there is another dimension to it that concerns the revolutionary, democratic left the world over: the use of the media. When the official media told a lie, within the next half hour it was disproved by civil society on the Internet: a thousand people, ten thousand, a hundred thousand saw the real images, the state’s manipulation, the deceptions, etc. In short, for the first time in history it was the media–television, radio or newspapers–that played catch-up to a new kind of popular, democratic information. And the same thing is going to happen everywhere. It’s even possible that journalism as such will end up being unnecessary. That’s one of the major “Situationist” lessons of this revolution: an absolute victory over one “Society of the Spectacle.” Which means that, tomorrow, others, and not only Arab dictatorships, might fall…
Excerpted from an interesting interview with Mehdi Belhaj Kacem is a French-Tunisian writer and philosopher:
“What are your thoughts on the recent political events in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan–or perhaps even Iran in 2006 and 2009? In what ways are they the first real political events of the 21st century? What constitutes an event?
I wouldn’t speak of all these events taken together, but first off of the Tunisian revolution, which the entire Arab world recognizes as the most important event since decolonization. Already more important than the Iranian revolution of 1977-79. Overnight, life changed for millions of people, for me included. Concomitantly, in their interiority, the lives of hundreds of millions of people in the Arab world changed: it is possible for an Arab people to be free. If that isn’t an event, I really don’t see what else one needs.
As extraordinary as the Tunisian upheaval was, we are going to have spend some real time considering the parameters for why the revolution probably couldn’t have started in any other country but Tunisia, which is probably the most secular country in the Arab world. “Tunisia” now, politically, means “Tsunami.” In the three days following January 14th, 2011, the words “freedom” and “democracy” were heard more in the Arab world than in the previous forty years. A people accomplished the impossible: the overthrow of an omnipresent police dictatorship, as if Orwell’s 1984 had a happy ending. Whoever was familiar with life on the ground, like me–I’m half-Tunisian–knew what extraordinary ubiquitous terror the regime perpetrated on the population every day.
Only North Korea offers a still more hermetic example. I’m not kidding; everyone will tell you the same thing. In Tunisia, you couldn’t find a single café that wasn’t watched by the police; if you made a joke about Ben Ali on the phone, within an hour you’d be missing a few teeth. It’ll take years to say exactly what happened–in a revolution, every detail counts–and to gauge the repercussions, which will be enormous.
It’s the 1789 of the Arab world; and the consequences will determine this century’s history just like the events of July 14th, 1789, affected the course of European history for the 19th century and well on afterwards. All you need to do is take a walk in Tunis today to know what a revolution is: everyone talks to each other, everyone’s opinion is more insightful and interesting than the next, just like in May ’68. January 2011 is a May ’68 carried through all the way to the end. It’s a revolution that has more in common with the Situationists or Rancière, that is, a revolution carried out directly by the people, than with the Leninist or Maoist “Revolution,” in which an armed avant-garde takes over power and replaces one dictatorship with another without ever passing through “democracy.” As almost always happens, good old Hegel is rubbing his hands: “the history of the world is the history of the progress of the consciousness of freedom.” Tunisia has just written an indelible page of this history.
You grew up in Tunisia as a child. You said recently that the future of philosophy is “Tunisian.” What did you mean by that?
I didn’t write that in a book, but to you in an e-mail! I was kidding; I was caught up in the excitement of the event. Even in France, we knew that we were running a risk, my Tunisian partner and I, first by passing on information from Facebook, then by intervening more resolutely to make French media put the Tunisian revolt on the front pages. Until then all the media was talking about was Islamist attacks against Egyptian Copts, which allowed people to stay within the comfortable framework of a “war of civilizations,” of the good liberal-democratic West versus archaic global Islamo-fascism. In Tunisia, the revolt was secular, democratic and peaceful; the only physical violence, or almost all of it, came from the omnipresent police and the fascist militias in the pay of Ben Ali. In the ten days prior to Ben Ali’s fall, my partner’s computer would be hacked several times a day by the Tunisian police. We weren’t risking our neck directly, but indirectly our families’, because that’s how it worked. In sixteen years of intellectual life in France, I hadn’t written a word on the Ben Ali regime because although it would have given my leftist intellectual narcissism some easy satisfaction, my father or my family would have been arrested and tortured, pure and simple.
For ten days, because of this one e-mail, I feared for my family. Even today, the ghost-like presence of “Benalism” in Tunisia is such that I’m still on my guard; no one knows where the militiamen might be lurking. But there you have it: suddenly, we were no longer afraid. I was ashamed of my cowardice and my silence in my French apartment when I saw elderly Tunisians open their burnooses in front of the police, “You want to kill us? Kill us!” It was very Hegelian, in the sense of the Spanish anarcho-syndicalists: “Freedom or death!” And it works. That’s why Kojève wasn’t completely wrong when he said of May ’68, “No deaths? That’s not a revolution.”
By the way, when I say that it was the first Situationist revolution in history (a “successful May ‘68”), that is, carried out by the people directly, there is another dimension to it that concerns the revolutionary, democratic left the world over: the use of the media. When the official media told a lie, within the next half hour it was disproved by civil society on the Internet: a thousand people, ten thousand, a hundred thousand saw the real images, the state’s manipulation, the deceptions, etc. In short, for the first time in history it was the media–television, radio or newspapers–that played catch-up to a new kind of popular, democratic information. And the same thing is going to happen everywhere. It’s even possible that journalism as such will end up being unnecessary. That’s one of the major “Situationist” lessons of this revolution: an absolute victory over one “Society of the Spectacle.” Which means that, tomorrow, others, and not only Arab dictatorships, might fall… “