As the Middle East and North Africa continue to convulse, with citizens of one nation and then another rising up against their oppressors, one cannot help but sense that we are experiencing something epic and for the ages. At this juncture, it’s far too early to know how all of this, or even any of this, will end. We don’t know which, if any, of the liberation movements will succeed — and if they do, what will finally become of them. It will take years, and in some cases perhaps decades, to judge whether the fruits of these revolutions are sweet or bitter or something in between.
But for now we can, I think, say this: a region of the world that for decades has been characterized by maladies and ruthless rulers, that has produced ideologies of hate and violence, that has given rise to feelings of hopelessness and fatedness, has produced in a matter of mere weeks striking displays of courage, moral clarity, and human dignity. I understand, as any conservative would, why some people are unnerved by the scale and pace of change, to say nothing of the history of the region. Still, I can hardly imagine anyone who has listened to the voices of the protesters not being moved by them or not feeling some solidarity with them. Many of them are dying in the streets in hopes of achieving emancipation. In Libya, for example, we are seeing a regime declare war on its own people, to the point of using mercenaries to gun them down.
“Ndotsheni is still in darkness, but the light will come there also,” Alan Paton wrote in the beautiful and evocative book Cry, the Beloved Country. “For it is the dawn that has come, as it has come for a thousand centuries, never failing. But when that dawn will come, of our emancipation, from the fear of bondage and the bondage of fear, why, that is a secret.”
In Iran, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and elsewhere, we are seeing people trying to unlock the secret, to create the dawn.
We are witnesses to a great human drama.