The United States has a choice of two wrong ways to approach what’s happening in Egypt right now: to intervene or to try to stay neutral. And the ability to do either, honorably, is denied to us. The former because we are far too compromised by decades of being on the wrong side to be able to intervene in any positive way. But neither can we remain neutral, and for the same reason: we’ve been Mubarak’s patron, ally, and geopolitical bed-mate for far too long to pretend that we’re not. To be silent or passive — while the US government’s ties with the security apparatus of Mubarak’s regime continue to define the political landscape — is complicity. None of this is Barack Obama’s doing, exactly — or ours — but he’s the guy that wanted to be president, and we’re the people that want to use the word “citizen of the United States” to describe ourselves. We have to deal with that. We have to use that “we.”
I’ll have more words in the next day or so on the choices that are being taken, and on the words we’re using to make them meaningful. Always more words. But for now, I want to remind myself, publicly, that the closest thing to an honorable choice that American citizens like me have is to bear witness and solidarity to the incredibly thing that is happening right now, and to do so as humbly and reverently as we are able to do. The world is changing before us, and we will need new words to describe it if we are to be true to the best parts of ourselves, and if we are to be of any use to a world that we might still find a way to be of use to. We need to learn to listen more clearly. We have corrupted the words we were so proud of inheriting, words like “democracy,” and we need to be a lot better to learn the new words that are being coined right now, in places of which even our own ignorance is something of an unknown quantity to us, and in voices that speak, for example, in languages we don’t understand.
Mainly, I know, I need to be reverent right now, if only for myself. I am under no illusions that it will do the people of Egypt any particular good for me to retweet links to articles and images and expressions of the righteous human spirit so gloriously on display in Egypt right now — much as I would like it to — but that’s not really why I’ve been doing it. It’s selfish. It is for me, because it’s what I need to do as a person whose spiritual body has gotten very hungry. I want to be a part of something hopeful because I find that too much hopelessness has crept too deeply into the person I have no choice but to be.
I don’t know any of the people in the pictures and images I’m seeing from Egypt. I’m not sure what my connection to them is, or should be, or could be. But I am pretty sure that, yesterday, I was glued to Al Jazeera’s live coverage of what was happening in Tahrir Square — that means “Liberation Square” in Arabic, it seems — because I needed to be, and for me. A word like “Liberation” should not have become such a dead letter in my mind. I have become too cynical, too jaded, too hopeless. We become spiritually dead inside when we accept injustice, when we think that expecting it is “realistic,” and watching and being realistic about the world around me has made me a much more angry, frustrated, and bitter person than I would like to be, need to be. I suspect there are a lot of holy things I’ve forgotten how to dream, a lot of words for “freedom” that I’ve lost or misplaced. And that’s the reason why — since I wasn’t here — I can’t stay away from my tiny, tenuous connection to what’s happening in Egypt right now, this fragile cord that connects me to Al Jazeera, to Mona Eltahawy, to that guy who was dancing on top of that troop transport truck sometime yesterday morning. That’s why these pictures and images and possibilities mean so much to me, even so far away as they are.