In Yemen, Bahrain, and Iraq; in Morocco, Algeria, Iran, and Jordan… peoples are calling out their desire for freedom and dignity. Expressed in their Friday gatherings, the power of the people defies description; the symbolism is overwhelming, irresistible. Muslim women and Muslim men, praying together, give voice to the universal human aspiration for liberty, justice, and dignity, for the power of sovereign people. For those who have, over the years, painted Muslims as impermeable to the ideals of liberty and democracy, and naturally inclined to violence—due to the very essence of Islam—the answer is clear-cut and unequivocal: tens of millions of Muslims, on these Fridays, have chosen the path of resistance, of sacrifice, and of liberation in a spirit of non-violence, respect for life, without ever criticizing the West, its values, and its betrayals. They have done so alongside Christians, Anglicans, and Copts, alongside atheists, communists, and citizens of all beliefs and ideologies. What finer answer could there be to the simple-minded, racist analyses propagated by populist parties in the West? On Freedom Fridays, with its massive crowds coming together to pray in the name of resistance and liberty, we witness, in real time, Islam—and of Muslims—joining forces with liberty, justice, and democratic principles. That the first European leader to have greeted the resisting peoples and called upon the dictators to leave was the Turkish Prime Minister should serve as a caustic reminder of the value of the short-sighted and tendentious analyses of the “Muslim world” that have long infested Western diplomacy and intellectual life.
The movement must not end here. We must hope that the peoples continue their onward march, that they completely free themselves from the yoke of the tyrants and complete their democratic revolution. The final word has not yet been spoken, either in Tunisia, Egypt or Libya or elsewhere, but the movement will surely prove stronger than those who are attempting to control it. Therein lies its power. It is essential that all the components of the pluralist opposition seize this historic occasion to dialogue, to establish common fronts representing civil society in order that army commanders do not turn the revolution to their advantage, or to the advantage of foreign political or economic powers. We must hope that governments pay heed. They must either implement thoroughgoing reform or leave the scene entirely, and make way for systems of government that respect the popular will, and that apply uncompromisingly the five basic and inalienable principles: the rule of law, equality of all citizens, universal suffrage, limited electoral terms (accountability), and the separation of powers. This is the imperative, and the minimum acceptable: without corruption, insider privilege, and in full independence. We must hope that the movement continues to spread throughout North Africa and the Middle East…up to and including Israel, that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his racist foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman also be overthrown and with them, the interminable policy of colonization and non-respect of the dignity of the Palestinians and the Arab citizens of Israel.
On Freedom Fridays, everything is possible. Full of hope, with clear eyes, we must hail the march of the peoples and remind governments—whoever they may be, those of the tyrants or the shameless friends of those same tyrants—that nothing lasts forever, that despots and traitors can never be eternally shielded from their peoples, or from the judgment of History.
By Tariq Ramadan
Swiss Muslim Thinker