29 January 2012

Redefining Patriotism

This article first appeared in the 3rd issue of the Africa Youth Human Rights Network's e-magazine; These Are Our Rights, February 2011.

It is being called the jasmine revolution and has sent shockwaves throughout the world both for its intense rapidity which not only took Tunisia but the whole continent by surprise but also its dramatic and almost fairy-tale like ending: a dictator packing his bags and making a very undignified exit to the nearest country that would take him.

Unlike the many articles that have flooded the news agencies, the blogosphere and Facebook I really do not want to debate the rights or wrongs that have been set in motion by this latest example of people power. I have my own doubts as to what the future holds but I am content to sit back and see what that is. Instead I would like to go back into the past with you. I would like to let us reflect for a moment on the name Mohamed Bouazizi. Perhaps in the frenzy of the revolution the international community may have forgotten his name but that name in Tunisia now stands for the hero who started a revolution when he gave his life for his country.

It all started with a slap and an insult, it ended with the most dramatic revolution this year and certainly one of the most dramatic in recent history. Mohamed Bouazizi is at the centre of the entire furore. A young man slapped in the face by a police officer, jobless despite the fact that completed his baccalaureate, selling vegetable to make ends meet despite the fact that his country is one of the richest in the region. No country should be allowed to sit back and watch any of its citizens in such a state but for Mohamed, not only did his motherland sit back and watch from their gleaming villas along the Mediterranean but the states representative in the form of a police officer slapped him in the face and insulted his father who died when he was three.

The rest of the story should be familiar, after taking his complaint to the local governor who would not open their offices to him; he doused himself in petrol and set himself on fire. In doing so he set on fire the regime of President of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, set on fire the spirits of his fellow countrymen who had suffered in the same conditions as he had for the last twenty three years and changed the course of Tunisian history forever. And that is the crux of all this reflection, the fact that at the very centre of this story is someone, a single person, who decided to do something, a great action, to change things. And not only did his countrymen take heed and listen to his unspoken message but they all went out and declared enough is enough.

What does one define patriotism as? Is it that feeling that courses through ones blood as one gazes at the flag fluttering in the morning breeze? Is it the pride one feels when gazing admiringly at a label that says made in your country? Or is it the undying conviction that every single square inch of your homeland is you homeland and that no one, not any one, can ever take that away from you? Is it the brave spirit that runs down the street in the face of a flood of bullets as South African school children did in Soweto, or sits silently in jail as Nelson Mandela did on Robben Island, or face a tank in the middle of Tiananmen Square and say, “I will not move!” as that famous and sadly unnamed Chinese man did twenty years ago.  Or is it defined by Mohamed Bouazizi’s final act that screamed, “I would rather die than live one more day oppressed by this regime.”

A great man once said that those who sit and allow tyranny to reign are active participants in that tyranny and as I look at the world map and see all the worlds “trouble spots” I cannot help but feel that those words ring truer now than ever before. We can blame world leaders all we want, but as the Ndebele tribe of Southern Africa say, a king is a king because of his people. Defining patriotism is a difficult thing but I can dare say that Mohamed Bouazizi came closer than a lot of people have done ever since NathanHale declared before he was executed as an American spy by the British, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” 

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