What Uprisings in the Middle East and Asia Suggest About Muslims…and Everyone Else
If you follow the news then you know that Egypt is in the midst of a revolution. Don’t be alarmed if you’re experiencing deja-vu. The unrest is something the whole world has witnessed recently in Tunisia, Kyrgyzstan and Iran. What are the goals? And what do these movements say about Muslims and the rest of us?
Iran’s Green Revolution/Persian Awakening:
Why: Perception of election fraud, desire to oust oppressive dictatorship.
Number of protesters: millions.
Government response: arrests, torture of prisoners, street violence resulting in numerous deaths, intimidation, executions.
Outcome: Unsuccessful, at least in the immediate sense.
Muslim percentage of total population in Iran: 99.4%.
Why: Government corruption and oppression, rising energy prices, a stagnant economy.
Number of protesters: thousands.
Government response: street violence, with at least 41 protesters dead.
Outcome: the President fled and was stripped of power, making way for interim government led by Roza Otunbayeva, which was followed by a historic democratic election in 2010.
Muslim percentage of total population in Kyrgyzstan: 86.3%.
Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution:
When: 2010- present.
Why: unemployment, food inflation, government corruption, no freedom of speech, and poor living conditions.
Number of protesters: hard to pinpoint, but many thousands.
Government response: arrests, street violence, intimidation, deaths.
Outcome: So far, Tunisian President has stepped down after 23 years, increased internet freedom, oppressive police state crumbling, but still widespread instability and unrest.
Muslim percentage of total population in Tunisia: 99.5%.
When: 2011- present.
Why: according to Wikipedia, “legal, political, and economic issues including police brutality, state of emergency laws, lack of free elections and free speech, corruption, high unemployment, low minimum wages, insufficient housing, food price inflation, and poor living conditions.”
Number of protesters: hundreds of thousands.
Government response: internet blackout, communications blocked, journalists targeted, arrests, street violence leading to numerous deaths, intimidation, torture during incarceration.
Outcome: Mubarak was forced out, making way for the democratic process to begin.
Muslim percentage of total population in Egypt: 94.6%.
I have heard it before (and said it myself in years past) when drawing a conclusion from similar events in predominately Muslim countries: ”see- they can’t govern themselves. It’s nothing but constant chaos. They’re all barbarians. Nothing works there.” But how can that ugly narrative survive when the facts show the opposite to be true? There is an undeniable spirit of revolution in what are undeniably Muslim countries. Notice these protesters aren’t chanting “Death to hot dogs and fantasy football.” In other words, they don’t actually hate us for our freedoms. The movements are not primarily anti- American (although many Muslims have grievances about U.S. meddling in their affairs, which is only reasonable because we do). They are not rallying for oppression as we so often assume, they are rallying to end it.
And did you hear about this? Egyptian Muslims recently formed a human shield to protect Egyptian Christians from persecution and violence during Christmas mass. The slogan adopted was “we either live together, or we die together.” This quote stings:
We are one. This was an attack on Egypt as a whole, and I am standing with the [Christians] because the only way things will change in this country is if we come together.”- Dalia Mustafa, student
How’s that for loving your neighbor as yourself? I think American Christians just got schooled by people that many Christians in this country would consider “the enemy.” Christ prayed to forgive those who were crucifying him as it happened, yet as a nation purportedly filled with Christians, we still struggle to forgive Muslims for 9/11, even though it happened ten years ago, and (oh yeah and more importantly) the vast majority had absolutely nothing to do with it.
What this all suggests is that many Muslims have a hunger for rights, for equality, and for fairness, and that this is not too different from what led to our own country’s founding. They are willing to go to great lengths and to risk their lives to gain or preserve many of the same freedoms we cherish most. It suggests that the differences between “us” and “them” are less than many of us previously thought. It further suggests that our government’s precautions and security measures are disproportionate when compared to the threat of extremists, probably because our fears have become far too pervasive. And it suggests that we can no longer call ourselves serious or loving if we continue to lump Muslims into one category, or accuse them of participating in a secret scheme to overthrow the world while driving everyone into mosques. Yes- their extremists are far more dangerous than ours, but perhaps it is also true that their revolutionaries and humanitarians are far more courageous.