Liberation Comes at a Cost

What has a middle-eastern lentil dish got to do with liberation? Read on and you'll see. It's hard to know what to say about revolutions in the middle east and north Africa. I've blogged about this only once, in Revolution in Egypt, which drew attention to a good news story. Since then I've watched, listened and read, but feel ill-equipped to comment about the complexities of the situations. But I follow what's happening in the middle east and north Africa with concern, hope and fear. Especially Lybia today.

Will I continue to care when the world's media moves on to the next big story? I ponder the UK's involvement in supporting dictators and unjust regimes through our trade in arms and other 'defence' equipment. Since the UK is a democracy I have to say this is also my involvement. Should I feel guilty?

Today I was moved by this poetic response by Rachel Barenblat to the 2011 protests in Tunisia, Egypt, Gabon, Bahrain, Lybia and elsewhere.
Liberation comes when people gather  
by the tens and by the thousands
demanding that the despot who's held the reins
step down, and in between the slogans
they dish out lentils cooked over open flame,
and homes open up so the protestors can shower
and members of one faith link hands
to protect members of another faith at prayer.
Liberation comes at a cost: not only
the horses and chariots swept away, but
innocents gunned down by their own army,
panicked children lost in the roiling crowds
activists imprisoned for speaking freely,
and when the world stops watching
they may be beaten -- or worse.
It's upon us to at least pay attention
on mobile phones and computer screens
as real people rise up to say
we have the right to congregate and to speak
we will not be silenced, we are not afraid."
Rachel, a Jewish writer and new rabbi, invites comments on this poem at her blog Velveteen Rabbi. I love the way her poem encompasses the contrasts of hope and fear, activism and obervation, mutual care and destruction. This makes it both an encouraging and an uncomfortable poem that moves from comforting hospitality (dishes of lentils, showers for protestors, different faith groups protecting each other in prayer) to the slaughter of the innocents. The last words 'we are not afraid' are resonant of many situations where courageous people in dangerous situations have spoken out for what is right, determinedly standing their ground, even to death. I wonder, should the last line be "we will not be silenced, but we are afraid"?


  1. I have been reading about the cruel punishment of dissidents in Libya and I wouldn't blame those who are still free to protest for being afraid, if indeed they are. It's a dreadful situation that needs international intervention asap.

  2. I think it is not only those who are still free to protest in Libya who have reason to be afraid, but also the wider international community. I agree that international intervention is needed, but in what way, without causing greater problems?

  3. Now it's my turn to check out your blog!

    I heard on the news in the last day or so that when people who live under dictators like Qadaffi are no longer afraid, then the dictator's time is up and it's only a matter of time before he will be gone. This seems like what the poem is saying - once people are no longer afraid, even to die, they become free, and so their country will become free.

  4. 'Penelopepiscopal' - thanks for visiting my blog. You've probably noticed I'm following yours now. Interesting thought that true freedom is experienced by those who are no longer afraid, even to die. Or are people also free who are afraid, but still stand up for a just cause?

  5. Doing something even when afraid is having courage. Which is one of the best virtues (even though I am sure all virtues are good, ha ha). Courageous people are also free, yes. Maybe it's a slight nuance, though, but I think that the poet is speaking of the freedom that comes from being unafraid.

  6. "the poet is speaking of the freedom that comes from being unafraid" - yes, I'm sure she is.


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