March 28, 2011

FORGOTTEN HEROES: ASMAA MAHFOUZ


There were many heroes in those 18 days that belonged to Egypt, and so many who died, whether they were beaten, tortured in a cell or shot down by Mubarak's thugs, and yet, we in the West, we know so little of them, because our attention spans are so short, and we need something, no, somebody who is relatable. Someone who makes us feel good about ourselves, somebody who looks safe, somebody who talks like us, somebody who works, uh, I don't know, for Google maybe.

And so a decision was made, not by a conspiracy, mind you, for these things don't need a conspiracy, they just need streamlined thinking, and if there is something that the Western media and all of them who work there can be rightfully accused of, it is streamlined thinking.

It is that thinking that makes us worship glorified stand-ups like Anderson Cooper or Katie Couric as proper reporters, while what most of them do is to spout the stories that were gathered by others, told to them by the producers and researchers as they prep for those minutes and hours they spend in front of a camera, making us think, giving us the delusion that it was all them, for otherwise, would they be in front of the camera? Can't we see that it is them, and them only?

Such is what we have become.

And so, obviously the obvious choice for the unlikely hero who sparked the Egyptian revolution was Google Executive Wael Ghonim. Because, yeah, it is historically well known that is it is executives who start revolutions. Never mind that Mr. Ghonim wasn't even there for the most of it, as he was hosted by Mr. Mubarak's rather unfriendly tourism facilities himself, with his rather unblemished release 10 days later giving suspicion, but I might add no reason to think that the people of Egypt were somehow duped, somehow maniuplated into standing up.

It is not unknown, that. It has happened before, in Hungary, 1956 and most likely during the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine a few years back.

But I do not subscribe to such a view.

While it is possible to manipulate a few people or even a large crowd for a while at any given moment in space in time, fractal mathematics applied to social circumstances will tell you quite conclusively that what you experience in a social revolution is much like the appearance of what scientists call a "freak wave".

You may have heard of those instances, those moments that on the high seas for one moment the molecular movement of water just lines up to build up those waves that before a few years ago were largely dismissed as sailor's yarn.

And while Mr. Ghonim is largely made a symbol of what happened in those 18 days, the cold fact of the matter is that he had little, if anything to do with what happened. Empirical evidence shows that that hundreds of others were kidnapped and brutalized during those days, and each one of them had more or less the same impact as Mr. Ghonim had, scientifically speaking.

The difference here being the Western perception of things, as Mr. Ghonim's position within Western culture, especially media culture and with the backing of Google itself was quickly turned into a celebrity, which then rushed back onto Tahrir Square.

But the true heroes were others.

I already told you about Nevine Zaki, who is the sole reason why I got into this in the first place, and her quiet, optimistic and more than faithful look at things on the street did more to bring Egyptians closer to my world than anything Mr. Ghonim ever did.

But here is another, and for you and me in the West, she should be known.

Her name is Asmaa Mahfouz, and she recorded the video log, in which she does something that Mr. Ghonim never did. She challenges the regime. She does so openly. She does it despite her knowledge that Mubarak's regime was monitoring the social entworks. She gives her name. She gives her Twitter account. All the information that was enough to have her disappear forever.

And she did it anyway. Nothing, not a single thing that Mr. Ghonim has done even begins to rise to this level of courage, because what this woman did was to call out the men, was to call out the cowards everywhere and state, in the words of one of my favorite movie speeches, I will not go quietly into the night, I will not vanish without a fight.

She tells them, in quite certain terms that she will not light herself on fire, that if somebody wants her to shut up, they would have to do it. She states that she, a girl, will stand on Tahrir Square and hold up a banner. She states that only three people showed up. Three people and three cars of the riot police.

Such was Egypt before January 25.

And she still spoke up. With her name. Her face. And her number.

She still spoke up at a time when Mr. Ghonim was quite comfortably at his job and hid behind a Facebook page. She spoke up and showed others that they could and should speak up too. And others did. And others began to feel the same. And they began to march on Tahrir. And they came together.

And they said, we want our honor back, you stole it from us, and we are here to take it back.

We in the West, we have such short memories, such a short attention span that we appear to be able to focus only on one thing at a time, and while that is only human, we need those voices, we need to remember them, need to honor them, all of them, and not merely that one symbol we like, because it looks like us, because it is something that our media can package into 15 second soundbytes.

There were many heroes on and around Tahrir Square during these 18 days, and not all of their stories can be told, although I wish that at some point in time somebody will.

Because none of them deserve to be forgotten.

And all of them deserve to be known.

So let this be only the beginning, let this be something that spreads ther word, if only a little, and let others be known, tell their stories and show the world how many of them were there, and how brave they were, not only, but especially the women of Egypt, who - in the face of kidnappings, torture and quite possibly rape - still gave birth to a new nation.