The Hashtag and the Bullet

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Protesters wearing masks depicting Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and Russian President Vladimir Putin attend a rally at Independence Square.

Protesters wearing masks depicting Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and Russian President Vladimir Putin attend a rally at Independence Square.

by Dyab Abou Jahjah
Translated from Dutch by O.P.Roerkraeyer

In recent weeks almost everyone I know has become a specialist on Ukraine. The whole world was following the revolution on Maidan in Kiev on live TV. The events in Ukraine have been material for passionate discussions especially amongst my Arab friends. Revolution has become a national sport for the Arabs over the past three years. The Arab revolutionary fever was raging throughout 2011 and 2012 and not only in the countries of the Arab Spring. Everywhere, from Bahrain to Morocco, Facebook pages erupted with dates such as February 20th or March 15th as “appointments” for the revolution. The spontaneity of the Tunisian revolution couldn’t be copied but the studied and structured model of the Egyptian revolution could.

Set a date, pick a Maidan (which is also the Arabic word for ” square “), march there with a big demo on an agreed date, set up camp with tents, stages, field hospitals and of course barricade the whole thing and be ready to defend it against the cops and regime troops. The routine then varies between fighting on the barricades – with iron bars, stones, Molotov cocktails, and, if necessary, the occasional firearms – and later speeches or attend concerts and other acts on the Maidan stages. The whole event will be filmed and virally shared on Facebook and Twitter.

It is a complete revolutionary model where the hashtag is more important than the bullet. The fact that the Ukrainians have chosen to follow this model is for many Arabs a reason to be proud. Revolutionary methods have become our best export product, one seems to think, and this has been proven again in Kiev.

Meanwhile, many Arabs see the Arab Spring as a plot by the evil West and Zionism. They base their argument on the fact that some prominent Zionists such as the French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy have given their support to the revolutions, but also on the NATO intervention in Libya and on the European support of the Syrian rebels. The idea prevails that the West supports the Jihadists in order to destroy our countries and disrupt our states, which will then serve the interests of Israel.

This way of thinking is not only reductionist and false but is mostly based on selective memory, fragmented and manipulated information and a paranoid worldview. Media channels such as Press TV, Russia Today and Al Mayadeen spread this view and form a counterweight to Fox News, equally shortsighted and propaganda all the same.

This kind of analysis is very popular in some leftist circles that lean close to Iran or Hezbollah but it’s also popular with Shiite Islamists. However also somebody like Filip Dewinter who visits Damascus to express support for Assad or an organization like the National Front (which did this also) have similar notions mainly from an Islamophobic reflex. Russia also supports the ancien régime and the counter-revolution led by the junta of Al-Sisi in Egypt, just as Putin supports Yanukovych, and then he is the good guy and the revolutionaries become the bad guys or so the story goes.

They refuse to notice that Russia protects its privileges in a country where a Russian elite holds onto power in a very corrupt way. The aspirations of an entire population are of no importance in this kind of logic because it is mostly a chess game between Russia and the West. The opposition is then just as corrupt as the regime but they are mainly collaborators of the West, while the regime is at least patriotic. The protesters are being dismissed as far right just as the Syrian opposition is reduced to Islamists and all Islamists are reduced to terrorists.

“Whoever kills his people is a traitor” was the slogan in the first hour of the Syrian revolution and the same is true in Ukraine. Elected or not, if you give orders to shoot at demonstrators you are no longer a legitimate president and you need to leave. The legitimacy a representative of a population gets through election is completely lost by committing a crime and the bigger the crime the more revolutionary the deposition method.

Russia has become for the people who revolt for dignity and democracy what the US has always been for the peoples struggling against colonialism and occupation: a protector of the oppressor, through veto power in the UN and through military and financial support of executioners. Not only Western imperialism, but also Putin’s Russia today is an enemy of peoples who fight for their freedom.

Dyab Abou Jahjah: