according to desires which borders on enthusiasm.” These were Kant’s words about the French Revolution even if he did disapprove of some of the watershed events.
The globalization which has submerged the earth for the past thirty years, is not limited to finance and the economy. It also carries across the borders the virus of freedom which occasionally gains the upper hand (as in the velvet revolutions) and sometimes comes up against the brutality of the profane politico-military apparatus as in 1989 on Tienanmen Square, or its celestial equivalent in Iran 2009.
And yet, the globalized youth is not ceasing to proclaim with its bodies (sacrificing them if need be), and its (often digital) voices: “Get out!” The Tunisian passion very quickly shook the Egyptian fortress. A sort of spiritual atom bomb exploded the chains of ancestral servitude which proved to be anything but natural-born and which could therefore be shaken off.