by Karen Kwiatkowski: Brad
Manning Has Rights!
Like many Americans,
I missed last month’s news
of Mohamed Bouazizi from the rural town of Sidi Bouzid in central
Bouazizi, like many Tunisians for many years, was counted among
the unemployed. To make ends meet, he sold fruits and vegetables
from a cart in Sidi Bouzid. He had no state-issued license to sell
food on the street, and when the authorities on December 17th
confiscated his cart and allegedly slapped him in the face, the
angry and frustrated Mohamed Bouazizi went down to the local governor’s
office and conducted a no-notice public self-immolation.
failed to report this political act, as it failed to comment on
the riots and civic unrest that rapidly spread across the country
and into Tunis. After ordering his police and security forces to
fire on protesters, and end the riots, seventy-four year old President
Ben Ali, "elected" with "99.9%" of "the
vote" and "serving" Tunisia and the United States
for the past 23 years, fled
to another non-democratic U.S. military ally, Saudi Arabia on
the Drudge Report last week, after a number of people had been killed
in Tunis and across the country, and by all appearances, about the
same time the U.S. State Department issued
a travel warning for Tunisia. However, the events and the story
were already big news across North Africa and the Middle East, where
several dictatorial old-timers rule US-compliant states, with limited
economic and political freedom, high unemployment, extreme injustice
and blatant government corruption.
modern Tunisian example with US media reporting of a similar political
act that led to the downfall of another unpopular, corrupt, dictatorial
U.S.-supported government. The 1963 public
self-immolations of four Buddhist monks protesting the US-backed
Diem government in South Vietnam were indeed well-staged by the
Buddhist opposition, designed to gain national and global notice.
staging, what else might account for the difference in American
contemporary awareness of that desperate and revolutionary act,
and what has happened nearly 50 years later in Tunisia? In 1963,
the Vietnamese political drama was brought to us initially by low
budget and daring AP reporter Peter
Arnett and AP journalist and photographer Malcolm
Browne. The imagery and stories produced were horrific and attention
grabbing, to Americans not yet jaded by nightly news imagery of
body bags, air attacks on rice paddies, and swathes of burning jungle.
In an age before the Internet, Americans were still reading daily
papers and watching the nightly television news, active beggars
rather than deliberate choosers of information.
choose their news like we choose our comfort foods. We are predictably
uninterested in the global empire we fund and pursue. We are predictably
unaware of the unfree, economically shriveled, and conflict-ridden
world that the US reaction to 9/11 has helped foster and grow. We
are predictably unsympathetic to desperately poor people, particularly
if they are Muslim, and frankly don’t give a damn if they were slapped
in the face by a state authority. Do what you are told, say the
majority of Americans, to the world, and to each other as we struggle
weakly and not at all against our pupating
fascism. And as Lew Rockwell succinctly
noted a few years ago,
is fascism? It is a real ideology, not just an epithet. It is
characterized by belligerent nationalism, militarism, aggressive
war, suppression of civil liberties, use of religion in the service
of the state, exaltation of the executive, opposition to free
markets domestically and internationally, corporatism, welfarism,
domestic spying, torture, and detestation of the Other, in this
case Muslims and Arabs.
There is another
key difference. The 1963 conflict between the Buddhist majority
and the Diem government, itself an aftereffect of French colonialism
in Saigon backed by Eisenhower and Kennedy, was in some ways useful
to both the political powers in Saigon and in Washington. Diem mistakenly
believed that the Buddhist rebellion could be traced to Laotian
enemies, and the events made to serve his interests in more US support.
Further, the political discussion in Washington was a real, if narrowly
defined, elite debate – to
support Diem or to replace him with a more malleable and reliable
puppet regime. At the time, these elites had long-term "interests"
and would go on to sacrifice over two million Vietnamese and 58,000
of our own children in an effort to expand U.S. state power, in
league with Diem’s successors.
dictatorial party and Ben Ali himself have a far clearer perspective
of America’s ability to be helpful. With U.S.
debt levels on par with Greece, the American economy unfree
and struggling, its population increasingly aging and mediocrely
educated, and its giant military and diplomatic structure expressing
the congenital cyclopia that is the way of all empire – the U.S.
is no longer the ally of choice for anyone. Simultaneously, the
elite debate in Washington and New York is even narrower than it
was in 1963, when elite dreams for global central management seemed
new and ripe with possibility. Today, the elite debate may be likened
to a yoked team of old Percherons heading to the barn after a long
day in the harness. Eyeing the feed bag, they brook no discussion
and articulate no alternatives. Like them, the aging elites and
parties in Washington can imagine nothing new. Dead imaginations
can visualize no change, frozen in abject fear of what change must
mean at the termination of sixty-plus years of U.S. glory and global
domination. The favorite words for at least the past two decades
in the Pentagon, the CIA, the State Department and the Federal Reserve
have been stability, stabilize, stabilitate.
of the elites in Washington may lend support to optimism for the
coming decade. But Washington’s look the other way and hope it isn’t
happening reaction to events across Tunisia, and in the region,
bears witness to the irreversible evaporation of the very idea of
America as a shining city on a hill.
Some have dubbed
the rebellion in Tunisia as the "First
Wikileaks Revolution." U.S. State Department cables to
Washington decrying the corruption and evils of our friend Ben Ali
drove Washington to do … wait for it…. absolutely nothing. But somehow,
shining the light on what Tunisians already knew, and could only
whisper about under fear of being disappeared and permanently silenced,
was empowering. Tunisian rage at the assumption of great and unwarranted
power by a state – unjust governance – is one part of a volatile
substance. This rage had existed in Tunisia at least since the popular
was declared incompetent and displaced by Ben Ali 23 years ago.
The binary explosive may have been established when simmering rage
at injustice met a sudden, Wikileaks and Internet-aided recognition
that no one else will act, because no one else cares. If it is to
be, it is up to me. A trite and meaningless phrase in 21st-century
America so far, but equating to a gasoline can and a struck match
in Sidi Bouzid on December 17th, 2010.
I was fortunate
to be able to spend a bit of time in Tunis ten years ago. I remember
the ubiquitous official-looking photographs of President Ben Ali
in every room of every building, private home, in the schawarma
stands and bakeries, even hanging from the rear view mirrors of
taxis. An extended and quite animated conversation with a trilingual
taxi driver simply ceased when we asked about his picture of Ben
Ali. I recognized the fear in the air, but I could not comprehend
it. Back then, I could not imagine living day after day afraid of
the government, being careful with my political speech even to friends.
What a difference a decade makes.
changed for Tunisians, and I pray they will be blessed with new
hope, great prosperity, real liberty and peace. May they be inspired
by America’s own cessation of consent in 1776, and not hampered
by the global, rusting corporate robostate she is today.
small town of Sidi Bouzid, home of friends and family of Mohamed
Bouzizi, fruit vendor and hero, is just east of Kasserine, Tunisia.
It is fitting that in 1943, in exactly this area of Tunisia, a
great American Army was found lacking, fighting another European
power on battlefields that neither side cared about, for the sake
of expanded state power and respect that today, for both sides,
is just smoke and history.
is a good thing most Americans don’t know and don’t care what is
happening in Tunisia. It truly is not our country’s business, and
we should wish the people there only peace and happiness. It is
certainly good to see Washington itself bereft of ideas, staring
like a slobbering post-lobotomy at its broad-based and dynamic repudiation
around the world. Perhaps the 21st century will be an
age of liberty, as we all wake up the venality, superficiality and
fundamental abject weakness of the state in the face of practical
and widespread withdrawal
columnist Karen Kwiatkowski, Ph.D. [send
her mail], a
retired USAF lieutenant colonel, blogs occasionally at Liberty
and Power and The
Beacon. To receive automatic announcements of new articles,
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2011 Karen Kwiatkowski
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