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That Franz Ferdinand Moment

Gaddafi gets the boot - Public Domain Image/
There are two great articles in newspapers today, ruminating on the ripple effects of unrest in the Middle East and the Midwest of the USA - specifically Wisconsin - and searching not so much for a defining moment as perhaps a defining momentum.

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Thomas L Friedman writes in the New York Times a column titled, This Is Just The Start, in which he examines, very astutely, connections between the self-immolation of Tunisian street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, in protest over the confiscation of his fruit stand - which set off the Tunisian "Jasmine Revolution" - and wider contributing influences, such as "The Obama Factor" and Google Earth.

Here is Friedman's quote on President Obama - whose influence on history, I have always thought (as the father of two multi-racial American children), lies hugely in the simple - and still quite remarkable - fact that he was actually elected:

"Americans have never fully appreciated what a radical thing we did — in the eyes of the rest of the world — in electing an African-American with the middle name Hussein as president. I’m convinced that listening to Obama’s 2009 Cairo speech — not the words, but the man — were more than a few young Arabs who were saying to themselves: 'Hmmm, let’s see. He’s young. I’m young. He’s dark-skinned. I’m dark-skinned. His middle name is Hussein. My name is Hussein. His grandfather is a Muslim. My grandfather is a Muslim. He is president of the United States. And I’m an unemployed young Arab with no vote and no voice in my future.' I’d put that in my mix of forces fueling these revolts."

A protest sign in Wisconsin - photograph:

Although he somewhat clouds the issue (to my mind, at least) by mentioning the "hand of God," Daniel Schultz in his excellent Guardian article, A Spirit of Solidarity, From Tunis to Wisconsin, draws fascinating and highly relevant parallels between the "Arab Spring" of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and as many as 30 nations, by Schultz's count, and the mass protests at Wisconsin's Capitol building to denounce Republican Governor Scott Walker's union-busting agenda.

Schultz admits that "the dramatic events of 2011's 'Arab Spring' are not really analogous to public employee unions standing up to Governor Scott Walker's attempt to break their backs in Wisconsin," but he goes on to conclude: "Still, something connects these events."

The fact that these two articles appeared on the same day is more than mere coincidence. Both begin with a man (Mohamed Bouazizi) burning himself to death in Tunisia.  (And let us not forget Fadwa Laroui, a 25-year-old Moroccan mother with two children, who set herself on fire to protest her own social conditions - and others across the Middle East who have made this ultimate sacrifice.)

We are living through an extraordinary period of change that affects us in the West just as it affects those who are creating this change. Some of us may think that this is just about "them" - continents away in worlds that few of us have a chance to visit.

But, in the early years of a new century, we are witnessing a realignment of the "pieces" of world politics as radical as that set off by the assassination of Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914, which led to the First World War.

Hopefully, despite the violence in Libya and elsewhere, this will be a far more peaceful period of change. But the change that comes may be just as radical and far-reaching for the world.


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