This past week I watched the 1987 movie, “Cry Freedom.” I had missed it when it first came out. It is the story of Steve Biko (played by Denzel Washington), an educated black man in apartheid South Africa in the 1970s. Biko quit medical school when he founded the Black Consciousness Movement. He encouraged his followers to not allow the attitude of the whites and the laws of apartheid make them see themselves as inferior, nor should they accept as true the negative epitaphs flung at them but to truly believe that “Black is beautiful” and demand more for and of themselves.
The movie condenses the revolt of the black students against being forced to use Afrikaans language in school and the Soweto uprising and protest against the murder of 23 children in 1976 into a scene of hundreds of children marching dancing and singing songs of being proud of who they are and wanting a better education, and then being stopped by a police roadblock and fired upon by police and soldiers; mowed down by machine guns and sharp shooters as they try to flee. It is estimated that between 200 and 700 children were killed in that year. In September 1977 Biko was silenced. He was arrested, then tortured and murdered by the police.
I cried for the children, and I cried at the ability of human beings to torture and kill. Most often their victims are defenseless.
And now I, like many of the rest of the electronically connected around the world, have been watching and listening to the happenings in Egypt. It started as one of those great moments in history: a peaceful march for freedom and protest against the corruption and cruelty of their president and demanding an end to his regime. It was happening without an assassination or firing a gun. It was a protest that would fit present day Costa Rican ideals.
Tens of thousands Egyptian marchers, mostly young, of every stripe, not trying to promote a particular ideology, just asking for freedom, jobs and the exit of a president who, for 30 years has personified all the rights they do not have.
The marching and protesting has been lasting for days and nights. Neighbors shared their food and shelter with one another; volunteers cleaned the streets of debris, and stayed up all night to protect their families and others from those who threatened violence. Human beings behaving as the best of us would.
It all seemed too wonderful to last. And it didn’t. Some violence came from the police, then magically, three prisons opened and the convicts escaped to loot and vandalize. Then President Mubarak spoke but did not give the people what they asked for, but rather what presumably an 82 year-old man with the accumulation of 30 years of power and riches could easily give: the promise not to run again in September for another six-year term.
Since that didn’t work, the Mubarak supporters suddenly made an appearance and instead of protesting the protesters, they morphed into thugs, climbed onto camels and horses and attacked.
That’s when the bloodshed began in earnest. And the euphoria has been replaced by fear; in the people, fear of more violence and defeat, in other countries fear of chaos and instability, which Mubarak threatens, and what the future will bring. The name Muslim Brotherhood is being translated by many into Al Qaeda, the enemy that has replaced communism.
Generally speaking, humans need order. We have invented language and myths to bring order in our world. When a government locks up reporters and silences the media, it creates a fearful order, not an informed order.
Sometimes chaos with good neighbors and kind hearts is better than a dictated order coming from above.