On Martyrs and Occupy Movements

My daughter lived just a block from Tahrir Square throughout the Arab Spring. She learned what it was to wear gas masks, take care of eyes that had been tear gassed, and continue daily life despite soldiers in full riot gear and tanks ready for action at the end of her street.

So when a friend asked her what she thought about the “Occupy” movement she paused before making her reply.

“It’s ok.”….”But you need a martyr”. 

He looked at her in shock.

While she doesn’t will anyone to die, I know what she meant. She meant you need a passion that hasn’t yet been identified, you need a common cause that moves people so deeply they are willing to die to see change, you need a tension that says “We feel this so deeply that we are willing to give all for this cause”.

A year after Occupy is there a passion and tension to the movement that demands action?

Protests began in Tunisia because a man set himself on fire after being systematically refused a permit to operate as a street vendor. It was corruption at the deepest level. Protests in Egypt began way before the 18 days in January, starting instead with the brutal beating and death of a young man in Alexandria, Khaled Said, who had a video that would expose police corruption. He was planning to make the video public when he was beaten in broad daylight outside of a coffee shop. He later died of those wounds. The nauseating wrong of this act was so evident it could not be ignored – so people rose up to protest his death and the environment that made his murder possible. In both cases, people could no longer be bystanders, they had to act.

So what do you do in a case where it’s “White Collar” corruption and crime? No one has died. No one has set themselves on fire. Instead the wrong is more insidious showing itself through its victims — a 26 year-old drowning in school debt, a 50-year old laid off 2 years ago who cannot get a job,  young families so busy trying to make ends meet that, as much as they may believe in the idea of an “Occupy” movement, they can’t take the risk of losing their livelihood. These are victims too be sure — victims served live on china platters at the table of corporate greed. But are they martyrs?

Indeed you don’t have to die to be a martyr. The definition also means “One who makes great sacrifices or suffers much in order to further a belief, cause, or principle”

But who is the Khaled Said of the Occupy Movement? 

Occupy Wall Street protesters have taken over ...

Do too many of us still have too much that is good to give it all in sacrifice for an unknown outcome? Or Is it that we no longer know how to come together for a cause in this country? Are we so fractured politically and geographically that what makes sense in one area, namely Zuccotti Park, seems foolish in another?

A year ago I wasn’t sure what I thought about the movement. Having grown up in Pakistan as well as spent so much time as an adult in the developing world, my perspective often runs counter-culture.  I may feel like I’m the 99% and the school loans from my children may look that way, but the reality is that when compared to most of the world, I have more than plenty. And so I’m still not sure what I think of the movement.

And I’m not willing to give my all for a cause that I’m not sure about.

What do you think? Have you been willing to “suffer much for a cause”? Why were you willing? And would you give all for the Occupy movement? 


Round the World in Protests

An accurate version of File:Arabic_speaking_wo...
Image via Wikipedia

Shut your eyes, spin the globe, and wait to see where it stops spinning. Chances are that it will stop at a country or place that is either at the end, middle or beginning of a protest. The ripple from Tunisia, to Egypt, to Bahrain, to Wisconsin, to Yemen, to Libya. Common people struggling with, and protesting against, decisions made by those who have seriously lost their way.

Focus now on Libya – a country unknown, and unwatched. Reports that have snuck their way past brutal government control say up to 500 dead, funeral processions fired on, and the grieving unable to voice their grief before another onslaught of violence on the crowd.

The NY Times reports that at least 50 Muslim Clerics issued a statement begging security forces not to use violence on protesters. The cry was passionate “We appeal to every Muslim, within the regime or assisting it in any way, to recognize that the killing of innocent human beings is forbidden by our Creator and by His beloved Prophet of Compassion (peace be upon him), ” the statement declared, according to Reuters. “Do NOT kill your brothers and sisters. STOP the massacre NOW! ” (NY Times Sunday February 20th)

In the midst of this, it is Sunday, and I am sitting comfortably with sunlight streaming in my window. In my faith tradition today is the day I’ll go and worship, the thought in the back of my mind “How can one part of the world feel so safe and calm and privileged, while another is in chaos?”  In the midst of my thoughts I am grateful to my friend Lois who sent me the transcript of a sermon preached in Arabic, last Sunday in Cairo by a woman,Elizabeth, who years ago was the flower girl in Lois’s wedding.  Several years apart, they both grew up in Jordan and Elizabeth had a unique place in Lois’s heart.

Elizabeth,gifted in Arabic, spoke to this Egyptian congregation on Hope with a passage from Jeremiah, a passage in the Christian Holy Book – the Bible. On this Sunday because I desperately need these words, and am sure some of my readers will love them as well, I’ll end with a quote that in one breath gives both challenge and hope.

“But our hope is Christian hope. That means that it costs something. We have to act on it. Christian hope involves our opinions, our decisions, our money, our relationships, our whole way of life. Christian hope is not just about us, but about everyone around us. Christian hope does not allow us to withdraw; it demands that we get involved. It is a hope for reconciliation and equality and justice, and its achievement is far more difficult than mere stability and security. But it is a hope that is guaranteed by the promises of God, the God who we believe nothing is too hard for.”

Bukara Insh’allah

Tomorrow, God Willing!

Yesterday thousands of Egyptians took to the streets demonstrating against their government.  Anyone who has lived even a short time in Egypt knows that this is remarkable.  In general Egyptians are a laid back group of people, they are slow to anger and quick to laugh.  But they are fed up.  Although government sources dispute this, studies show that a majority of Egyptians live off of  $2.00 a day. Unemployment is sky high, corruption rampant and the common person has no voice of change or otherwise. In the midst of the protests, the US government claims that Egypt is stable and the government of Egypt is “looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs of the people”.  Hard to reconcile reality with that statement.

Our connection to this feels close.  Besides our experience living for 7 years in Egypt, our daughter Annie, who attends  graduate school at the American University of Cairo, marched with the protesters, avoiding water cannons and experiencing the sting of tear gas. (She tells us that milk works to get out the sting).  She writes this:  ”

“Lots of momentum, and pretty unprecedented since Mubarak has come to power. It certainly won’t be a direct copy-cat of Tunisia, just given Egyptians’ general downtrodden-ness about politics here (so many of my friends today kept saying they didn’t think it would change anything, but they were there, So!)”

The Egyptian people have a saying that permeates much of life whatever the circumstance:  “Bukara, Insh’allah!’  (Tomorrow, God Willing!)  Sometimes said with sarcasm, other times with hope, it is the ever-present acknowledgement that there is a tomorrow, and there is a God.  And in that they have trust.  Despite today’s crack-down on protests, despite social media sites being shut down, despite their own difficulties there is always the collective cry “Tomorrow, God Willing”.