One of the most important, significant, and educational (and moving) videos I’ve viewed this year appeared in today’s Guardian. In a brief few minutes, you can learn a very great deal about the situation in the Middle East and North Africa, and beyond in fact. And by that I mean, not so much answers, but the right questions to ask about the situation.
The video, about the so-called “Arab Spring” and its aftermath, is entitled “I changed Tunisia’s history. I regret it all now“. If you view it, pay close attention, because what Hosni Kalaya and others in Tunisia are saying affects us all.
One has to appreciate the irony here, given that the Tunisian “quartet” was recently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize despite that fact that there is yet no peace in Tunisia.
As mentioned, the video and testimony of Tunisians may not suggest “solutions” to the despair and plight of Tunisians (and by extension also, Iraq and elsewhere), but it helps us to appreciate that despair and plight and to frame the right questions about it. Why is it that, despite the revolution, the majority of ISIS recruits apparently come from Tunisia? Does “democracy” in Tunisia mean, submitting the country to the rule of neo-liberal “market forces” that may have exacerbated that sense of regret, despair, and hopelessness even after the revolution? Has “Islamism”, or political Islam, become a problem precisely because alternatives like economic socialism have been proscribed by neo-liberal institutions like the World Bank or IMF? And there’s the startling statement in the video, that many Tunisians, having lost faith in the “Arab Spring” and the revolution, have joined the Jihadis, not because of any Islamicist convictions, but to escape the despair and poverty. Jihad pays well, and reportedly, many suicide bombers aren’t seeking “martyrdom” and Paradise, but are sacrificing themselves in exchange for promised financial support for their families.
If, if, if… I don’t know the answers to these questions. But I think they are the right questions to ask. Obviously, if neo-liberalism and the rule of market forces is, ironically, generating terrorism itself, bombing ISIS, especially its oil infrastructure which provides much of its funding, is the most absurd and irrational response to terrorism.
The Guardian video is of especial interest to me because I just finished watching a four part documentary on the Iraq War and its aftermath. It’s a box set (some available on the web) that includes award winning films: “Iraq in Fragments“, “About Baghdad“, “Hidden Wars of Desert Storm“, and “Return to the Land of Wonders“. The same theme keeps repeating itself — family welfare. And the family welfare is the motive for the refugee and migration crisis as well. The only real and important question is — what or who can best provide for the family welfare. It’s all about family and the security of the family. It’s not about “individualism” or the welfare of the individual. The individual is subordinate to the family unit, and is prepared to sacrifice himself or herself for the sake of the family unit.
And as one Iraqi man put it in one of the documentaries I watched (“Return to the Land of Wonders”) Iraqis are even prepared to shake the hand of the devil in order to secure the safety and security of their families — shake the hand of the Devil, or worse — join up with ISIS.
That supremacy of the family unit and its security requires a rethink, not a formulaic response.