Are you among those Americans who are held, rapt, in front of news waiting to hear if the Egyptian people are successful in ending one of the most despotic regimes of the Arab world? Do you wish you could have joined one of the marches in America last Sunday in solidarity with those brave souls who risk death at the hands of the police or injury from tear gas and rubber-coated bullets, but couldn’t because you had other activities already planned? Do you cheer as our leaders express their own (even if hypocritical) solidarity with the people of North Africa, be they in Tunisia, Jordan, Egypt, Yemen, Afghanistan, Libya or Palestine? Oh, scratch that last, there isn’t yet a Palestinian state, although the impact of these waves of protest may see it come into being at last.
We stand for democracy and choice, or at least that’s what we claim. But when the peoples’ choice is Hezbollah or Hamas, we increase the amount of money we give to Lockheed, Boeing, Raytheon and General Electric so arms shipments that support oppressive, torturing and raping national police forces can continue to squash dissent and block the peoples’ choice from taking power. We call it “foreign aid”, before we require that the Egyptian government spend that money with U.S. corporations. But since we are the premier weapons exporter in the world, few despots complain about getting a steady stream of tear gas and bullets to use when quashing rebellion.
But have we thought this through, our support for uprising? A new government in Egypt, and indeed any new government that follows the kind of popular rebellion we are witnessing throughout North Africa, will tilt away from America. We have become synonymous with ideas like oppression and police-state. We turned countries and cultures with thousands of years of history into client states. We placed our troops, infidels who don’t understand Islam and have no desire to support its believers, on hallowed ground, without remorse. Our projected power has done nothing to raise the standard of living in the region, or to improve access to food or water (resources that are quickly becoming scarce and/or expensive) and has done everything to enable nightly videos on satellite networks and youtube that show how little America cares about ending suffering in the neighborhood. We continue, this very day, to kill innocent people and to support others who do the same.
If you choose freedom and self-determination as inalienable human rights, are you willing to accept a Palestinian state? Are you able to challenge the U.S./Israeli hegemony that destroys lives in Gaza and the West Bank? If you are against a police state that fosters torture and rape, are you also speaking out against the Gaza occupation? What if a Muslim Brotherhood-based government takes over in Egypt and promptly begins to aid, rather than prohibit, weapons smuggling into Gaza? Do Palestinians also have a right to freedom and self-determination?
And closer to home, are you willing to pay a higher price for food and goods, as a new regime in Egypt might well raise the costs of using the Suez Canal to transport oil out of the Middle East? What if oil prices soar and your lack of discretionary income, just as in the summer of 2008, causes another global recession? What if the cost of food becomes so high that you can’t afford to send your children to school in the fall?
North Africa is afire with passion and demonstrations precisely because the people lack freedom, opportunity, dignity and prosperity. The West has tried for decades to sell the masses on the notion that a free market economy would provide these benefits, lifting them out of the poverty they have endured. Yet, championing free markets has not worked, other than to entrench dictators and to prosper the upper echelon, the 5% at the top of any particular society. We see this happening here in America, too. We are just a few short months (of oil embargo, of higher unemployment, of higher food prices, of supporting an Israeli counterattack, of defending American bases throughout the African continent) away from having the same disillusionment come home to roost. Are we about power and maintaining the status quo? Or instead, are we truly about ethical behavior, freedom and opportunity? It’s time to make your true self known. Take off the shade and let your inner light become a beacon for all to see. Tell us what you feel in your heart. Act on what you know is right.