As everyone — myself included — heralds the role that social media has played in Tunisia’s revolution, it’s worth examining exactly what it is we’re crediting it for.
It’s not a Twitter/WikiLeaks revolution, people, and to say that these websites might have caused these unprecedented events is an insult to the people who have lived in the autocrat for generations, who got fed up, who organized, who lost their lives, or lost loved ones, fighting for change when it seemed next to impossible. What social media can be credited for is playing a very big (and VERY effective) role in the dissemination of information, of letting people know they had support, that others felt the same, and showing the rest of the world as it all unfolded, in real time.
As Steffani Cameron succinctly put it: “Twitter does not create revolutions. Yet. But it makes revolutions harder for governments to deny.”
Meanwhile, the WikiLeaks cable on Tunisia helped spur the uprising by exposing, in considerable detail, the first family’s conspicuous riches. That Tunisia’s leader and his wife were corrupt was no secret, but having details come from an official document of U.S. opinion served as a more potent catalyst. It was tangible proof of what everyone had known all along.
Whoever wrote this blog post, titled “Arab Activism: Brought to you by a White Man,” summed it up best:
According to Elizabeth Dickinson over at Foreign Policy and referenced as one of the top stories on the Huffington Post, one Julian Assange practically ousted the President of Tunisia himself. Oh sure, there was that whole self-immolation thing that started it. There are the myriad of fathers, sons, brothers, daughters, husbands and mothers risking, and loosing, their lives for a change in government. But we can’t bask in the revolution of a Muslim Arab nation for too long. No. Better to credit that white guy. Via Huff Po:
A cable released by WikiLeaks called Tunisia a “police state” and criticized Ben Ali for being out of touch with the people. This has fueled references to the current protests as a “WikiLeaks Revolution.”
Right. Because the college graduate forced to sell fruit and vegetables illegally until the government stopped him from even doing that was probably all over those fucking Wikileak cables. Gee, it wasn’t until it was uncovered that Tunisia was a “police state” that any well educated Tunisian lawyers had even fathomed it. Corruption? Here? Surely you jest! Never mind the blocked internet sites. Never mind having the same ‘President’ voted in with 80-99% of the vote every single time. Or the obvious censorship and dissapearing of fellow citizens. Why, until those cables everybody was just going about happily, minding their own business.
Certainly it is not possible that organized Arab activism has been on the rise across the Middle East. That it’s getting harder and harder to quell protests or stop news from invading once impenetrable police states. We cannot accept this possibility because this will cast Arabs, the majority of them being Muslims, in the role that Americans simply cannot abide them in: The Freedom Fighter.
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