We are all Mohammed Bouazizi
On December 17, 2010, a Tunisian merchant denied the opportunity to make a living, to simply sell his wares to fee himself and his mother; lit himself on fire. He immolated himself as an act of frustration, helplessness, and protest against the government corruption that created a barrier between him and a dignified life he struggled to achieve.
His name was Mohammed Bouazizi.
In a just, fair, sane world, no one would identify with a man who lit himself on fire. In a just, fair, sane world, such an action would be seen as an act of someone emotionally disturbed.
But we don’t live in a just, fair, sane world. We live in a world defined by injustice, defined by unfairness, and defined by insanity. We live in a world so utterly broken that, when Mohammed Bouazizi became visible for the first and only time in his life by how he chose to die, millions of people the world over understood exactly how he felt. Millions understood immediately what drove him to burn himself alive as one final symbolic statement no one could misinterpret.
We are all made invisible inside a complex machine of global crapitalism. We are all disposable to the select few opportunists who assume the right to rule us. Our so-called “rights” don’t matter; and where rights don’t matter, they don’t really exist.
We are not free; we are constantly under control and under surveillance. We have no power over even the basic necessities of our lives: our homes are constructed by someone else’s designs; our clothing is fashioned by someone else’s tastes; our food is prepared by strangers and filled with materials we can’t identify or pronounce, our jobs are more internationally mobile than we can afford to be.
We have the right to be invisible.
We have the right to be unheard.
We have the right to drag stones up the side of someone else’s pyramid.
That is the unjust, unfair, insane world in which we live – The very circumstance that drove Mohammed Bouazizi to make his final statement with fire. When we are denied the right to live with dignity and meaning and purpose but we are instead reduced to objects, to labor-machines, to slaves who toil and shop in service of markets (and those who run them).
We are denied lives. We are delegated instead an existence that feels intolerable. It takes all we have and more just to maintain, to keep from screaming out loud, from running away from the slow-roasting trauma of day-to-day death.
Mohammed Bouazizi lit himself on fire because he felt that way. But he believed he was invisible. He believed he was alone. He had no way to know that millions felt the same way he did.
Mohammed Bouazizi lit himself on fire because the millions of us didn’t know he felt that way. We couldn’t see him. We had no way to let him know he wasn’t alone, that millions of us feel the same way he did.
But by the fire that Mohammed Bouazizi lit, we can see each other now. And we can see ourselves. We know we are not alone. We are millions. Our world is unjust, unfair, and insane.
So the only question that remains is:
What are we going to do about it?
May 1, 2013.
*I wanted to write this in part to correct errors in past articles where I inaccurately described Mohammed Bouazizi as Egyptian, when he is not. I felt it important to honor Mohammed Bouazizi, and to honor all of us.