ANALYSIS: Apathy and rage —Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur - Sunday, February 06, 2011

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The surviving Arab rulers and their western mentors will certainly embark on a course to neutralise and thwart this struggle because they see the end of their rule and fear that Israel will no longer enjoy the tranquillity it has seen since Camp David and will have to contend with the people of the region rather than power-hungry autocrats

The present uprisings in the Middle East have baffled all and irked many for their inordinately late coming and their intensity and ferocity. The people were extremely submissive to these vicious autocrats whom Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, termed “monarch-type figure”. This apparently contradictory behaviour should not have surprised anyone at all because this has generally been the case as is proved by people’s submission to British and European colonialism, Soviet hegemony and US imperialism. The issue is simple: submission apparently entails no sacrifices while resistance, on the face of it, demands huge sacrifices though it is beside the point that it is submission that exacts an immeasurably larger and greater price than resistance does, but this point is always understood a little late.

All individuals, groups and nations have a different level of threshold for bearing oppression and injustices. Some resist, some submit. This has nothing to do with ethnicity but is determined by history, attitudes and social values. Regional history confirms this. Submissiveness depends on the degree of success the colonial powers and the oppressors have in creating a ‘herd mentality’ among those under subjugation and oppression. If they create an environment, which is apparently, mind you apparently, harmless to the subjugated, people are generally lulled into submission without the help of extraordinary measures. This ‘herd mentality’ makes them submit to all indignities and injustices. Though on the individual level there may be extreme resentment, but seeing others unwilling to resist, individuals too go along with the ‘herd’.

The colonisers, imperialists and the oppressors are always afraid and unwilling to contend with the people because people’s demands for their rights are unequivocal; these demands generally carry the germ of defiance and resistance. It is for this reason that the colonisers, imperialists and the oppressors find it useful and convenient to co-opt opinion leaders, political leaders, workers’ leaders, mafias, sardars (tribal chiefs) and waderas (feudal lords) to reinforce the ‘herd mentality’ and see to it that the people fall in line, supplementing it with violence against the recalcitrant. They thrive on submission and abhor defiance because defiance is extremely contagious. A single act of defiance can start a chain reaction; Chairman Mao had titled one of his pamphlets with an old Chinese saying: “A single spark can start a prairie fire”.

The desperate act of self-immolation by 26 year old Mohammad Bouazizi, a street vendor from Sidi Bouzid, became the spark that has lit a prairie fire and put the cat amongst the Arab rulers’ pigeons. Mohammad Bouazizi was only three when his father died and at 10 began supporting his family by selling fresh produce in the local market. He was constantly harassed and humiliated by the police as is the case in most countries in the Middle East and South Asia; the harassment included confiscating goods and scales, or imposing fines for selling without a permit. Six months ago he was fined 400 dinars ($ 280) equivalent of his two months’ earning. These fines were debilitating because apart from providing for his family, he provided for the education of his sisters.

On December 17, 2010, the camel’s back eventually broke. Confronted by a policewoman who wanted to take away his scales, he refused and they swore at each other. She slapped him and with the help of her colleagues took away the scales forcibly. He went to municipal authorities to complain but, all institutions of oppressors being united, was refused a meeting on a flimsy excuse. He bought paint fuel and outside that building poured it over himself and set himself alight and with that the prairie fire was lit, which now threatens to consume the established order in the Middle East.

The fire consumed the President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and his family’s 23 years of iron-fisted corrupt rule of Tunisia. He like other tyrants found refuge in Saudi Arabia. The fires have reached the Tahrir Square of Cairo where the people want to see the end of Hosni Mubarak’s three decades of misrule. Egyptian Tonton Macoutes attacked the protestors a few days back in the Square but retreated in the face of sustained counter-attacks.

A brief look at the Tonton Macoutes is essential here; it was the Haitian paramilitary force created by elected President François ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier in 1959 because the army staged a coup. The Haitians named this force after the Haitian Creole mythological Tonton Macoute (Uncle Gunnysack) bogeyman, who kidnaps and punishes unruly children, snaring them in a gunnysack (Macoute) and eating them for breakfast. It is said they consumed more than 30,000 Haitians for breakfast during Duvalier’s rule.

Duvalier employed Tonton Macoutes in a reign of terror against all opponents who would disappear at night, or were sometimes attacked in broad daylight. They often stoned and burnt people alive. Many times the corpses were put on display, often hung on trees for everyone to see. Family members who tried to remove the bodies for proper burial often disappeared themselves, never to be seen again; quite like the tactics employed in Balochistan.

All autocrats have their own brand of Tonton Macoutes to ensure the sustenance of their rule. Only when the people give up the ‘herd mentality’ do these outfits, official or irregular, become scarce and vanish. Sometimes they deviously join the protestors to subvert the movement for change.

The surviving Arab rulers and their western mentors will certainly embark on a course to neutralise and thwart this struggle because they see the end of their rule and fear that Israel will no longer enjoy the tranquillity it has seen since Camp David and will have to contend with the people of the region rather than power-hungry autocrats who oppress their own people but submit to the will of the West and Israel.

The west and all Arab rulers are fearful of the change of mood from apathy to rage. They fear that this rage will bring to naught their plans to have an eternally docile public, essential for domination of the region. Though the effect of this upsurge is difficult to predict, if this awakening does bring about the type of change that Latin America has undergone in recent years, then all this turmoil will not have been in vain. The people will have to ensure that they do not once again fall into the stupor and apathy that prevented change for so long.

The writer has an association with the Baloch rights movement going back to the early 1970s. He can be contacted at

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