Tunisia: Part II — The Canadian Connection

There’s always been a lot of talk about how one person can make a difference, how one lonely effort can change people’s minds and how one unrelenting optimist can push the world forward and make it a better place.  I believe this.  But, like most people, I still have to do the dishes and take the garbage out, so my unrelenting optimism is tempered by the need to scrape the scrambled eggs out of the pan.  However, sometimes the stars align, the breeze blows sweet and the gods smile on us.  It isn’t every day a person gets to change the world, but here we are.  It’s a bored Wednesday in January, a million degrees below zero outside, and daytime TV sucks.  So what the hell, eh?

On Monday, in Tunisia, the military guaranteed they would maintain order in the country so the Jasmine Revolution could succeed.  The teachers and the police went on strike.  A mass of people from the south came to the capital, Tunis, to defy the curfew and set up shop until somebody starts listening to them.  The demonstrations continue and the interim government has promised to step down after they hold free elections.  For the people of Tunisia, their country is in flux, but they are beginning to imagine a better world.

Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to help them.

Go find a Tunisian.  It’s not that hard; they’re all over the place.  A big part of the Jasmine Revolution is being propelled by Facebook and Twitter.  That’s a good place to start.  There are also websites and blogs that have e-mail and comments.  And God only knows what other MySpace/Yahoo/Foursquare combinations are out there.  Use your imagination!

Take a look and see who these people are.  I guarantee you that they are not the crazy Arabs that CNN, Fox and CBC have been force feeding us for last 10 years.  These are ordinary people, just like you.  And here’s the shock: they don’t know very much about North America because they’ve been getting their information from CNN and Al Jazeera.

So you need to let them know who we are; it’s important.  You need to tell them that it’s impossible to find a decent pair of cheap jeans in this country.  You need to ask for a recipe for the stuff they put in a tagine and find out why it tastes so different from everything else in the world.  You need to explain that Starbucks is good but Horton’s is better (or vice versa.)  You need to ask them if rap music sounds just as bad in Arabic as it does in English.

In short, you need to make friends.  You need explain your ulterior motives too.  After all, you didn’t just wander by.  And, to coin a phrase, just because people don’t have running water doesn’t mean they’re stupid.  This isn’t a time for politics or religion.  The Tunisians can take care of that themselves, but they need to know why you’re there.  They need to know you’ve come to support what they’re trying to do.  And that you like democracy, faults and all, and you want them to have some, because, at the end of the day, democracies don’t fight with each other any more than friends do.  You need to do all this so you can change the world.

Right now, there are bad people coming to Tunisia.  They’re wearing out ponies trying to get there.   They’re coming for the free elections, and they’re coming to take over the Jasmine Revolution.  They want power and they will do anything — and say anything — to get it.  Given recent history, it won’t be a big leap for them to make us out to be the enemy, and this will help them in their attempt to seize power.  However, they won’t be able to do that if you get there first.

It’s just human nature to distrust what you don’t understand.  However, it’s hard to dislike a person you just shared a recipe with.  It’s hard to hate somebody you call by their first name.  It’s difficult to believe someone is evil when they have the same problems and concerns as you do.  And it’s impossible to build an enemy out of someone who plays the same games and laughs at the same jokes.  Hillary Clinton and Peter MacKay aren’t going to do these things; they’re going to try and buy their way in — just like they always do.  But if you take the time to show the Tunisians just how much we have in common, they might realize who their friends are.  And they might have a chance at democracy.

Tunisia is the epicentre of change in North Africa because all the good bits have come together at the same time.  It’s small in size and population: ideas and people can travel quickly.  It has a relatively young and well-educated population: its people have been exposed to new ideas and are young enough to accept them.  It has a fairly big middle class: Marx, Engels and Mao were wrong: revolutions aren’t made by poor people; they’re made by the middle class.

Most importantly, Tunisia exists in the 21st century, and its people are open to the ideas of the world.  With any luck at all, there are going to be free elections in Tunisia.  For the first time, the people of an entirely Moslem country have overthrown a dictator and are going to have a crack at deciding their own destiny.  If it works, there could be others, and if we help them, it just might work.  So, maybe, somewhere between the dishes and taking out the garbage, you might want to give them a hand.  Who knows?  You might just change the world.