In its complacency, America views the democratic aspirations of others as the desire to possess what we already enjoy. Little do we imagine that these aspirations reveal what we have discarded or perhaps never even possessed.
President Obama packages what has driven Egyptians onto the streets within the banal phrase “the desire for a better life” — as though the world is captive to a vision of life in suburbia in which material comfort is the sum of human fulfillment.
We misinterpret the significance of the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt if we look at these through the narrow prisms of dictatorial rule or economic hardship, because in truth they provide lessons about what it means to be human.
We are complex creatures and have advanced beyond the level of survival. Our needs go beyond material sufficiency.
Egyptians did not take to the streets today in order to fill their stomachs but in order to express their hearts. They were reclaiming their dignity by refusing to continue being the subjects of oppression.
But where is our dignity in accepting the fact that we have political representatives who do not represent our interests? Where is our dignity in having turned ourselves from citizens into consumers and having abandoned the idea of government by the people?
On the streets across Egypt today the single most important message from the people was this: we are not afraid.
Is this not a message that should shame the average American? Having spent a decade accepting the proposition that no expense should be spared to guard us against every imaginable fear, can we even imagine what it means to face danger yet not be afraid?
This perhaps more than anything else is the measure through which the bugaboo of 9/11 became the altar on which we sacrificed our dignity.
And should we pause to consider what the possible consequences are of empowering a national security state in the name of defense against terrorism, we could do no better than look at the example of the Mubarak regime.
One of the prevailing narratives in Washington has been that the US must tread a delicate line so that it does not undermine the flowering of democracy by providing unwelcome American support — as though the average Egyptian gives a damn about America’s position.
Egypt’s destiny is being determined by its people — not the Obama administration, which in its timidity and duplicity refuses to actually acknowledge the simple demand that is on the table: that Mubarak go.
And when from America we watch the Egyptian people assert their power, we should only imagine: what might this look like in America if we were not a nation filled with people so thoroughly convinced of our impotence?