What Changed in the Arab Spring

We invest in War; we wish for Peace. The US spent $3 trillion on the Iraq War, according to the latest estimates. It was collateral damage; we had the wrong information, we aimed at the wrong target, disconnected from whom attacked us. It costs us lives, money and honor . . . with no one accountable.

Given the cost and futility of war: will we learn?

We speak of the Arab World. In reality today, Arab community, European community, African community, Asia ? U.S. ? we are inextricably bound. We are one world.

The US President and his staff watched the fall of bin Laden in real time. Today we watch the battles in Libya and Syria, in real time. We are increasingly living in one world, no longer separated by oceans and mountains or language.

We have survived apart, that distance has created many problems. We now have a greater challenge; we must learn to live together. It’s a greater challenge than surviving apart, but infinitely more rewarding.

There is a tension today as we see the ugliness of war, and speak of peace.

Coexistence and peace are dismissed as unrealistic and “soft.” So we don’t pursue it vigorously. We speak of justice; but we reject one set of rules, which inherently demands a redistribution of resources and opportunity.

The prophet Isaiah admonished, we should “study war no more, and beat our swords into plowshares.” Or turn weapons of destruction into tool of development, and develop peace scientists, and not war scientists.

We focus on who uses the weapons, and who can purchase them. We use our best scientists and technology to pursue war, not to invest in peace. We take a special pride in sending a man to the moon, but not the same joy and research for wiping out malnutrition, malaria, AIDS, responding to disasters.

The trauma of 9-11-01 is now behind us. America was hit and thousands of innocent people were killed. Now the drams of 5-1-11 when bin Laden was killed ? both of these traumatic events are now behind us.

The question is, Can we go another way? Or must we prepare for Round Two and recycle the violence. We must choose reconstruction over revenge and retaliation. We must choose active dialogue and reconstruction.

We espouse Democracy with theory and rhetoric. But we choose control and domination, over growth. The US evolved with slavery and democracy co-existing; with democracy and suppressing the rights of women coexisting; with democracy and denying minorities a role, coexisting. When African Americans rose up and freedom blew, it was not communism or foreign intervention or interference. It was born of our own quest for dignity.

Astonishingly in the Arab Spring you don’t see the flags of foreign countries being burned. We see the tension of the vast body of educated people who are unemployed; the uneducated who want to become educated. We see corrupt and repressive governments. The desire for change is legitimate, and bottom up.

What changed in the Arab Spring? In the fullness of time, people’s minds changed. The insult level changed. The quest for dignity changed. And the outlet to tell our story, changed.

Mental transformation is irreversible. The Arab World will never be the same again. Every country will feel this change at its foundation.

The fresh winds of democracy are blowing across the Arab. It is irreversible. It can’t be contained; don’t fear it. Embrace it. The wider the base, the deeper the foundation of people with opportunity, the stronger the government.

I repeat, large numbers of educated but unemployed people, with corrupt and repressive leadership that sees the world through a key hole and not through a door, will not work.

It never works. We must choose One Big Tent, where are all in, and none are left out.

We define Democracy as of, for and by the People, bottom up, vs. the all for the few, top down. But we embrace concentrated power and privilege, where too few people have too much and too many with too little or nothing. Peace and a vast body of unemployed, educated youth, is irreconcilable with democratic dreams.

Along with classmates, I was arrested in 1960 trying to use a public library: at that time the great divide was race/colonialism vs. conquest, in South Carolina, or South Africa, and much of Europe and Asia.

Today the great divide is between the surplus culture at the top, and the suffering culture at the bottom ? with the middle class shrinking – Outsourcing labor to cheap markets, and in-sourcing content from cheap markets. The shrinking middle class is creating tension, and oftentimes, scape-goating.

At the ends of the road of wars, are tombstones, not pots of gold and cooling waters.

The extremes of poverty, desperation and oppressive governments, make for easy recruits to terrorism and self-immolation, to fight wealth and power. High walls and weapons stockpiles cannot stop the will to kill and be killed in the quest for dignity.

Peoples’ backs are against the wall, and they are revolting ? extremes beget extremes.

Where are we finding universal peace and order?

A Globalization that works?

On the athletic field, whether the Olympics in Atlanta or Athens, or China or London or Qatar: whenever the playing field is even, the rules are public, the goals are clear, the referees transparent and fair – people work hard and live with the outcomes. The winner has a sense of joy; the loser lost the game but keep their dignity, so they are all winners.

But when you globalize capital with the total advantage to the investor, and don’t globalize human rights, workers’ rights, children’s’ rights, human rights, or environmental security ? in a world connected by social media, it will no longer work.

There are some good models. Qatar uses it wealth to virtually wipe out unemployment. It reaches out and identify with emerging democracies. Qatar reaches out to support suffering in Katrina in the US, or Darfur in African and in Haiti, and the freedom fighters in Libya. That’s what democracy and social justice looks like.

Our foreign policy in a global world should not be foreign to the best of democratic values: the democratic doctrine must include international law; human rights; self-determination; economic justice and transparency, and leadership with sensitivity.

Today in the North South gap, too much is spent on the military, building walls ? and not enough investment to build bridges. We have an addiction and fantasy of violence as a vehicle for change. Generals wear stripes and bars, but ultimately the sacrificial developer have longer life spans.

It is Gandhi helping India overcome Britain’s colonization. In the U.S., segregation brought forth Dr. King. It is Mandela leading the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, using suffering as his weapon.

It is the Egyptian uprising?using massive non violence and non cooperation with oppression, to create one of the most phenomenal revolutions of our time.

It tells us that there is an alternative to violence, that non violence works.

Too often, we think peace is na?ve and war is a remedy, and thus some choose conquest over co existence. But the key to peace is a fairer distribution of resources, rather than weapons.

Lastly, there is no substitute for leadership that has strength, character, courage, and is transparent. President Obama has these basic characteristics, and is facing a tremendous head wind of resistance. When I look at him, one sees at work a man with a good mind, the courage of his convictions, a work ethic, and inclusive vision that’s broad and bold, and a healthy sense of religion that allows for ecumenicity and operational unity.

President Obama has these characteristics, but he is being attacked at every level: his trust and religion is under attack, his birthplace is under attack, his academic credentials, his motives and ideology. But like an eagle he keeps soaring without a need to come down.

We have our problems: more and more billionaires ? 300 yesterday, but today we have over 1000. That is extreme concentration of wealth.

We bailed out the banks without mandating lending and reinvestment. The foreclosed homes are exploding. We gave the richest tax cuts. We’re involved in three wars.

President Obama has a high moral compass, but he needs help to tackle these foreign and domestic challenges.

What changed in the Arab spring will become the Arab Summer and the Arab Fall and Winter? until Spring comes again, when the bright morning of justice appears. We will have shared economic security. Shared Justice. Shared Education. Shared opportunity. A means to make a living, universal health care for our children.

On that day, lions and lambs lie together; the powerful and the meek and none shall be afraid.

I know what changed in the Arab Spring.

A refusal to submit to corruption, an undying yearning for democracy ? and the will to fight for it. Deep within our souls, we all share this yearning for democracy. On all continents, in all languages and cultures, we share this yearning for freedom and dignity. So we must go forward by hope and not backward by fear.

Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, founder and president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, delievered this speech on May 9, 2011 in Doha, Qatar at Enriching the Middle East’s Economic Future Conference.


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