Never in my life have I ever felt like I do today, or have for the last 6 months. I arrived in Tunisia on December 30, 2010, 16 days prior to Ben Ali’s departure. Prior to the revolution Tunisia was a suffocating place intellectually. Political thoughts were kept to oneself and the media was heavily censored, including some of the tightest controls over the internet in the world.
And then, suddenly, as if out of nowhere, a people rose up. And there was freedom.
This was freedom not in the way that you say you are free in America or in Europe, where it’s a metaphor for the acceptance of the social contract you were born into. But freedom in that now you could go out on the street and yell at the top of your lungs what you thought about anything. Freedom that you could log into facebook and not think you were being monitored. Freedom in that you could write a blog about whatever you wanted and not fear getting kicked out of the country.
It is that freedom that has compelled me to write here. I am writing to document this moment in history and to think about the joy, the optimism, the contradictions, and the fear borne of this new found freedom. The Tunisian revolution has been an opportunity for an entire society to have a debate (sometimes publicly, sometimes privately) about what society should be. Who has that kind of opportunity in their lifetimes? I certainly haven’t. It’s an opportunity that has raised profound questions about what government should be, the value of democracy and its limitations, the role of religion and the state, and the intersection of development, corruption, and international finance.
Today in Tunisia I feel like a special guest. A guest that has been given the opportunity to see a people make choices that could impact generations and inspire people around the world. Having been given that opportunity, I am writing to document what I see, what I feel, and what I hear and I hope this will give my readers (and myself) a better understanding of the world that we live in and the choices we make as citizens.