Weekly Letter to President Obama
Copyright © 2010
ofthisandthat.org. All rights
INAUGURATION, January 20, 2009
Drunk in its stale air
For two hundred years.
Fettered in mind and body,
The soul, the safe escape
To let me breathe the cries
Of my heart singing
Tears of mel-an-choly.
The tears flow free today
Washing the stains of blood
And sweat in brotherhood.
Raise the curtain then an'
Let the world look in
On this promised land --
We breathe free today.... almost.
--- Arshad M. Khan
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.
--- Native American proverb
February 4, 2011
Mr. President: The winds of change have now fanned the flames of
revolution beyond Tunisia's borders. According to Fidel Castro, an authority
on revolutionary change if ever there was one, Mubarak is finished. Our
man ElBaradei did not make the cut -- lucky for him, for if prior revolutions
(French or Iranian for example) are any guide, the first one coming in after
the cataclysm ends up on the chopping block. The search continues as do
Who would have thought? Last December 17, as the Christmas shopping
season was reaching its peak in the West, an unknown street vendor was
busy setting up his stall having freshly re-stocked using credit. Tarek
al-Tayyib Mohammad ibn Bouazizi was a 26-year old Tunisian making a hard
scrabble living in the town of Sidi Bouzid. Contrary to previous reports, he
was not a university graduate, nor even a high school graduate for he had to
leave school and work; he was, however, the sole support of a family of nine
including a step-sister he was helping to put through university.
It was not the first time. Police extortion and abuse were an everyday
reality. He wouldn't pay or he couldn't pay because his pockets were empty
early morning -- whatever the reason, the end result was a volley of abuse
about his ancestry, being spat upon and slapped by a 45-year old female
municipal official, who was accompanied by two male officers. They upset
the cart, threw out his goods, and confiscated an expensive electronic
weighing scale. He went to complain to the town governor, who refused to
meet him despite his threats to set himself alight.
Nobody knows his thoughts: perhaps the humiliation, in his culture, of being
physically abused by a female in front of his fellow traders was too much;
perhaps it was just the last straw added to an already too heavy load of
abuse. All we know is that he procured gasoline or paint thinner, doused
himself, and struck a match. Eighteen days of further agony in a hospital
burn unit, where doctors tried vainly to save him, and he died.
This act of self-immolation raised a storm of protest triggering a national
venting of anger at the 23-year dictatorial regime of President Zine El
Abidine Ben Ali, our friend. He is gone, left the country, the first domino to
fall. Mubarak is toppling, and demonstrations gathering momentum in
Yemen and Jordan -- all reminiscent of the 1980s when our close dictator
allies in Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay toppled like nine pins.
One small side note. I wonder if one could entreat Combined Systems Inc.
(CSI) of Jamestown, PA not to emblazon their teargas canisters sold abroad
with that large "Made in U.S.A." imprint -- doesn't help to win hearts and
minds surely when photographs of these canisters are being shown on Arab
TV and the internet. It seems, somehow, to make complicit every American
with those corrupt regimes.