As the humanitarian crisis in Syria escalates, I long to recapture the electric sense of hopefulness brought by the Arab Spring. Two years ago, people across North Africa and the Middle East bravely stepped forward to demand change from their governments. Readers have an opportunity to hear directly from movement participants in Demanding Dignity: Young voices from the front lines of the Arab revolutions, an excellent volume from White Cloud Press.
Editors Maytha Alhassen and Ahmed Shihab-Eldin brought together twenty contributors whose civic engagement and inspiration have been powerful tools. There is much sorrow in the essays, which document police brutality, imprisonment, and other injustices. Commenting on the violence, one essay asks,
if this is spring
what will winter be like?
However, there is a persistent thread of hope: “a seed has been planted”; “the work has begun”; “first small steps.” These writers bear witness to a potent force for change moving through their midst.
News reports make it clear that the revolutionary movements are unfinished. The Syrian people are under attack by their own government; troubles with the military persist in Egypt; unemployment continues across the region. However, hope has been awakened and it will not be crushed. The young people who are working for change in their countries will not be giving up. As a Syrian friend observed, “The older generation was scared. For decades, we lived with corruption. Now, the young people have said, ‘We have had enough.'”
As we keep our eyes on the Maghreb and Middle East, we are wise to welcome opportunities to hear the voices of participants living through these critical developments. Just today, news from Saudi Arabia announced the criminalization of domestic abuse in that country. This, too, is a social change that results from the ongoing activism of people who are committed to justice and dignity.
There is much to lament in the news, but the seeds of hope remain. Yemeni American writer Atiaf Zaid Alwazir writes, “The determination of a people seeking freedom is an unstoppable force: sooner or later freedom will prevail.” I urge you to read Demanding Dignity and to be inspired by the voices of brave and determined Arab activists who are striving for the betterment of their communities.
Disclaimer: The publisher provided an advance reading copy of this book for review purposes. No fee was received.