Over the past month or so, the New York Times’ Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Thomas Friedman has used his weekly column to advance two new notions to add to his long list of “Big Ideas Explained With Metaphors”.
From the man who gave us “The Lexus and the Olive Tree”, “The World is Flat” and “no two countries that have a McDonalds ever go to war with each…ops, Serbia, my bad”, comes the notion of “Square People”, Internet savvy demonstrators who will take over city squares and centers to bring their governments to account.
And as if one “big idea” for the month wasn’t enough, Friedman’s recent trip to the Kurdish areas in the north of Iraq seems to have bestowed on him a special insight into the most pressing issue of the day; who oh who will rid us of ISIS, the Al-Qaeda inspired terrorist group that in the space of a week had managed to take over a quarter of Iraq.
Friedman’s answer? Environmentalists. No, seriously, for real. Tree huggers.
As someone who at the start of the Syrian revolution fit Friedman’s definition of a “Square Person” down to a T, I am very qualified to pass judgement on his latest grand-concepts-made-easy-for-the-rest-of-us.
Mr Friedman, the nature of revolutions has not changed just because we now have Facebook. The factors that decide the success or failure of a revolution remain pretty much unchanged since Caesars were deposed and crowned by the Praetorian guards in ancient Rome.
As for environmentalists whose enlightened ways will somehow serve to counter the nihilistic ideology of ISIS, this is the Middle East. If the tree huggers have guns they can protect their trees. If not, they will be hung from those very same trees.
The history of Homs during the early days of the Syrian revolution is a case in point. In April 2012, Homsis came out in massive numbers to demonstrate at the New Clock. It was Homs’ Tahrir Square moment, the day when the decades old corrupt rule of the Assad dictatorship should have been held to account, according to Friedman’s equation of Internet + Squares = FREEEEEDOOOOOM!
Well, it didnt turn out that way. The regime opened the prisons of Homs and let out every drug dealer, pimp and car thief, gave them weapons, and had them murder over one hundred people at the sit in one night. The demonstrators never managed to return to the New Clock after that. In the end, it was the thugs with guns who controlled the day, not Facebook and Twitter savvy “Square People”.
Friedman also seems to think that technology only flows one way, that it is the exclusive domain and expertise of the rebellious and anti-establishment minded.
Rubbish. Facebook and Twitter are also available to the state, which can pay an army of online trolls to influence the debate on numerous news sites.
Indeed, there is overwhelming evidence that that is exactly the approach and strategy that the neo-Stalinist government of Vladimir Putin has been adopting; the mass copy/pasting of the same talking points on numerous websites by fake personas, abuse of any columnist or commentator who express an opinion that impugns on the majesty and person of “beloved leader”.
To say nothing of the massive and widespread utilization of fake images and videos, masquerading as evidence of the virtue of the state’s cause, and the wickedness of its opponents (the surest way to tell if someone is a Assadstanian regime-paid shill is if they bring up that fake “Inner Depravity” AH MY GAWD LOOK WHAT THE EVIL MOOOOSLIMS DID picture).
Bottom line, when the state decides to devote its resources to online misinformation campaigns, no amount of “Square People” can compete.
Egypt is another case study of the gun triumphing over “people power”. I remember laughing hysterically when, in the aftermath of the coup that deposed Mohamed Morsi, Mona Eltahawy went on CNN and confidently declared that “the people” would always be there to hold the military accountable just as they had held the Muslim Brotherhood accountable.
Yes well, tell that to Basem Yousef, until recently the Middle East’s most famous satirist. And real democracies dont have elections where the winner gets 96% of the vote. Or even 88.7%.
The rules of successful revolutions have not changed. A bad dictator can still manage to endure if those in opposition to him and his regime have nothing credible to take his place. Those that count the votes are more important than those who actually vote. And no revolution in history has ever succeeded until “the Square People” have managed to accommodate or outgun the “Semi-automatic wielding folks”.