Sunday, March 13, 2011

Two Flags, One Hope

I turned and saw it at just the right moment.

My TV screen was showing Al Jazeera Mubashar, where a recording of Al Jazeera cameraman Ali Hassan Al Jaber's funeral was playing. Al Jaber was on his way back to Benghazi yesterday when he was shot and killed by forces believed to be backed by Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi. Analysts believe this is part of a wider campaign Qaddafi is waging against Al Jazeera, which has put the spotlight on his brutal suppression of the Libyan people.

Al Jaber, one of the Al Jazeera employees working to help the world witness Qaddafi's iron-fisted dictatorship, was Qatari. He had no connection to Libya, other than the common hope of ending tyranny and establishing justice, freedom, and democracy. His way to work towards that hope was to show the world the truth about Libya, and for doing that, he was killed.

This was not lost on the Libyan people. At his funeral procession, they came out in droves, calling Al Jaber a hero. And then, the moment that stopped me in my tracks as I was cleaning the living room table after breakfast:

A man was hoisted up onto the shoulders of the crowd, waving the new Libyan flag as expected - but beside it, waving the flag of Qatar.

The Libyan people, through this act, were acknowledging the ultimate sacrifice of a man not from their country, an Arab who crossed the lands known in our imagination as al-Watan al-Arabi - the Arab Nation - to support them in their quest for freedom and justice.

The Libyans were also recognizing the Qatari government's support of Al Jazeera, a truly pan-Arab network uniting Arabs across the region in these days of revolution by being the voice and vision of the oppressed and downtrodden.

I stood there, sponge still in hand, watching the Libyan and Qatari flags flutter together in the night's wind. A shiver ran down my spine as the reality of what I'd been reading about for the past two months hit me: these protests were the beginning of a new Arab experience, a new Arab unity based on the values of freedom, justice, and openness.

Just a few months ago, we Arabs were butchering each other over the results of a regional football game. Now, we are willing to die to help each other overcome the shackles of dictatorship and reach out to a future bright with freedom and progress.

With those thoughts still floating in my head, I went back to cleaning my breakfast table, wondering which flags will rise together in the winds of tomorrow's Arab night.