Friday, March 25, 2011

The generation gap

A couple of weeks ago, I attended one of the events of the Israeli Apartheid Week in Amman in which Attallah Hanna, the Archbishop of Greek orthodox of Jerusalem, was giving a talk. Upon arriving there, I immediately noticed that the age group of those attending was markedly higher than that of other events I had recently gone to, such as the Hashtag Debates at Makan House and Freedom Choir at Balad Theatre. I didn't think much of it and thought maybe this topic appeals more to the older generation than it does to younger crowds, who are now busy changing their own countries (to be fair I did spot a few familiar faces who present at all 3 events).

And then it started... One and a half hours of a talk, to people who completely disapprove of Israel, on how criminal Israel's actions are. I will not say that the Archbishop said anything that I disagreed with in principle. The problem is, he was just preaching to the choir (pun intended). My friend, Kariman, kept turning and asking me, "Is he gonna propose practical solutions?" I would just shrug, hoping that he would, knowing he won't. Because obviously, if he had practical solutions, he wouldn't be in Amman, talking to a group of people who enthusiastically applaud every time he said "Arab unity" and "Nasrallah". A woman next to us kept yelling "Yes! You are right!" at the end of each point. I am sad to say, and with all respect to the Archbishop and the struggle of his people... I was not inspired.

A week later and I'm at a protest in Beirut marching against the sectarian regime in Lebanon. Now putting the pros and cons of this protest aside, one thing struck me compared to the talk I had just attended a few days ago: No one person was leading the protest. No one was making speeches or telling people what they should do. The protesters would break into chant in response to anyone in the crowd.

Picture taken by Ameen Hannoun using Hipstamatic
This is not specific to the protest I participated in. All the other protests in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Jordan seem to share this characteristic. Some have criticized these movements as leaderless and therefore unable to negotiate. But this is exactly what those people want, an equal voice for all. They do not want to listen and be inspired by one person, a hero, who will eventually lead them to victory. Their parents have gone down that road and look where it got them.

And I think this was what baffled people like Ben Ali, Mubarak and Suleiman, who spoke to those protesting as if they were children overstepping their boundaries. They didn't understand that our generation doesn't get their information from one controlled source. We don't listen to only one point of view and decide accordingly. We view the world through more than one angle, many many more. We want to be heard and so we tweet, write blogs and update our status on Facebook. It sounds silly to them but it's the most powerful weapon we have, sharing our experiences and knowledge.

And that's why, anyone who still thinks that they can be an ultimate leader, unchallenged and unaccountable, has another thing coming. Because we don't want to listen to anyone's rhetoric about our enemy and the scary unknown we are about to face, we want to discuss and find practical solutions ourselves. We don't want to be told what to do, we want to decide it together. And the only reason none of those heads of Arab states and leaders of aging movements can grasp this is purely a generation gap. I think it's time for that generation to retire.

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