I am back in the USA. It is January 2011. I am at home. I am in the office. I am in my car and at the University. May be I am on a plane, or in a café. I am trying very hard to breath. The smoke from the tear gas is thick. Eyes are burning so badly I could scream. I am lighting up Molotov cocktails. I am dodging bullets while hoping they are not real. I am yelling and screaming at men dressed in thick dark uniforms and scary looking helmets. I am running out of stones to throw. It is 1978 and 1979 all over again. I am five thousand kilometers away, but I am in every alley of the city of Tunis. But wait, I am only there in spirit. Indeed, it is 2011, as my Blackberry informs of more disturbing news, and the documents in front of me remind me of my many passing deadlines.
I left Tunisia on December 30 to tend to business and academic commitments in the US. I had never thought I would miss what took place in January. The similarities between then and now are too numerous to list. The feelings I had and the anxieties I experienced seemed as if they just were kept in a safe for 30 years and suddenly freed. Anger, disbelief, empathy, fear and courage, all resurfaced with every CNN, Al Jazeera and Facebook notification. Then, and now, we fought against repressive regimes. We fought for dignity and for survival. We fought to be counted. We had become insignificant. We became objects and tools of a game of monopoly. The prizes of wealth and possessions were many, yet the one prize that seemed to matter the most to us was our dignity. And in this game, we the people, lost every time. We lost our basic God given human need for self respect, freedom, and peace. We decided to fight back and change the rules. No one has ever seen or photographed dignity, but we wanted it back, and we got it.
I would like to commend my Tunisian and Egyptian brothers and sisters for the courage they exhibited in fighting two of the most repressive regimes. Ben Ali may be history now, but the roots of his evil empire are still in place. You have only begun the long process of transition. History has taught us that true democracy is elusive because many people will stand in your way. They are people who will benefit from the absence of freedom. They will seek to accumulate more power and wealth through our lack of cohesiveness and unity. Our dignity is in the balance. Our real job has just begun.