Article Image

What just happened in Tunisia is going to change the canon that Columbia students read for Contemporary Civilization. As either current or former Columbia students, we all know what the French Revolution of 1789 represented for Europe. We will soon see what the Tunisian revolution of 2011 is going to be for the Arab world. While I hope that North Africa and Tunisia will be better represented in Columbia's Core Curriculum in the future, my short-term dream is to see an event of solidarity organized by my fellow Lions. Our values are the same, and we all need each other's support. Contrary to commonly held opinion, the lust for freedom isn't just a Western desire, nor is the Arab world limited to the Middle East. Tunisia is neither a desert where people ride camels, nor a nest for ugly, hairy terrorists. However, students are often misinformed about Tunisia and its people. A Columbia first-year once asked me where I was from, and I told her, "Tunisia." She made a wry face, hence I added, "It's in North Africa." She smiled and said, "Oh, I was there last year. I was in South Africa." This happened in the social networking site that is Butler, ironically under Francis Bacon's inscribed quote ("A man is but what he knoweth"). During my stay in the U.S., I got used to such comments, even though paralleling North and South Africa is a big mistake to make. In fact, there are millions of Tunisians (out of a population of eleven million) who have gone to school, and millions use the Internet. Satellite dishes are everywhere. The country is also a major tourist destination for European citizens. While at Columbia, I wanted to share my experiences and thoughts on the Arab world. I started blogging during my nights reading in Milstein Library. I was cautious about what I wrote, but no one was paying attention to Tunisia anyway—it was less dangerous and more interesting to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Going back home to Tunisia after New York City depressed me, and football (soccer) was the everyday talk. However, after WikiLeaks divulged its secrets, my friends began to engage me in political discussions. We Tunisians started sharing these stories collaboratively, building on each other's information. One built his courage after reading his friend's status or tweet. The motto was: "He wrote that. I can dare more". Though we openly discussed politics in person, Tunisia's media controls resembled North Korea's editorial policy, and a KGB-style police force watched over to ensure compliance with the ridiculous propaganda proscribed to media outlets. We were living a collective dissociative identity disorder: Tunisia was extremely open to the world, but was closed from within. This nation had to cope with a brutal dictator who kept on strengthening the rules while his family was plundering the state. The country was sinking into economic depression and was boiling with the events that started shaking the Middle East in 2000. But the state media, as well as international observers, kept on praising former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and the Tunisian Miracle, so we had to keep our plague to ourselves. Tunisia was a pressure cooker ready to explode. That moment occurred when a man torched himself in a poor Tunisian village over an issue with the local authorities, which immediately sparked protests. Video of the protests was quickly posted on Facebook. Protests were growing, as well as the number of videos, political statuses, and tweets. A gradual courage was taking over the nation. Four weeks later, our dictator, who had ruled for 23 years, left the country. The end of Tunisia's dictatorship is similar to the end that dictators met in Europe and Asia. Just as it happens in other nations, a revolution occurs when a nation awakens from centuries of slumber. Tunisia led the way, but its revolution is still endangered by the remains of the ancien régime. Columbians, we can help the revolution stay alive. Though fundraising campaigns are always welcome, an awareness campaign about Tunisia, a country with great beaches, sunny landscapes, and a rich history, is also a must. The author is an '09 graduate of the Graduate School of Arts and Science with a degree in Classical Studies. He was a Fulbright Scholar.

Tunisia revolution Contemporary Civilization
From Around the Web
ADVERTISEMENT
Newsletter
Recommended