Freedom and the assertion of the true self

We are all prisoners, bounded by the limits of our skin and our society. Anytime we take liberties with our self-determination, there’s always someone to say we are being reckless, stupid, naive, brave. My own mother, may her memory be blessed, who felt the cold hand of murderous oppression at the hands of the Nazis, often warned me to be careful in my criticism of government, to be wary of the direction my literary fingers pointed, lest there arose in our government an enemy of free thought.

While I’ve always been somewhat dismissive of those concerns, given our country’s promise of liberty and free expression, I respected the dire circumstances from which her fear arose. Truth be told, I’m more afraid of the unpredictability of the populace than I am of our government, and that is a direct result of her experience.

Perhaps paradoxically, another important lesson I learned from my mother, through her own behavior, is if something is bothering me about the actions of my community, I will not let it pass. With some discretion, I echo her words. “What am I supposed to do,” she would ask, rhetorically, “sit there and say nothing?”

I started this blog ten years ago, this month, in reaction to the reelection of George W. Bush. Although I did some campaign work for the Democrats in 2004, I felt that I didn’t do enough, say enough, risk enough, to have a part in changing the direction of a government lassoed by our cowboy president and his chortling arms tycoon, Cheney. I could no longer “sit there and say nothing.”

That brings me to the tragic events in Paris, Wednesday, when Stéphane Charbonnier, the editor of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hedbo, and a team of committed cartoonists were murdered, just for presenting a wry view of the relationship between fundamentalism and a free society. He refused to stop, even after the paper’s offices were firebombed in 2011.

“I’d rather die standing than live on my knees,” Charbonnier famously said, a few months later, when he published another provocative issue.

They had something to say, these journalists. They could not say nothing, even though it was obvious their government could not protect them. Like abortion doctors in America, who continue doing what they believe is right, despite the threats and website “most wanted” lists, they took precautions and kept publishing. It was their nature. “You cannot say, ‘I will not fight,'” the Bhagavad Gita advises, “Your nature will compel you to.”

Being true to one’s nature is being true to one’s self, to an inescapable purpose. That is the freedom for which all who express through words and pictures strive. For ten years I’ve wanted Prose and Thorn to be “the prick that makes you think.” My pricks are bumps compared to the gang at Charlie Hedbo, where the skill of the witty provocateur is not only in holding a mirror up to the foibles of a dysfunctional society, but in the fear and the worry that runs beneath the drollness of a phrase like, “100 lashes for you if you don’t die laughing.”

Laughing is a good idea, or crying or dreaming if it helps you. Just express, and assert your true self.




Bloodshed or bailout – is Mubarak too big to fail?

“[There will be] no ending of the regime.”
– Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman, to reporters, Wednesday.

Blustery threats from Egypt’s recently appointed vice president are barely blowing the sand from the pillar of protest against the embattled government’s leadership. The people in Egypt’s streets will not cease until their pillar becomes an obelisk, a monument to the defeat of a rich and powerful enemy – Mubarak, his corrupt party, his brutal police force.

Meanwhile, we in the US have written a scenario where we appear to be comfortable with the status quo of a drawn out transition. We have voiced our opinion in the matter, and are done. Fifty-eight percent of us told a Reuters/Ipsos poll that we prefer the “cautious approach,” and let the Egyptian government take it slow.

Ipsos pollster Julia Clark says those results suggest “a pretty nuanced view of the situation in Egypt and the possible consequences” to American national security. Eh, maybe.

It is also possible that our attention span for the news from Egypt is maxed out, severed by the national obsession with the big game this past weekend. We are satisfied enough with the Obama administration’s response, not particularly frightened by it, so we can let go of it. Time to eat a spoonful of corn flakes, change the channel to Real Houswives of Des Moines, and move on.

But our foreign policy on this story is a divided one. How can we be giving Mubarak’s regime assurances they are doing the right thing in planning a “smooth” transition, while at the same time saying, “it is for the Egyptians to decide?” The Egyptians have decided – they want Mubarak out.

The answer is simple. We consider Hosni Mubarak too big to fail. If Tunisia was the small, regional bank, Egypt is Chase. Both in proximity and weight, were Egypt to fall to unfriendlies, it would be a major domino that could compromise our interests in the Middle East, Central Asia and in the so-called War on Terror (ick, I know, right? I hate that phrase too – it’s so Bushy).

Suleiman threatens, “[If] a coup happens, [it] would mean uncalculated and hasty steps, including lots of irrationalities. We don’t want to reach that point,” but it will. With crowds growing again, and internet activist turned opposition firebrand Wael Ghonim telling them, “We will not abandon our demand – the departure of the regime,” the “point” Suleiman doesn’t want to reach seems inevitable.

Even the coalition of  five youth groups in Tahrir Square understand that there will likely be more bloodshed. “He is threatening to impose martial law,” declared coalition spokesman Abdul-Rahman Samir, to the Associated Press, “which means everybody in the square will be smashed.”

But that’s not inevitable – not with a tested remedy to “too big to fail” at hand. Mubarak bailout

It’s time for a bailout. There may already be two suitcases, waiting to travel under diplomatic pouch. One has Hosni Mubarak’s name on it; the other has the name of the protester who is the most reasonable successor, or maybe an organization; both cases contain cash. A lot of cash.

Thusly gifted, Hosni hastens to Paris, and a new regime, with a debt to America, moves Egypt forward.

If not, and Suleiman does implement a crackdown on the country’s protesters, he would face an even bigger force. “What would he do,” asked Samir, defiantly, “with the rest of the 70 million Egyptians who will follow us afterward?”


When, in the course of Egyptian events…

“The voices of the Egyptian people tell us that this is one of those moments; this is one of those times.”
– President Barack Obama, February 1, 2011

It’s never a good time for a revolution, but it is the time to which we’ve come. It’s not a clash of religions, or classes, or wealth or power. These demonstrations are an expression of the Egyptian people being called to “determine your own destiny,” as President Obama advised when he appeared briefly to read a statement, Tuesday evening.

At the morning’s cabinet meeting, Secretary of State Clinton affirmed the administration’s call for “an orderly transition to a government that is responsive to the aspirations of the Egyptian people.”

That transition, Obama added, “must begin now.” It seems almost Orwellian, this foreign policy in which yesterday’s friend becomes today’s, um, un-friend.

Obama on Egypt 2-1-2011
Click to watch President Obama's February 1, 2011, statement on the situation in Egypt.

Suspend your American reality, if you can, for the moment, and realize that the choice is not always between friends and enemies, Christ and the Devil, Indians and cowboys, white and black (or vice-versa), and the alternative to a US backed dictator is not necessarily a communist or an Islamic revolutionary. (The world understands, though, that if you want to make a sales pitch for foreign policy to the United States, it helps to simplify it as a choice between halos and horns. Plenty of US politicians understand that too.)

With that dichotomous outlook, it is inevitable that we don’t always back the right horse; we back the right horse for now, and with that we can be very wrong. When Anwar Sadat‘s bravery in signing a peace treaty with Israel was rewarded with assassination, Hosni Mubarak was the horse of the moment. But “now” moments, as every college sophomore understands, are a moving target, especially when contrasted with “then” moments. Accordingly, the brave horse we backed then, is the stuck statue destiny is closing in on now.

Egypt is more powerful than one long serving, old man, and the stern system he represents. “All of us who are privileged to serve in positions of political power do so at the will of our people,” Obama said, Tuesday. If the continuing protests have taught us anything, it’s that every nation is a nation of people, and no matter how heavy the government’s hand, there are those who long to give a voice to dissent, and remarkably many more who are brave enough to do it.

Mubarak likes to hold his difficult role as fighter of radicalism and helm-holder of peace with Israel as the most compelling reason for unflinching US support. Most Egyptians, however, are young and secular, and they understand what’s at stake in the cool peace they have with Israel, and what being in a permanent state of war with your neighbor costs in lives and materials.

Mubarak’s insistence that stability depends on him leaving on his own terms ignores two main things. First, that the alternative to his “stability” is not necessarily chaos; in fact, by unleashing his supporters to clash with demonstrators on the streets of Cairo, Wednesday, he is saying that he is depending on chaos to maintain stability. Secondly, the people will not allow him to stay.

Obama’s “orderly transition” differs from the beleaguered Egyptian president’s “stability” in that what “must begin now,” from the American’s point of view can wait until September, according to Mubarak. Meanwhile, he is willing to threaten, imprison and retaliate violently against his opposition. He has stopped listening to the people; when do we stop listening to what he wants, and show that we listen to the people of Egypt?

When people are dying in the streets of Cairo, it’s time to let go of the fence, Mr. Obama, Mrs. Clinton, and coalesce around the Egyptian opposition. The ally is Egypt, not the man Mubarak, who was good for us until he wasn’t anymore.


Freedom in Chains

Refute Apathy
Rebuke Bush
Repatriate Freedom

What remains of Freedom’s robes are threadbare, and her scalp is scabbed and scarred between clumps of matted, thinning hair. Her humid, windowless cell is an oven, where crawling cockroaches pull peeling plaster off the blistered, wet walls. Sitting on the dirty floor, in a dark corner, with her knees to her chest and her head hanging low, Freedom distresses in her exile.

It has been months since she stood hopefully by the prison door, waiting for the click of the jailer’s key card, the metallic clunk of the bolt sliding back. She was waiting for the AG to greet her outside, to hand her a paper signed by the People and tell her this had all been a horrific mistake. But the door never opened. The apology never came.

“They must be very afraid of me,” she mumbled in her despair. She had given them so much, even up to the very moment that, disguised as patriots, they burst into her infinite light of grace, pulled her lamp away like it was a weapon of destruction, toppled her from her ancient pedestal, loaded her on a military transport and threw her in this Caribbean dungeon.

Yet, she is not angry with them, even though she has heard that they covered the old, clear lenses of her lamp with a milky filter and stuck it in the hand of an impostor, a poser in drag, whose other arm is holding a rifle.

She cannot hold malice because Freedom knows her gift is either accepted or rejected by choice, and by her own nature, she cannot challenge choice. She leaves it up to us to do it for her. That is not her demand, but she does want us to know that we have a choice. We can challenge. In this, she is more loving and patient than the most devoted mother.

But for Freedom to even have a chance, we first have to repatriate her brother, Habeus Corpus. Without being asked if he wanted it, he is carrying something we thought might have been locked away in a secret CIA prison sometime over the last six years: the integrity of our nation.

Over the last week, the People have chosen to instigate the processes necessary to rebuke the status quo. The Habeus Corpus Restoration Act” just came out of committee, there is bipartisan support for adopting more of the Iraq Study Group’s report than the dopes in Executive want to, and the AG is about to face a no-confidence vote.

As for the fate of Freedom’s evil twin, we need not concern ourselves with that, for like the cockroaches on the wall of a Guantanamo cell, it will scurry away, back into its dark hole, when Freedom’s light is finally restored. I do hope we make the right choice and step up soon.