For the 2011 Nonconformist of the Year Award, I decided to honour Mohamed Bouazizi. It is amazing to reflect on how one individual was able to change the course of human history. No other person deserves the honour this year than Mohamed Bouazizi. Here's why...
On 17 December 2010, a young, frustrated Tunisian young man had had enough of being mistreated by the police. He was a college educated Arab facing the same problems that many of his generation face: no jobs available after getting a college education. He had to resort to selling produce at the market place in Tunis, with money earned to help his family, which included younger siblings. The harassment of the police for not having the appropriate paperwork to sell his goods was simply one humiliation too much.
He took his grievances to the Tunisian government that denied a hearing. So, in frustration, on 17 December, he set himself afire in protest. Suicide in the public square. A horrific way to go.
Miraculously, he survived the burning and was hospitalized for a few weeks before dying of his injuries on January 4th. His death became a rallying cry as Tunisians rose up in protest against the government of long-time dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who had been in power for 23 years. By mid-January, the leader of the country fled into exile and people all over North Africa and the Middle East rose up against their governments.
Egypt became the next focal point and eventually, Hosni Mubarak had fled the country after promising to hold elections and not run for another term. Mubarak had been in power since Sadat was assassinated in the early 1980s. Another dictator down because of the mass of people rising up to demand justice.
The spirit of Bouazizi next went to Libya, which took a lot longer for the people to oust long-time dictator Muamar Gadhafi. But, eventually, he met a violent end thanks to air cover by NATO forces led by President Barack Obama.
Now, Assad of Syria has been facing down protests in his country (and committing "war crimes"). Will he follow the same fate? The media seems bored with the Arab Spring, so Syria may actually end up like Iran or Burma during those uprisings of the past few years. Other countries faced public outcry: Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Morocco, Qatar, Bahrain, and the other Arab Gulf states.
Amazing that one man's martyrdom resulted in the ouster of three long-time dictators. Would those three men still be in power now if Bouazizi kept allowing himself to be humiliated day after day, week after week, trying to eek out a living on meager sales of fruit? Many religions consider suicide a sin, but what if it took such a drastic action to spark the kindling to set off the powder keg? For far too long, the people of the Middle East and North Africa have lived under oppressive regimes that have been in power for the entire lives of the majority of the population. People can only take so much abuse before they lash back. The questions is never "will they lash back?" but "when?" What does it take to spark a revolution? What outrage must be committed that results in the last straw that broke the camel's back?
The ripple effect of the Arab Spring did not stop in the Middle East and North Africa. In the United States, progressives, liberals, and Democrats came out of their hibernation to protest the anti-union moves made by Koch-funded newly elected governors in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Florida. Voters finally saw the horror of electing Republicans to state governments, not just Congress and the White House. The rallies against Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin were large enough to inspire Sarah Palin to come down and rally an opposing tea party protest, defending the governor, who is likely to be recalled as soon as the date arrives when recall petitions can be made.
If that weren't enough, a Canadian anti-consumerist magazine (Adbusters) had an article suggesting people Occupy Wall Street starting on Constitution Day (the day in September marking the anniversary of the ratification of the U.S. Constitution). This sparked an American Fall, with Occupy movements forming in many cities and towns across the United States and all over the world, with tent cities and clashes with the police and the emergence of pepper spray as the weapon of choice.
With the European economy collapsing, protests are imminent in Europe. The people in power ought to be running scared, because there are more of us than there are of them. The winds of change are blowing, and with the Mayan 2012 date just around the corner, one has to wonder what's going to happen in the next year. However, when it comes to 2011, it is difficult to imagine the year playing out as it did without Mohamed Bouazizi's death providing the spark that set off the powder keg. As my favourite church campfire song goes, "It only takes a spark, to get a fire going / and soon all those around can warm up to its glowing / that's how it is with God's love, once you've experienced it / you want to sing, you want to pass it on..."
By selecting Mohamed Bouazizi as this year's Nonconformist of the Year, I'm not condoning self-immolation or suicide as something to do. There are other ways to make your point across. Its important to be alive to help build a movement or to participate. However, we never know how desperation can lead people to extreme measures. A nonconformist lives by a principle that doesn't follow the crowd. Its a tragic death, for sure, but worth honouring because of the positive ripple effects. If Mohamed's soul is looking down from heaven, I can imagine that he might be surprised at the public outcry over his death. He cut his life short, but he inspired millions to rise up and take action. The result is amazing: three long-time dictators are gone from the world scene. Let's keep his spirit alive! Long live Mohamed Bouazizi!! May your soul be in the highest degree of glory in the spiritual realm.