To be alive at the beginning of a new millennium is a peculiar state of affairs. It is the beginning of a millennium filled with an indefinite mass of humanity focused on the end of time it self. The unfulfilled prophecies of the world’s major religions have all been leading to an endless expanse of Apocrypha. What though is meant by this notion of Apocrypha? Esoteric, hidden, heretical, none of these terms shed any light on this body of knowledge, which consumes so much of humanities focus. Olam ha-zeh and Olam HabaMark; Mark and Matthew; the al-Qiyāmah; the Vedic scriptures and Mayan calendars all splinter off through human history and the conciseness of millions.
So what is so hidden or heretical about these writings? Their validity seems to be confirmed by a North American subcontinent a flame with the war on drugs, an aging Europe searching for identity in the crumbling symbols of its past, an Asian East straining to cope with a growing populous, and a Middle East torn apart by rebellion after rebellion. There is nothing hidden about the results of human endeavors. They unfold as such all around the world and are found not only in our own struggles over social welfare or corporate excesses.
One does not have to look far though to see something more fundamental in the modern state of the human condition.
December 17th 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi stepped in front of the provincial headquarters of the Tunisian province of Sidi Bouzid. He proceeded to pour a container of gasoline over his head and strike a match. Bouazizi’s protest was not a mere act of desperation. He had been out of work for years. He was the single source of support for his family. He had just watched his only source of income, an unlicensed vegetable cart, being confiscated by police for the second time. Bouazizi was like many young men in the Sidi Bouzid province, many of whom even have college degrees, yet are left unemployed wasting their days away in café’s scattered across the province. It was an act of the most extreme passion for ones family and society without regard to ones personal wellbeing, an act of pure madness.
This simple act of Martyrdom, an act holding special place in Christian Apocrypha as will as Islam, would spark not only protests in Tunisia, which ousted President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, but protests all over the Middle East from Morocco to Syria. Tunisian journalist and blogger Zed El-Heni laid claim to having coined the phrase ‘Jasmine Revolution’ in his blog on January 17th. Several recent uprising had been given similar names such as Carnation Revolution in Portugal and the Rose Revolution in Georgia, and for El-Heni the Jasmine was a flower that represented not only the nation of Tunisia but also the purity of the revolution. Purity in an act of such unbridled passion?
This conclusion is being questioned by many in Tunisia who are not willing to approve of this description of their revolution and reject its wide acceptance through out western media. The Arabic word for Jasmine (al-yasamin) shares a linguistic root in the Arabic language with words such as renunciation, resignation, hopelessness, and despair. The phrase ‘Jasmine Revolution’ is also a cliché phrase used in the past by Tunisia recently resigned President Ben-ali. The phrase in everyway has become a symbol of the Western Media’s desire to compress the complexities of the Middle East in to a modern by-line. Its use fails to translate to American readers the deadly seriousness of the events that have taken place in Tunisia.
Most of the Tunisian youth have taken to referring to the revolution simply as the ‘Tunisian Revolution’ or the ‘Facebook Revolution.’ They highlight in this way not an idealistic hope in some puritanical or fundamentalist revolution but instead place their hope in the blossoming freedom provided by new forms of social media. Bouzizi’s death is not captured by the symbol of the Jasmine. The voices of Tunisia are not so easily summed up poetically. And its lasting effect can never be captures in a single word or phrase. Or can it? May I for a moment quote Foucault both in content and form…
“The possibility of madness is offered in the very fact of passion.”
Passion. That is what we find in the thousands of protestors from Tunisia’s coastal towns to the heart of Cairo. We see it in the very streets of Cairo where the youthful masses did not simply return to their homes after the collapse of the Mubarak regime. Instead they remained in the streets cleaning up not only from their own struggle but washing the city clean of decades of garbage and debris. They set out to form new political parties, and to begin the never-ending work of creating a new tomorrow.
In their passion they embraced the madness of the world.
So what then does it mean to be alive, right now, at the beginning of a millennium? It means what it always has; it means simply being human. It means embracing your passions and turning your back on the madness. Or, better yet embracing it, over coming it, turning and twisting the insanity of the world into a new sort of hope. It means being crazy enough to believe that no matter what, that there is a tomorrow. A tomorrow ruled by mad men, perhaps, but filled also with the endless passions of a new generation with its’ own prophets and its’ own prophecies. Therefore…
The possibility of passion is also offered in the very existence of madness.