Sunday, 18 December 2011

When Time Called Time on Heroes

The significant details in life are often the small ones. The appointments forgotten, the words said or left unsaid, the people we meet and engage with - these are the details that determine the bigger picture in our lives.

When a Tunisian military policewoman insulted and slapped a fruit vendor in the market square of a tiny, unremarkable town just south of Tunis a year ago, she could not have expected that her small act of disrespect and violence would be seen as the trigger that has started a worldwide democratic protest that has inspired and involved the actions of millions worldwide.

That fruit-seller, Mohamed Bouazizi, enraged when his subsequent complaint was ignored, took himself to the local provincial capital building and set himself on fire. Those around him who were similarly upset with years of corrupt dealings with police and local officials, began to protest at the way in which they were treated. So began the Arab Spring, a movement that toppled governments, ended dictatorships and prompted similar explosions of discontent as far afield as Russia and the US.

2011 will be remembered as as a watershed in world history. The most singly defining year since the major financial crisis that has impacted all our lives, this was the year that people worldwide stood up as one and demanded a new form of social contract from the people that governed them. No longer would they accept corrupt systems that saw the richest siphon off the main share of the wealth as long as some reached the rest of us via the trickledown.

The decision of Time magazine to award the title of 'Person of the Year' to 'The Protester' is an interesting one in the context of the small details I mentioned earlier. To those of us in the UK who have defended our rights and the rights of those around us in the last year, it is a moment in which to reflect and be proud of the way in which we have conducted ourselves and been a part of something far more significant than the simple goals we hope to achieve. However, we should also remember that there is a world of difference between our struggles and those of protesters in Russia and the Middle East, who stand up against totalitarian regimes in the full knowledge that some of their number may never return to their homes.

For me, the most telling aspect of Time magazine's decision not to select a person of the year is instead that in a world which is desperately crying out for leadership, not one leader or prominent person of influence has conducted themselves in such a way as to deserve the title. In Russia, Putin is pictured as the pointlessly macho leader of a discontented people. In the US, the UK and Europe, the likes of Barrack Obama, David Cameron and Andrea Merkel stand at broken tillers as their countries swirl in a whirlpool of conflicting financial interests. Worst of all, in Egypt and Syria, strong militaries and politicians like Bashar al-Assad continue to oppress the populations they are supposed to protect and represent.

So arise to defend your rights, protesters, and bear your title with pride. 2011 was the year that you became heroes when your leaders could not.

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