I have never heard the full story of Mohamed Bouazizi until this morning when CBC replayed a story from earlier this year on the first anniversary of Bouazizi's death. It is a deeply touching tale. For those of you who have forgotten or can't place the name, Mohamed Bouazizi is the fruit vendor who immolated himself as an act of protest against his mistreatment by government officials in Tunisia and, through his act, set off the entire Arab spring. It is a remarkable act of courage and desperation, the saddest part of which is the fact that Mr. Bouazizi can never know the impact that his sacrifice had and how he helped others by solidifying feelings of opposition against tyranny.
As I have said here before, the Arab Spring is, symbolically speaking, a strangely mixed blessing. On the one hand it is great that people stood up to tyranny and worked to change their society, attempting to foster greater democracy and undermine the arbitrary power of government. On the other hand, it is sad that to recall just how long it took for the mass of people to stand up and say "enough!" People have been struggling for a long time in the Middle East to bring greater democracy to their nations, and many have given their lives over the past few generations. But revolutions against tyranny can never really succeed until average people take to the streets en masse. If the numbers are small governments can continue to intimidate, imprison, and kill the opposition. But if tens of thousands take to the streets even the worst tyrants can lose their nerve and if enough 'average' people object even the police and the army are reluctant to support tyranny.
It is amazing to me that the Canadian people have not taken to the streets in the tens of thousands as Harper and his cronies have dismantled our democracy, our international reputation, our hallowed House of Commons, and our environmental protections. It has been a sad lesson to me in the speed and ease with which a country can go from democracy to fascism and tyranny. I started as a cynic and have quickly become and full-on misanthrope. The thing is I knew, at an intellectual level, that these things happen, but the emotional lesson is considerably more visceral and painful. It has been one of the three great political lessons in my life - the others being the time I spent living in El Salvador where realized the emptiness of most traditional "revolutionaries," and my close exposure to inner-workings of the union movement where I saw that many in the unions are, in reality, no more interested in justice than anyone else.
I don't know if Canada will wake up to the destruction of its democracy and put a stop to it. Maybe this is the beginning of many many years of third-world style tyranny. Maybe it will take the complete destruction of our rights, our democracy, our environment, and our prosperity before we have our own Mohamed Bouazizi stand up and inspire people to change. I admit to being a misanthrope. But at an intellectual level I don't believe people are "bad" per se, they are just so hopelessly self absorbed that they can't see the forest for the trees.
And thus, though I spend my whole life very close to the abyss, I rely on one thing - Gramsci's lesson that we must, even in the face of total disappointment, maintain an optimism of the will. In the meantime, I honor Mohamed Bouazizi, his family, and the courage of all the underdogs.