Monday, January 31, 2011

From Tiananmen Square to Cairo

Last week, I saw an image from the uprising in Egypt that at first seemed uncannily familiar, and I thought it might become an iconic image of the recent events in Cairo.  The image was from a video of a lone man who confronted a police truck that was armed with a water cannon.

The power of the image was quite clear -- the lone, unarmed man standing up to the power of an oppressive government embodied in an imposing, armored vehicle using force against its own citizens.

This image struck me as similar to the famous one from the university student occupation of Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China in 1989.  In that image (also seen on video), a lone student confronts a line of tanks.

The image from China suggests some of the same power as the image from Cairo.  There are some differences, though.  Several tanks are more intimidating than a truck with a water cannon.  And the line of tanks famously stopped.  The commander of the lead tank did not run over the man confronting them.  This suggested the power of the people to effectively stop the oppressive force of a government, and it suggested a solidarity between the man confronting the tanks and the soldiers in the tanks.  They are both citizens of the same nation.  They should not be fighting each other.

Despite the power of the Chinese image, it does not capture the whole story.  The uprising in Tiananmen Square was put down by the Chinese army, with hundreds of unarmed people being killed by their fellow citizens.  This famous image does convey the potential for that massacre -- a lone man standing against four tanks does not stand much chance if the soldiers in the tanks do not recognize him as a brother.

This isolated image from Cairo also does not tell the whole story -- I know no image can, but we press meaning upon them anyway.  The police truck did not stop, as the tanks did.  The policeman inside apparently did not feel solidarity with the people in the streets.

Also, the lone man was quickly joined by friends.  The man was knocked down by the water cannon, but he got back up and the protesters bent the cannon so that it shot straight into the air.  I read one account that indicated the driver of the truck was eventually forced out of the cab, though that is not captured in the video.

So the image from Cairo does tell a story, but a story different from my first impression.  It is a story of the bravery of the people of Egypt to confront the powers of their government.  It is the story of the general ineffectiveness of the Cairo police.  It is the story that many of us are hoping turns out differently from China's in 1989.

I saw one image online today that may, in retrospect, capture the story of the Egyptian uprising.  Again it involves a water cannon.  But this image involves many citizens and not a lone man in the middle of a street.  This image involves many people confronting the violence of the police with the power of peace and prayer.  Perhaps the brave people on that bridge are praying for justice.  I hope they get it.  But I hope they also are praying for peace, for a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Egypt.

I know already that the image does not tell the whole story of the events in Cairo.  There has been violence and death.  There has been crime and chaos.  But I hope that this image predicts the future.

I know that the American Civil Rights Movement was very different from the current revolution in Egypt.  I am not trying to project American values or ideals onto Egyptians.  But the image from the bridge does remind me of something said by Martin Luther King Jr. when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964:

I am mindful that only yesterday in Birmingham, Alabama, our children, crying out for brotherhood, were answered with fire hoses, snarling dogs and even death.... After contemplation, I conclude that this award which I receive on behalf of that movement is profound recognition that nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our time -- the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression.

1 comment:

  1. i thinks being arbitrary is the way china government protect the country, the current china can not be just like what western countries are like now.