1001 night village with 250 voters – Elections in Tunisia

First Arab Spring elections are to be held in Tunisia on Sunday 23 October 2011. nonfiXe went to smell the Jasmine of the uprising and temp the ambiance. Reportage about campaigning Khaled Chouket in the rural region Bir Ali, Sfax.

A blond unveiled middle-aged woman is seated next to Khaled Chouket at the meeting of Almajd party – party of Glory – in Sfax, Tunisia on October 16, 2011. She doesn’t speak during the meeting attended by some fifty people, most of which still haven’t made up their mind on who to vote for. 116 Parties have joined the Tunisian election for a national assembly that will write the country’s new constitution. Election date is on Sunday 23 October 2011.

Caro Sicking for nonfiXe

After the meeting the blond walks around disorientated, while party leader Chouket talks to a Dutch television crew. When asked her opinion she states that women’s rights need to be protected. Nothing more, nothing less. She just repeats her words like an old gramophone that got stuck.

Modern looks

Apparently she was chosen for her looks; not too young, not too old, and not wearing a veil. This to modernize the scenery. Chouket wants to beat the uprising of the Islamic Ennahdha movement that is predicted to win a majority in tomorrow’s elections in Tunisia. And he knows that should Almajd win, there will be only one seat in the assembly, his seat. ‘I’d like to become minister of Culture,’ the president of the Rotterdam Arab Film Festival states later when we join him in the car for a campaign trip to rural area.

From Hollandia

Khaled Chouket of Tunisian/Dutch origin returned to his country of naissance back packed with European university education and politics. In Rotterdam he was a member of the city council for the left party Groen Links. ‘They have a good opinion on migrants,’ Chouket states driving out of Sfax direction Bir Ali. Now Chouket is the leader of the liberal Almajd, number 11 on the Tunisian election list. On the way his father and other family members join in another car. ‘I have a family of 70.000, we will go there to convince them to vote for me. My great grandfather Ali Ben Khalifa led the first uprising against the French in 1881’ The politician is blazing with confidence while we drive through amazing landscapes.

Left – Right

‘My agenda in Tunisia is not leftwing, because I think Tunisia needs something different. We need to invigorate the democratic base and cultural freedom. In Tunisia there is no tradition of dialogue.’ In the back of the car I wonder why a left politic vision should not be able to form the base for free politics and culture. How is it possible that a left politician in Europe turns right as soon as his feet touch Maghreb ground? How can he behave as directive as Chouket does, telling people what to think without listening to what they want to say? But I don’t get the chance to ask these questions.

Polder model in the Maghreb

What did Chouket learn as a representative in Rotterdam? ‘Polder model’, he answers. ‘I want to throw a conference on the Polder model.’ ‘Which is outlived. Dutch politics lost its’ credibility. There are better ways,’ Frank van Empel says. The man on the wheel doesn’t seem to listen. He analyses that Ben Ali was nothing more than an engine driver on a riding train, started by Bourguiba. ‘And a bad dictator, yes.’

We stop. Apparently the guide took a wrong turn, which is not surprising in this sandy, pre-Sahara area with no paved roads.

Ancien politique

While Chouket argues outside with the drivers of the two other cars, Facebook activist Emna Dabbech takes notes in Arabic next to me in the back of the car. The 21-year-old student that marched day and night in the danger zone of the threatened Ben Ali regime looks disappointed with this Dutch politician. He doesn’t live up to the expectations. He is ‘ancien politique’, old politics, she whispers in my ear.

No dialogue

When we finally stop, it is at a small building, some kind of shop, next to which a few men stand waiting. Mongi Farhani, who has been filming Chouket at the drivers seat, jumps out of the car for footage: Chouket with members of his tribe talking politics. An angry young man enters the scene. He doesn’t want to be filmed. ‘What are you doing here? In your fancy suit, with your good education and your shiny car? Where were you when we suffered?’ The other men are silent. Chouket is taken by surprise. Anger rises through his veins. ‘I was invited to come here to talk to you.’ Unable to veil his anger he starts to shout. ‘Why don’t you shut him up?’ he asks the party in high tone. ‘I don’t need your votes!’ The others stay silent. Maybe they agree with the youngster.

They will vote for me

After some minutes of shouting the quick tempered politician drives away, gassing madly. One of the elders stops him and apologizes. Chouket blazes back, shouts about a dirty street dog and a clochard insulting him. He doesn’t get his act together and drives off like a spoiled child that did not get his way.

We stop at an amazing 1001 night village amidst desert sand and olive trees. Here Choukets’ mothers’ uncle lives. Chouket and his father talk to our host and the other elders that joined us. ‘They will vote for me,’ he says later in the car on the way to the next meeting. ‘My uncle will tell them to.’

No public service

The darkness is vast and silence can be heard when we enter a small village. Emna and I are led to the women, while men gather around Chouket. ‘Do you want to sit with the women?’ she asks. ‘We’ve seen enough of the men, don’t you think?’ The room is colourful but poverish. Dawazleil, 63 years old, sits on the mattress behind a small coal fired teapot with her mother in law next to her. The old woman’s face is tattooed with tribal signs that paled through the 92 years of her age. Ablasize smiles friendly while her daughter in law asks Emna if I am going to be the next president of Tunisia. ‘Presidents are always accompanied by translators,’ she explains and agrees to talking to us and having pictures taken. Her grandson enters the room and we get cola and cookies.

The women explain their situation. The house is cheap, one TDN per month. But life is expensive and they earn 5 TDN – €2.50 – a day breaking their backs in state-owned olive plantations. In this area there are no public services, garbage roams the unpaved streets, there is no sewerage, no water tap. If they have to go to the hospital it takes at least an hour to get there.

No, they will not vote. They are not registered in this village of 500 people. Or, in the words of Chouket, ‘250 voters’.

He needs a future

A loud voice from the other room indicates that Khaled Chouket is spreading his mission. Some men leave the gathering and join us. ‘Help this boy. His father died thirteen years ago,’ one of them pleas with me. ‘His name is Mohamed Emile. He needs education. He needs food. He needs a future. When it rains, he can’t go to school, because the roads are flushed, buses don’t drive and school is too far to walk. When we need to travel, we travel by animal.’ The boy smiles shyly. ‘Talk to the politician.’ The man shakes his head. He has no confidence in politics.

nonfiXe, 16 October 2011, Sfax, Tunisia

On this reportage: Frank van Empel, Mongi Farhani, Emna Dabbech and Caro Sicking

Images by Frank van Empel & Caro Sicking:

Almajd gathering in Sfax, Rural area region Bir Ali, small shop where men awaited Khaled Chouket, Chouket and family members, Albasize, Dawazleil and Mohamed Emile in their house, traffic in Bir Ali region.

Source material for the novel ‘Asfour, on betrayal’ by Caro Sicking.

To a democratic Tunisia – Inshallah

Next Sunday, October 23 2011, elections are held in Tunisia. 116 parties join. The chosen ones will gather in an assembly to write the new constitution of the country. The world is watching. Will the Tunisian achieve in holding peaceful, free, transparent elections?

nonfiXe talked to politicians and voters, trying to temp the ambiance, in Tunis, Kef and Sfax. The head quarters of Ennahdha in Kef.

Tunisia was the first Arab country to rise against dictatorship and a lightning example to others. After the toppling of Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali, Egypt walked Tahrir square, Libya fought Gaddafi, Syria’s Assad came under siege and regimes in the whole region rocked to their foundations, because all of a sudden people are prepared to pay with their lives for freedom.

Next Sunday, October 23 2011, elections are going to be held in Tunisia. 116 parties join in. The elected will gather in an assembly to write the new constitution of the country. The world is watching. Will the Tunisians achieve peaceful, free, transparent elections?

nonfiXe talked to politicians and voters, trying to temp the ambiance, in Tunis, El Kef and Sfax.

By Caro Sicking

At the headquarters of the Islamic Ennahdha movement in El Kef, October 15, people walk in and out in excitement. Today’s campaigning event went fine. Ennahdha is expected to win a majority these elections, even though there are still a lot of Tunisians afraid the party will try to implement strict Islamic regulations.

Ennahdha, often mentioned in one sentence with the Muslim Brotherhood, denies all allegations in respect of fundamentalist ideas and discrimination of women.


Mr Kadour spent four years in jail where Ben Ali’s men tortured him. As a consequence of this, his left shoulder hangs lower then his right, the hand swags along like a dead animal behind a wagon. His left eye looks like a dazed star and speaking is difficult. He is lucky, he says. His wife stood with him, all these years. Although he was not allowed to work and had to report at the police four times a day after his release from jail. This little scarred man is not a criminal, he was an opponent of the Tunisian regime that held the country in a tight smothering grip for 23 years. Today, seventeen years after his release, he finally can open up about his membership of the Islamist party Nahdha – short for Ennahdha. A party that was forbidden for decades.



Ennahdha (Renaissance) writes in it’s English version of the program that it is a movement for justice, freedom and development of Tunisia: Anyone who studies the path of Tunisia’s civilization and culture over the last 150 years can perceive a three-dimensional public awareness within society and its cultural, political and administrative elites. The first is an awareness of the country’s civilizational backwardness compared to the progress achieved by western nations, which has given rise to power, pride and prosperity thanks to the liberation of minds from illusions and the freedom from despotic rule. The second is a deep consciousness of the absolute necessity of bridging this gap by making every possible effort to acquire modern science and technology and develop administrative and political institutions so as to achieve efficiency, develop effective means of production and avert the scourge of despotism. The third is a deep awareness of, and confidence in, the validity of Islam and its heritage as a value and cultural reference and a basis for this project of reform and modernization through ijtihad (creative interpretation), tajdid (renewal), and the activation of dialogue with the contemporary concerns, sciences, and achievements of the modern age. These dimensions form the essence of the reform project and their relative significance continues to be the subject of ongoing debate.’ You can read the English summary of the program on the website of Ennahdha.

Revolution of the youth

After January 14, 2011, dictator Ben Ali finally resigned, or better fled. He was the first Arab dictator that succumbed to his people. One of which is with us today, visiting the Nahdha quarters in the city of Kef. Her name is Emna Dabbech, she is 21 years old and has to be in at the Tunis university campus before nine at night. Emna is always on time, but not last January when she spent days and nights at Kasba square in Tunis, shouting ‘Dégage’ and demanding freedom for herself and her people. Emna belongs to the brave facebook activists that organize themselves through social media and raise numbers, masses, to protest. She has the open face of youth and hope, certain of a better future, a free future. This revolution is the revolution of the young with the scent of jasmine hovering over it. ‘We will never allow dictatorship again’, Emna states with determination, in between translating Kadour’s words at the Nahdha headquarters.

Kif kif

‘Thirty thousand of us have been in prison,’ Mr Kadour explains. ‘I lost my brothers and dear friends.’ He insists on telling their names. His soft voice merges in the words of other party members that flow into the room. Everybody wants to be heard. They all have stories like Kadour.

Somebody lets us into another room. ‘It is too noisy and busy here.’ He explains: ‘Some think we are fundamentalists, they are afraid we will implement the Sharia on Tunisia. The Sharia is for truth finding. La politique et l’église, c’est kif kif.

Turkey’s model

We sit down at a large table, surrounded by candidates that just arrived back from campaigning. Mounira El Omri is second on the list, she is an intelligent looking middle-aged woman wearing a veil. ‘God created all human beings equal,’ she states. ‘Our party has been opposing Ben Ali during his reign. We suffered, many Tunisian suffered. The power belongs with the people. We want to change Tunisia, fight corruption and bureaucracy and look for cooperation abroad. Our country needs investments from the West. We are already talking about projects with France and Italy. We want to develop the tourist sector. We strive for a modern Islam, like Turkey, our philosopher Rached Ghannouchi is aspirator to the Republic of Turkey as well.’


‘I am very proud of yesterdays’ demonstration against Nessma. We showed that we can object without violence,’ Mrs El Omri says. Nessma is the television broadcast that showed Marjan Satrapi’s Persepolis. A film celebrated in the West, but considered blasphemy in Islam spheres due to a drawing of Allah.

Tunisian sources say the big demonstration against the tv station is also due to the opportunist policy of the director who openly praised Ben Ali when he was in power and now claims to be a front runner on freedom of speech.

The upheaval around Persepolis shows Tunisia’s struggle with the practice of democracy; What is freedom? How far can one go? How to deal with the grey area of one person’s liberty and the other’s sensibility? In the case of Nessma Tunisia chose to vote with their feet, advertisements were withdrawn and the majority protested peacefully, blocking the channel from their tv-sets. Only a small group of Salafists choose the violent way, threatened the director and threw stones. ‘That is not the Ennahdha way,’ Mrs El Omri states with kind persistence.

Before we leave, fruit is offered. ‘To a democratic Tunisia! Inshallah.’

nonfiXe, Kef, 15 October 2011

Images Frank van Empel, nonfiXe. On top: Mounira El Omri, Emna Dabbech and Hayet Arar. Middle: the Ennahdha headquarter at Kef, Tunisia. Last: Election wall showing 116 parties, Tunis

On this reportage: Frank van Empel, Mongi Farhani, Emna Dabbech and Caro Sicking

This article is among the sources for ‘Asfour, on betrayal’, novel by Caro Sicking.

Ain’t no stopping now

Arab Bloggers travel on Sunday October 2 towards Tunis for the Arab Blogger Conference. Goal: freedom of expression and overthrowing dictatorial regimes

The Arab Blogger Conference, AB 11, will start on Monday 3 October and last until the 6th. Bloggers and tweeps that reported continuously on what was ( and is) going on in North African Countries meet on the initiative of the Heinrich Boll Stiftung and Global Voices Online.

Caro Sicking for nonfiXe

They will look each other in the eye, some feeling they’ve known each other already for a long time – through social networks. Bloggers & tweeps will share what they have learned on reporting about dictatorships and their fall. How they can achieve even more freedom, in other countries as well. Just by using a phone as a weapon.

It is no coincidence AB11 takes place in Tunis, capital of the country that sparkled the Arab Spring. It all started with the 26 year old Mohamed Bouazizi who set himself on fire out of mere despair over the abuse he was confronted with over and over. Bouazizi would have been long forgotten and no revolution would have taken place, if not for his young friends who started to tweet and facebook their anger and sorrows on the death of the salesman in vegetables.

Their efforts were retweeted and multiplied by others, and before Ben Ali could even breath his country rose against him and his regime. Hosni Mubarak – Egypt – woke up next dawn confronted with a likewise rebelling crowd.

In Libya, as we all know, things went tougher. Tweeps were silenced for months out of fear of the Ghadaffi’s and lack of access to internet. Syria has a similar sad and violent experience. Some dictators are even worse then others, or then mentally sane people can imagine. The world witnesses what it can’t imagine because of the bloggers that keep on informing on massacres and torturing and abuses.

AB11 supports these brave reporters of whom some already were professional journalists and others have become pro’s very fast out of urgent need. The world is changing, has already been changed, although not everybody noticed it yet.

Let us guard freedom of expression with all our strength together, checking the powerful so they can live up to their status, namely being servant of the people that gave them the power. The only good power is the one accompanied by humility.

If you are interested, you can follow the Arab Blogger Conference on twitter: #AB11

Image: Frank van Empel, nonfiXe, and Sami El Ghousli, leadsinger of Kasba

nonfiXe, 2 October 2011

Guerrilla Government

De overheid speelt al meer dan honderd jaar een dominante rol in de samenleving, maar verliest volgens chroniqueurs van het leven grip. In Rotterdam denken bestuurders daar iets op gevonden te hebben: Guerrilla Government. Kleine, alerte, relatief zelfstandige eenheden die ‘licht en snel’ kunnen reizen, die een duidelijk omschreven taak en doel hebben, met een direct mandaat van de verantwoordelijke bestuurder, wat het mogelijk maakt om in ‘het veld’ tamelijk vrij te opereren.

Frank van Empel voor nonfiXe

De overheid speelt een belangrijke rol op vrijwel alle terreinen van het maatschappelijke leven. Regering en parlement bepalen met wet- en regelgeving wat er op nationale schaal mag en niet mag, wat moet en wat kan. Op regionale en lokale schaal zijn het soortgelijke instituties die de ‘onder’danen in een zo mogelijk nòg strakker keurslijf persen. De rechtelijke en uitvoerende macht, die als tegenwicht zouden moeten functioneren – althans volgens de leer van de trias politica, de scheiding van de drie machten binnen de staat – zijn in Nederland en ook elders volledig ondergeschikt aan de wetgevende macht.

De legitimiteit van deze overweldigende dominantie ontlenen regering en parlement aan het vermogen om mensen en organisaties, met het Wetboek van Strafrecht in de hand, ergens toe te dwingen. Die macht is zo groot dat hij vanzelfsprekend is geworden en niet meer ter discussie wordt gesteld. Dat is echter niet altijd zo geweest. Tot diep in de vorige eeuw hadden de meeste overheden juist erg beperkte opdrachten en bevoegdheden. De politieke processen waren nog niet zo sterk geïnstitutionaliseerd als nu. Er was sprake van ‘discursieve’ politiek. Dat wil zeggen: de besluitvormers bepaalden zelf volgens welke spelregels en procedures ze tot een besluit wilden komen[1]. Zo’n decentrale besluitvorming gaat goed zolang de vraagstukken waarover besloten wordt, een beperkt bereik hebben. Wordt het bereik groter, dan ontstaan er geheid conflicten. Het ene ministerie wil de nationale luchthaven uitbreiden vanwege de extra arbeidsplaatsen die dat oplevert. Een ander ministerie wil juist minder vliegverkeer om de overlast voor omwonenden te beperken. De ene gemeente wil een bos verkavelen. Een aanpalende gemeente wil hetzelfde bos juist behouden als recreatiegebied.


Belangenconflicten, chaos, inconsistentie en incoherentie verlammen de decentrale, discursieve politiek. Dit leidt vanzelf tot de vraag of het niet beter is de gefragmenteerde discursieve politiek te vervangen door één enkel overkoepelend besluitvormingsproces voor de hele samenleving, onder regie van een gekozen volksvertegenwoordiging. De discursieve politiek wordt ingepakt in een ‘integraal’ systeem, waar de overheid de dienst uitmaakt. ‘Integraal’ wil hier zeggen dat de vele discursieve processen in de samenleving worden overkoepeld, gecontroleerd en geïntegreerd in één en hetzelfde systeem.[2] Een systeem dat zich niet alleen weet te handhaven in de ‘turbulente’ omgeving van discursieve processen, maar sterker uit de strijd komt.[3] Gevolg: een vrijwel onaantastbare machtspositie voor de staat met zijn vele instituties.

‘De hedendaagse integrale systemen,’ schrijft Dierickx, ‘zijn erin geslaagd veel meer machtsmiddelen te verzamelen dan de oudere. De nieuwe communicatiemedia, de grotere financiële middelen, de moderne organisatievormen dragen het hunne bij tot een grotere beleidskracht van de overheid.’[4]

Uit het ‘integraal systeem’ kwam de rechtsstaat voort. En daar weer bovenuit torent, als heer en meester, de democratie. De democratie kent een aantal spelregels:

  1. het begin van het besluitvormingsproces – de selectie van de problemen (agendasetting) – wordt volledig vrij gelaten;
  2. het conflict wordt beslecht wanneer een voorstel gesteund wordt door een meerderheid van de individuele deelnemers;
  3. er mag geen vooropgezette, vaststaande doelstelling zijn die kan dienen als maatstaf om de waarde van het te voeren en van het gevoerde beleid te beoordelen.[5]

De democratie werkt als de debatten in het Kabinet en het Parlement een goede afspiegeling vormen van het maatschappelijke debat, waarna de gezanten van het volk in de Tweede Kamer de kroon op het werk zetten door de wet- en regelgeving zo bij te buigen dat ze weer up to date zijn.

‘Discussies en democratische besluitvorming moeten op elkaar aansluiten,’ schrijft A.F.A. Korsten in een artikel over discourse analyse. ‘Deze afstemming is in het recente verleden niet steeds goed geweest. Of het nu gaat om de HSL, de Betuwelijn, de onderwijsproblematiek of de plattelandsinrichting, de consensus van het poldermodel, halsstarrigheid van bestuurders en een parlement met te weinig eigenstandige analyse produceerde suboptimale oplossingen.’[6]

Het integraal systeem, de rechtsstaat en de haperende democratie hebben de onderdanen in een wurggreep. Zelfs het allerlaatste machtsmiddel dat gepassioneerde minderheden nog hebben om hun afwijkende ideeën en opvattingen kenbaar te maken aan een groter publiek, het activisme, wordt in oktober 2009 onder vuur genomen door de rijksoverheid, in casu minister Ter Horst van Binnenlandse Zaken. Hoewel activisten, anders dan extremisten, binnen de grenzen van de wet blijven, dreigt ook deze vrijhaven onder de lange arm der wet gebracht te worden.

NRC Handelsblad, 12 oktober 2009: ‘Inlichtingendienst AIVD waarschuwt voor de toename van extremistisch geweld door tegenstanders van het opsluiten en uitzetten van vreemdelingen. Deze kleine groep mensen verzet zich op radicale wijze tegen het asiel- en vreemdelingenbeleid van de Nederlandse regering.’

‘Een van de groepen die het illegale verzet bepaalt,’ vult de Volkskrant een dag later aan, ‘is volgens de dienst de Anarchistische Anti-deportatie Groep Utrecht (AAGU). Dat is “complete onzin,” zo laat een AAGU-woordvoerder per mail weten. “Wij gebruiken al jaren dezelfde soort actiemethoden. Directe actie is daar – naast bijvoorbeeld informatie geven, een belangrijk onderdeel van – en dat is soms wetsovertredend (volgens de overheid), maar onze acties zijn altijd geweldloos en openlijk.” De AAGU vindt dat de overheid “zich beter zorgen kan maken over de slachtoffers van het door haar gevoerde vreemdelingenbeleid dan activisme hiertegen criminaliseren”.’

Het systeem houdt zichzelf in stand en elimineert elke oppositie. Sterker: het systeem versterkt zichzelf. Mensen en organisaties met gevestigde belangen bouwen hun machtsbasis uit, of trachten die op z’n minst te consolideren. Zij beschikken over de financiële middelen, communicatieafdelingen en lobbyisten om veranderingen te blokkeren. Voor een duurzame ontwikkeling van economie, milieu en sociaal-culturele omgeving is echter juist innovatie (in de zin van creatieve destructie) noodzakelijk. Immers, bij de huidige stand van zaken is nog geen sprake van een duurzame ontwikkeling. Het nieuwe beschikt nog niet over belangenbehartigers, lobbyisten, communicatiedeskundigen en spin doctors om gevestigde belangen te beschermen. Het nieuwe heeft wél de energie en de aantrekkingskracht van de jeugd (ruim gedefinieerd, inclusief ‘jong van geest’) achter zich staan. Die steekt scherp af tegen het conservatisme van de economische, ecologische, maatschappelijke en politieke elites van het land en in de Provincie. De geschiedenis toont aan dat alle centralistische regimes uiteindelijk het onderspit  delven. De Romeinen, de USSR, Hitler Duitsland. Hoe groter de onderdrukking, des te feller en overtuigender het verzet. Mensen kiezen voor conservatisme, voor houden wat je hebt, in angstige tijden. Als ze vrezen voor hun inkomen, hun baan, hun leven. Maar ze leven op zodra het tij keert, de kleuren oranje en geel het modebeeld bepalen in plaats van het sombere bruin en grijs.


Als het leven goed is, floreert meestal ook de democratie, een beginsel dat al 2600 jaar over de aardbol waart en zich steeds zodanig weet te vernieuwen dat het blijft bestaan. Democratie is behalve een staatsvorm waarin de meerderheid plus een via representatie beslist ook een levenswijze, die voorkomt dat de macht geconcentreerd raakt bij 1 persoon of groep. Een ware democraat lijkt wel wat op degene die kiest voor

Barend van Hoek, potlood op papier, uit: Allemaal Winnen, naar een betere wereld, 2012

Vrijwillige Eenvoud. Die wil niet meer macht en al helemaal geen absolute macht, zoals de Vrijwillig Eenvoudige geen vijf televisies of drie auto’s ambieert. Een democraat beheerst de kunst van zelfdiscipline of beter nog, ‘heeft het verlangen naar macht gedood’, zoals Mahatma Gandhi het zou stellen. Als het verlangen dood is, is de verslaving of ambitie voorbij. Democratie wordt wel de minst slechte aller staatsvormen genoemd, maar wanneer we het beschouwen als een visie op samen leven waarbij oprecht rekening wordt gehouden met minderheden en/of zwakkeren, kunnen we niet anders dan concluderen dat democratie een voorwaarde is voor duurzame ontwikkeling. Totdat er een betere staatsvorm bedacht wordt.

John Keane echter gaat ervan uit dat de democratie zich alweer in een transitie bevindt, een overgang naar de wijze van besluitvorming die relevant en noodzakelijk is in de huidige Netwerk Samenleving. Democratie is een fraai gevormde vaas: zonder bloemen is ze hol en leeg, met verse tulpen brengt ze kleur en lente in huis, wanneer rottende uitgebloeide takken blijven staan, stinkt het. Kortom: We kunnen het begrip invullen zoals we zelf willen.

Flexibiliteit, snelheid, ambitie, authenticiteit, identiteit, creativiteit, bezieling, verbeelding, chaos, bandeloosheid, anarchisme en jeugdig élan winnen het uiteindelijk van stroperigheid, traagheid, inertie, lusteloosheid, gemaaktheid, nietszeggendheid, dodelijke saaiheid, arrogantie, conformering aan wat anderen doen en vinden, na-aperij, fantasieloosheid, orde en gezag. De spanning tussen uitersten geeft de vonken die nodig zijn voor verandering. Op weg naar een duurzame (regionale) ontwikkeling moeten we, of we willen of niet, door de funnel van de innovatie en de vernieuwing om het volgende level van de constructie te bereiken. Daarvoor staan ons diverse tools ter beschikking. Een aantal daarvan komt in dit hoofdstuk ter sprake.


Verzet tegen de bemoeizucht van de rijksoverheid steekt van tijd tot tijd de kop op, als onweer na een zwoele zomerdag. Er zijn ook denkers die zich principieel verzetten. John Stuart Mill bijvoorbeeld. Die begint zijn filosofische meesterwerk On Liberty in 1859 met ‘een vraag die zelden wordt gesteld en in algemene termen nauwelijks wordt bediscussieerd’ (aldus Mill): die naar ‘het wezen en de grenzen van de macht die legitiem door de samenleving mag worden uitgeoefend over het individu’. Hij geeft zelf het antwoord: ‘De enige reden waarom men, tegen zijn zin, rechtmatig macht kan uitoefenen over enig lid van een beschaafde samenleving, is de zorg dat anderen geen schade wordt toegebracht. Iemands eigen welzijn, hetzij fysiek, hetzij moreel, is geen voldoende rechtsgrond.’ [7]

De strijd tussen Vrijheid en Autoriteit is een al oude strijd met wisselende winnaars. De macht heeft steeds de neiging om in één hand te kruipen. De hand van de despoot, de dictator, de Almachtige. De Vrijheid wordt teruggedrongen tot de uiterste grens, waar de enige nog resterende vrijheid de persoonlijke vrijheid is om de hand aan je zelf te slaan (wat sommigen ook doen en prompt symbool worden van het verzet). Als de Vrijheid zo diep gezonken is, staat er steevast ergens een held op die zich persoonlijk verzet en steun krijgt van volgers die uitgroeien tot een beweging die ruimte terugpakt van de inmiddels afgebladderde Autoriteit en een bestuur installeert met beperkte opdrachten en bevoegdheden. Dat gaat goed tot dat belangenconflicten, chaos, inconsistentie en incoherentie het tij weer doen keren. Kijken we naar Nederland, dan kunnen we stellen dat er tot aan het kabinet Den Uyl (1973-1977) sprake was van discursieve politiek. Vanaf 1973 – de Oliecrisis – probeerde de centrale overheid met behulp van wet- en regelgeving de grip op de samenleving te vergroten. In 1982 mondde dat uit in het Akkoord van Wassenaar, toen bij de voorman van de werkgevers, Chris van Veen, thuis door regering (onder aanvoering van de christen-democraat Ruud Lubbers), vakbeweging (Wim Kok) en werkgevers (Van Veen) werd besloten om de lonen te matigen in ruil voor arbeidsduurverkorting. Er was toen in Nederland al jaren sprake van een integraal systeem, aangeduid als het ‘Poldermodel’, waarbij de leiders van rijksoverheid, werkgevers en werknemers vanuit achterkamers de hele samenleving bestierden. Dit Integrale Systeem, waar de overheid steeds meer de dienst ging uitmaken, werd onder de achtereenvolgende kabinetten Lubbers, Kok, Balkenende en Rutte niet kleiner, niet mooier, niet beter, wél groter, onpersoonlijker en ingewikkelder. Het wachten is nu op de activisten, of op een verandering van de onderliggende structuren.

Van burgerlijke ongehoorzaamheid en revolutie is in het brave, tolerante Nederland geen sprake. Wel zijn er tekenen van veranderende structuren, processen, systemen en culturen. In staccato:

1. De vertrouwde territoriaal verankerde homogene politiek-culturele orde (rijk, provincies, gemeenten) heeft z’n langste tijd gehad en wordt ingehaald door een conglomeraat van deels overlappende sociale, economische en culturele netwerken aangeduid als de ‘Netwerk Samenleving’.

2. Er is geen optimale schaal voor bestuurlijke organen meer. Maatschappelijke processen en milieuvraagstukken onttrekken zich aan elke schaal.

3. Bestuurders vragen zich af hoe ze grip kunnen krijgen op sociaal-maatschappelijke en ecologische ontwikkelingen, maar ze kunnen het beter omdraaien en zich afvragen hoe inzichten in sociaal-maatschappelijke en ecologische ontwikkelingen de vorm en oriëntatie van het beleid bepalen.

4. De historisch gewortelde praktijk in Nederland is er een van Consensus, Consultatie en Compromissen, van schikken, plooien en meebuigen. Judo in de Polder. Voordeel: breed gedragen beleid. Nadeel: achterkamertjespolitiek.

5. In de Europese context lijkt de opbouw van meer deliberatieve, niet-hiërarchische bestuurspraktijken een noodzakelijke voorwaarde voor het goed functioneren van de EU. Deliberatieve democratie staat voor een proces waarbij burgers via interactie – lees: langdurig beraadslagen – tot diepere inzichten in maatschappelijke problemen komen. Een vereiste is dan wel dat iedereen dezelfde gemeenschappelijke beleidstaal spreekt. Een goed voorbeeld hiervan is het infrastructuur-denken in het Europees beleid. Zonder noemenswaardige conflicten zijn beleidsmakers op alle niveaus overgegaan tot het hanteren van dezelfde conceptuele benadering van de ruimtelijk-economische ontwikkeling.

Wie luistert naar de ideeën van een voorzitter van een stadsdeelraad herkent veel motieven die ook kenmerkend zijn voor de manier waarop er in Brussel over de ruimtelijk-economische uitdagingen wordt gesproken. De politiek wordt gekenmerkt door stevig verankerde ‘discours’ coalities van beleidsmakers, belangengroepen en politici. ‘Discours’ is hier geen synoniem voor ‘discussie’. Discoursen of vertogen verwijzen naar min of meer samenhangende ensembles van ideeën, concepten en categoriseringen die we in bepaalde discussies kunnen terugvinden.[8] Het gaat dus om vaak impliciete structuren die een discussie zijn specifieke vorm geven. Het recht is een daar een mooi voorbeeld van. Het ‘juridiseren’ is een specifieke manier van kijken die juristen een eigen conceptuele toegang tot de werkelijkheid verschaft (en die en passant anderen nadrukkelijk buiten sluit).

De beleidstalen veranderen voortdurend en wie serieus genomen wil (blijven) worden, moet de nieuwe metaforen, nieuwe termen kennen en is dus gedwongen voortdurend in de relevante politiek-bestuurlijke praktijken te participeren. Een beleidstaal functioneert op die manier als een belangrijk mechanisme voor selectie en uitsluiting. Iedere ontmoeting, iedere receptie, vergadering of presentatie is er niet om zaken te doen maar om de taal van de macht te kunnen blijven spreken. Het bezoeken van recepties is permanente educatie.

De schaduwzijde van dergelijke elitaire politiek-bestuurlijke praktijken is dat politici en ambtenaren er niet in slagen om in bredere lagen van de bevolking draagvlak voor het beleid te krijgen. Daarmee wordt de effectiviteit en legitimiteit van het openbaar bestuur ondergraven. Politiek en bestuur zitten dan ook dringend verlegen om nieuwe ‘praktijken’[9] die, in een andere maatschappelijke context, wél door een groot deel van de bevolking worden onderschreven. Volgens de Amsterdamse hoogleraar Maarten Hajer[10] nemen de sturingscapaciteiten van de overheid af. ‘Het openbaar bestuur,’aldus Hajer, ‘krijgt meer te maken met opgaven die zich aan de vaste territoriale schaal van bestuur onttrekken en waarbij er dus geen vaste regels zijn volgens welke bestuurlijk te werk dient te worden gegaan’. Dit ‘bestuur zonder territoir’ komt overeen met het aan de Spaanse socioloog Manuel Castells ontleende concept ‘netwerksamenleving’. De samenleving wordt hierbij niet meer voorgesteld als een territoriaal verankerde homogene politiek-culturele orde maar als een conglomeraat van sociale, economische en culturele netwerken die zich maar zeer ten dele voegen naar de territoriale bestuursorganisatie.

Voor het bestuur impliceert de netwerksamenleving een grotere betekenis voor tijdelijke, projectmatige bestuurspraktijken die aansluiten op het probleem waarmee de samenleving zich op een gegeven moment ziet geconfronteerd. Geïnstitutionaliseerde gezagsverhoudingen maken plaats voor een erkenning van wederzijdse afhankelijkheid als basis voor politiek-bestuurlijk handelen en verhoudingen worden onderdeel van een continu proces van onderhandelen.

Volgens Hajer moeten we naarstig op zoek gaan naar nieuwe politiek-bestuurlijke praktijken die zouden kunnen functioneren als nieuwe ‘politieke ruimten’ die de deliberatie[11] tussen actoren met zeer verschillende historische en culturele achtergronden op gang kunnen brengen. Lopend onderzoek wijst uit dat weinig geformaliseerde, interactieve praktijken in bepaalde gevallen in staat zijn om de burger terug te brengen in de bestuurlijke discussie en om de politiek te bevrijden uit het ambtelijk discours. Maar ook een andere benadering van de Comitologie[12] rond de Europese Commissie kan helpen bij het identificeren en verder vormgeven van tijdelijke ruimten. In Rotterdam denken bestuurders de oplossing gevonden te hebben: Guerrilla Government. Kleine, alerte, relatief zelfstandige eenheden die ‘licht en snel’ kunnen reizen, die een duidelijk omschreven taak en doel hebben, met een direct mandaat van de verantwoordelijke bestuurder, wat het mogelijk maakt om in ‘het veld’ tamelijk vrij te opereren.


[1] Politicologen noemen politieke processen ‘discursief’ als de besluitvormers zelf bepalen volgens welke spelregels en procedures ze tot een besluit zullen komen. Guido Dierickx, De logica van de politiek, uitgeverij Garant, 2005, blz. 89.

[2] Guido Dierickx, De logica van de politiek, Uitgeverij Garant, Antwerpen/Apeldoorn, 4e druk 2005, blz. 102.

[3] idem, blz. 102.

[4] idem, blz. 122-123.

[5] idem, blz. 154-156.

[6] A.F.A. Korsten, in ‘De liberatieve beleidsanalyse en politiek als vorming van discourscoalities’, over het ontrafelen van discussies over identiteitsgevoelige beleidsvraagstukken, Maastricht,  blz 1., 11 maart 2005, www.arnokorsten.nl.

[7] J.S. Mill, On Liberty,1859, Introductory, blz. 45.

[8] Maarten Hajer, Politiek als Vormgeving, Oratie EUR,  16 juni 2000, blz.14.

[9] De term ‘instituties’ is in het vakjargon vervangen door ‘praktijken’.

[10] Maarten Hajer (1962) is een Nederlandse politicoloog en planoloog. Sinds 1998 is hij hoogleraar bestuur en beleid aan de Universiteit van Amsterdam. Sinds 1 oktober 2008 is hij directeur van het Planbureau voor de Leefomgeving (PBL).

[11] Delibereren is: langdurig beraadslagen, c.q. overleggen.

[12] Comitologie duidt een systeem aan van honderden Brusselse comité’s die bestaan uit duizenden ambtenaren uit alle lidstaten van de Europese unie. De comité’s besluiten formeel over de wijze van uitvoering of implementatie van op Europees niveau genomen besluiten. Die besluiten zijn meestal heel globaal geformuleerd, zodat degenen die de specifieke invulling van de maatregelen kunnen regelen over ongehoorde invloed beschikken. De voorbereiding van Europese besluiten gebeurt in een soortgelijk ondoordringbaar circuit van onder meer ‘expert committees’ waarin deels weer dezelfde ambtenaren zitten, aangevuld met lobbyisten en technocraten.

Libyan Diaspora intermediates

Libyan Americans succesfully pipeline news on the revolution out of the country to the free press

No freedom for foreign press at Tripoli’s Rixos hotel’, heads the Guardian on April 14th 2011. Following is an appalling story on the golden cage journalists of respected agencies are being kept in, harassed and manipulated, only allowed to go out in the companion of a marafiq – a regime loyal minder.

The five star Rixos hotel got famous the day female lawyer Iman Al-Obaidi rushed in claiming to be raped by Gaddafi’s mercenaries. She was violently moved from the hotel and reported mentally ill by the regime. A foreseeable reaction many dictators have when confronted with dissent. Last news we got from Mrs Al-Obaida is that she is not able to leave her house, being physically harassed every time she tries to.

Media coverage by foreign journalists from inside Libya has never been easy, but has gotten pinched black since February 17th, when the revolt started in Benghazi, Libya’s second city. However a new form of journalism started and is becoming more and more influential. Inside the country civilians with access to Internet started to tweet and post video’s, livestreaming broadcasts, photo’s and blogs. On nonfiXe we blogged about them, stirring commotion when the situation got worse and the people became more and more afraid for retaliation by the Gaddafi’s. We took out these blogs, edited all names and republished them on request, because ‘the world needs to know’.

Apart from this a spontaneous support arose among Libyans abroad. Lawyers, computer experts and other members of the Diaspora in the USA realised how hard it was to get messages across. They joined on facebook and started – loosely organised – to call their relatives and friends for news and confirmation of news and gave their numbers to the press, enabling journalists to cover from the opposition site of the Libyan furnace. Two initiatives – on facebook and twitter – are Libya Outreach Group and Feb17. Libyans from inside and outside thus cooperate to realise change, becoming journalists on the way.

In Doha, Qattar, free Libya tv started to broadcast by satellite. Anchormen of the state television defected their jobs to join the first free Libyan newsagency. The website states the ‘voice for free Libya’ has been set up by ‘seasoned media man’ Mahmud Shammam.

The Libyan freedomfighters found various ways around the censorship thus providing information to the outside world, making it possible to follow the events and gain support for the oppressed. This is journalism beyond eyewitness report; the stories can be verified, checked and sources are known to the editors.

Image: Boy in Benghazi in front of Anti Gaddafi graffity, from Libya TV – Voice for free Libya

Just after posting this article the news got out that Iman Al-Obaida fled Libya

Caro Sicking for nonfiXe, May 8 2011

Links to Libya TV, Lybia Outreach Group and Feb17 have been removed, because these sites are no longer online. March 2019.

Libya, the larger picture

Thursday, March 17, 2011; 9:12 AM

‘In Benghazi – Libya’s rebel-controlled second largest city – opposition protesters are buoyed by news that fighters in a nearby town have beaten back an offensive by Muammar Gaddafi’s forces.

While some in the city are apprehensive that the war may still come to their door step, they remain defiant, vowing to fight on to defeat Gaddafi’s troops.’

 Al Jazeera’s Tony Birtley reports from Benghazi.

Frank van Empel for nonfiXe

Tunesia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain… the freedom virus is spreading rapidly. People all over the world want to be treated fairly and with respect and dignity, even by tyrants. But Gaddafi does not get it. He has missed some clues. For instance the clue from Tunesia where the 26 year old fruitseller Mohammed Bouazizi burned his life away on December 17, 2010 after a female police officer claimed the balance to weigh his products while selling. She slashed him in the face too. Mohammed Bouazizi went to claim his right, but was denied an answer and stripped once again from his dignity by the authorities. His last words: ‘If nobody listens to me, I set myself on fire’. And he did.

(Trailer Al Sharara, the fuse, a movie by Mongi Farhani)

What arrogant dictators like Ben Ali (Tunesia), Mubarak (Egypt) and Gaddafi (Libya) didn’t expect, happened in a wink. Bouazizi was the fuse in a powder keg. The People made clear that they had enough. They prooved even the smallest person with the quietest voice can make a difference. They resisted oppression and came together on the streets and squares. Bouazizi not only changed Tunesia. He has changed Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Morocco. He  brought hope to Palestina, Ethiopia, Iran and dozens of other countries.

The larger picture shows that it even changed the opinion of Westerners on Moslims. Western people sympathize with freedom fighters. With one spark Bouazizi neutralized the Twin Towers act of Bin Laden & Al Qaeda. And with the USA he changed the balance of power in the Middle East. The larger picture also shows that there is a spirit that rises above the borders of nation states into the wide open: the spirit of freedom, equality and friendship, the spirit of democracy.

Nationstates are constructions of the past. The borders are silent witnesses of wars and trade offs. They are not natural. And because they are not natural they have to be defended by guns and soldiers. Defended against the evil that may come from abroad: real evil, like Al Quada kamikaze pilots, but also poor South American Adventurers and African freedomseekers. Democratic principles that are manifest for internal affairs and citizens do not go for foreigners. Strange. Either you have principles or you don’t have principles. Democratic principles in particular should apply to everyone who wants to live the life we Westerners live.

Democracy is much more than just a form of government. It is a way of life that we can try to sketch in words, but that is impossible to define. It’s something bigger than life. For instance it says that democrats shall not boss or rule others who have fewer or no means to redress. Its history goes back in time some 2600 years. The roots are in the Middle East: Babylon, the area we nowadays call Iran and Iraq. Countries that got lost somewhere between then and now. Athens in Greece and Rome in Italy took over.

After the fall of the Roman Empire a dark episode of 1000 years, called the Middle Ages, followed. Then democracy popped up in Europe and the US. Since 1989 democracy is a hit in Eastern Europe as well. The EU system of enlargement has much to do with the growth of incomes and jobs in places that used to be a dictatorship.

The story of democracy cannot be told in a few lines, but one thing is for sure: Gaddafi is an anti democrat. In his name people whose biggest crime is that they want to be democrats too, are being massacred. They don’t only shout it, they show it, by risking their lives in order to overthrow dictatorship. The protesters in Northern Africa and the Middle East don’t want to get screwed anymore by no-brainers that have gathered weapons and trigger-happy crooks around their villas. They have enough of unfairness, display of power, sexual abuse and the lack of money due to stealing practices of high placed blind followers of rulers.

It is time, it is high time for Obama, Merkel, Kroes, Rutte, Sarkozy and all other so-called democrats to stand up for the rights of the weak, to tame gunpowers like Gaddafi, to empower people everywhere, so that they can work, earn income and live the life we live. Take notion of the word ‘everywhere’. The taming of power should be the nr. 1 mission of democrats all over the world, no matter where they come from. It is a big but necessary step forward on the way to sustainable peace and happiness for everyone. A democratic Vistas (named after an essay of the 19th century American writer Walt Whitman), based on the principle that no concentrations of unaccountable power will be tolerated anymore by the United Democrats.

We go even further. Europe, the USA and other places of Wealth and Prosperity have to open their doors for likeminded democrats. To asylum seekers who never practiced their democratic rights we will extend a warm welcome. In order for them to experience the democratic way of life. To quote another American writer, Gary Snyder: ‘It is also a new thought that anyone of any cultural or racial background who chooses to learn, love and respect the North American (and European, fve) continent and its human and nonhuman inhabitants – and its ecosystems and watersheds – can be a sort of honorary Native American (European, fve).’

nonfiXe, March 17, 2011

Browse the world

Social media: In the end it is all about freedom, whether you seek to follow the freedom fighters or Cesar Milan.

Today sharing is power. Twitter is one of the best tools to share knowledge and gain power. The conservative Internetuser is the most passionate opponent: ‘Why should I want to know when the neighbour is having coffee with his mother? Why should I want to tell the rest of the world I am having a shower?’

Caro Sicking for nonfiXe

Mistake! Twitter is not about having a shower or taking ones kids to the Zoo and telling the world about it. Twitter is a powerful and extremely fast railroad for messaging. In Libya Ali Tweel sent messages to the world about Gaddafi’s atrocities. Ali Tweel got support from people who never before knew of his existence; from friends he himself did not know he had. News agencies quoted him as a source. He is one of the brave who got information out of the tight Gaddafi occupied country. When Ali Tweel stopped tweeting alarm bells rang all over the world. There still are enormous gaps in the timelines of Ali Tweels’ followers. He hasn’t sent a message for almost two weeks now. Nobody knows what became of him: has he been caught by Gaddafi’s troops or is it impossible to get a connection? But Ali Tweel is one of the guys who gave words to the Libyan Revolution. People are virtually gathering on the subject of freedom and by doing so they defy all borders.

Now maybe you are not interested in freedom, but you do want to know all about Japans’ misfortune or you like to find out if there are still tickets for your favourite show, how to domesticate your dog, or try new recipes. It is all there, just make a selection of the subjects and people of your interest and browse the world. Forget about your morning paper for actualities or even inside stories, these are real time available on the net.

What about journalism then? Is there still need for a professional press? I think there is. More then ever. The world needs trustworthy professionals to check sources, to dive into information, know history and analyse what is happening. Guides in the message spaghetti bowl are more important then ever before. They too are virtual and thus borderless, they make it their lives’ job to help you find your way and to protect democracy. Democracy? Yes, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right to live ones life as one wishes without bullies telling people what to do or think. In the end it is all about freedom, whether you seek to follow the freedom fighters or Cesar Milan.

nonfiXe, March 16, 2011

‘The purpose of democracy is to stop people getting screwed’

The freedom fighters in Libya had the sympathie of the worlds’ citizens. Politicians had to reckon with that and so had Colonel Gaddafi. He could not instruct the army to go full out. But then the mad man in Tripoli got help from above.

The freedom fighters in Libya had the sympathie of the worlds’ citizens. Politicians had to reckon with that and so had Colonel Gaddafi. He could not instruct the army to go full out. But then the mad man in Tripoli got help from above.

Frank van Empel for nonfiXe

An earthquake pulled away the attention of mass media from Tripoli to Fucoshima, from oil business to nuclear power. Gaddafi grasped the chance and shot himself a way out. The military powers of the West turned their faces away from the brave street fighting men and women in the streets who were fighting for exactly the same principles that are inherent to that of Western democracy:

1.   No bossing others who have fewer or no means to redress;

2.   dictatorship needs to be overthrown;

3.   no concentrations of unaccountable power;

4.   to live by the rule that nobody should rule, nor in private, nor in public life;

5.   to empower the powerless;

6.   self-government among equals;

7.   to protect the weak and to empower people everywhere, so that they can get on with living their diverse lives;

8.   to control winners, for instance by placing time limits on holding office, and by offering real incentives to losers;

Democracy means the denaturing of power. It implies that the most important political problem is how to prevent rule by the few, or by the rich or powerful who claim to be supermen. The last category is where we may reckon Gaddafi and his friends. Democracy, at the other side of the political spectrum, always was and has to be government of the humble, by the humble for the humble. In the words of John Keane, whose masterpiece The Life and Death of Democracy forms the bases of this article: ‘Democracy is a powerful remedy for insolence. Its purpose is to stop people getting screwed. Democracy is a good weapon for publicly exposing corruption and arrogance, false beliefs and blind spot, bad decisions and hurtful acts.’[1]

The heroes of democracy are people like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Václav Havel and Nelson Mandela, not macho’s like Berlusconi, Putin and Gaddafi. The president of the United States, Barack Obama, does not show the democratic leadership in the tradition of Gandhi c.s. He sits on his hands. By not interfering in Libya he made a statement. A lot of people died because Western politicians without leadership did not act according to their own principles. They surrendered to the old law of the strongest, the rise to power of the most determined, decisive, and often brutal natures.

nonfiXe, March 15 2011

[1] John Keane, The Life and Death of Democracy, Pocket Books 2010, p.p. 867/868.

Even the smallest person with the quietest voice can make a difference

The events across the Middle East are a reminder of the power of the idea of democracy and the yearning of people for respect, freedom and dignity. Mohammed Bouazizi was pushed around one time too many. He resisted in the ultimate way: he committed suicide and by doing so he set the Middle East on fire.

‘The events across the Middle East are a reminder of the power of the idea of democracy and the yearning of people for respect, freedom and a say in the decisions that shape their lives,’ Philip Woods writes on Friday, March 4th, 2011. ‘It is a reminder too that democracy itself is evolving and grows from the experience of our everyday lives.’

Frank van Empel for nonfiXe

According to Woods, in organisations and societies of the 21st century there are signs and signals of a fundamental, paradigmatic change in how we view and make it work. There is evidence of a shift away from the pyramidic hierarchy and towards democratic forms that enable people to flourish as whole people who are spiritually, socially and ecologically connected. The organisational democracy that is growing now however is qualitatively different from simply involving and consulting people more often. It is about bringing both greater participation and greater meaning to our lives. It’s about what Woods terms ‘holistic democracy’.

One of the drivers is the intrinsic conviction that people have a right to be involved in decisions that affect them, to have their voices heard and their rights to freedom respected, and that those in power should be accountable for its use. It is part of a long-term evolution. This basic motivation to make power accountable is compelling governments to change they way they work and to open up decision-making. This is not simply about voting. It is about: sharing power and facilitating dialogue as part of the culture; enabling people to make decisions, work flexibly and collaboratively, and initiate change; giving people the entitlement to open and transparent information; and having systems and spaces through which people can influence, and own, the vision and strategies of society.

The driver of democracy concerns the opportunity to find and create higher meaning: to express spiritual, artistic and creative impulses; to enjoy the intrinsic value of relationships and the warmth of caring human bonds; to live ethically and to learn and grow as full human beings. Underlying this is the recognition that people want more than mundane, repetitive lives.

The question is how deep this democracy goes. The wise government uses the instrumental drive to enhance involvement as a way of creating holistic democracy – a culture that pervades society and through which leadership is dispersed and shared with people as whole human beings.

Dictators such as Gaddafi, Ben Ali, Mubarak, don’t fit into this picture. They must have been asleep, or just did not notice the radical changes in the mindset of the people they are used to command, rob and  rape. In relation to the Ben Ali’s of this world the ordinary man seems powerless. But the Ali Mu Gafi’s are oblivious to the one power all people have: to commit suicide. Like the 26 year old Tunasian Mohammed Bouazizi did. The fruitseller burned his life away on December 17, 2010 after a female police officer claimed the balance to weigh his products while selling. She slashed him in the face too. Mohammed Bouazizi went to claim his right, but was denied an answer and stripped once again from his dignity by the authorities. His last words: ‘If nobody listens to me, I set myself on fire’. And he did.

What the Ben Ga Baraks didn’t expect, happened in a wink. Bouazizi was the fuse in a powder keg. The People made clear that they had enough. They prooved even the smallest person with the quietest voice can make a difference. They resisted oppression and came together on the streets and squares. Bouazizi not only changed Tunesia. He has changed Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Morocco. He  brought hope to Palestina, Ethiopia, Iran and dozens of other countries.

The larger picture shows that it even changed the opinion of Westerners on Moslims. Western people sympathize with freedom fighters. With one spark Bouazizi neutralized the Twin Towers act of Bin Laden & Al Qaeda. And with the USA he changed the balance of power in the Middle East. They may have stolen his balance, but Bouazizi may have claimed a 1000000 x mightier balance instead.

nonfiXe, March 6 2011

Image: poster Al Sharara. Filmer Mongi Farhani documented the Tunesian upraise which started in his hometown: Al Sharara (the fuse).

Philip Woods FRSA is Chair in Educational Policy, Democracy and Leadership at the University of Hertfordshire and Co-founder of FreeSpirit Education. His latest book, Transforming Education Policy: Shaping a democratic future, will be published by Policy Press in 2011.

Freedom of Speech

Lady Liberty in danger. Power corrupts. Freedom of Press (and speech) is of utmost importance for a democracy. On Wikileaks and Naomi Wolf, ‘The End of America’.


Naomi Wolf wrote her book ‘The End of America’ in 2007. It is a pamphlet on liberty. The writer warns civilians living in democratic countries, especially the US, for rising suppression by their own governments. In 2007 the US was under the Bush legislation.

‘The big picture reveals that ten classic pressures – pressures that have been used in various times and places in the past to close down pluralistic societies – were set in motion by the Bush administration to close down our own open society.’ Wolf thus states in the introduction.

The ten steps she writes about are:

  • Invoke an external & internal threat
  • Establish secret prisons
  • Develop a paramilitary force
  • Surveil ordinary citizens
  • Infiltrate citizens’ groups
  • Arbitrarily detain and release citizens
  • Target key individuals
  • Restrict the press
  • Cast criticism as ‘espionage’ and dissent as ‘treason’
  • Subvert the rule of law

Now take a look at recent events.

The Western world is burdened under fear of terrorist attacks and Muslim expansionism (external threat). This fear causes uptight security measures, mainly targeting ordinary people.

The Netherlands is said to have secret prisons to detain asylum seekers.

The Angst is fed on daily basis by politicians crying out loud one liners on Islam atrocity, thus trying to convince the public of the necessity of laws restricting every civilians’ freedom.

The restrictions are very well known to all of us, and we have grown used to some of them, so most people don’t care anymore: identification requirements, also for kids as young as 14 – body search at airports – fingerprints taken at city hall  – camera surveillance in public spaces … (Surveil ordinary civilians)

This was already the case when Naomi Wolf wrote her book, three years ago. And, I presume, it was one of the reasons why she wrote it. She urges civilians to protect democracy – freedom – we are so used to that we take it for granted, Wolf says.

Now Lady Liberty took one more blow, and a severe one: on freedom of press.

Western governments are not often seen this united, as they seem to be now, on silencing Wikileaks. The organisation is being black-sheeped in a classical way, accused of putting lives in danger by opening the big black book of international diplomacy. Congressmen/women, politicians and global leaders, when speaking of Wikileaks use the words ‘treason’ and ‘criminal’. There have been several attempts by governments to shut the site down and to cut of financial resources. (Restrict the press)

Its’ founder Julian Assange, is hunt down and put in prison. Yes, for a reason, a good reason if it is true, he is being accused of rape, a severe offence, for which anyone ought to be punished. But, have you ever witnessed a chase on a rapist as well coordinated, international, as this one? Doesn’t it at least make one think there are other motives to catch him? Officials have called in public for his assassination. The West put out a fatwa. (Target key figures)

The most astonishing part is, so far, nobody, except for the former minister of development of the Netherlands – Bert Koenders – has stated that the Wikileaks information is false, untrue.  Koenders, rather mildly, speaks of a misinterpretation by the Americans, on his willingness to use development funds for political use.

Is Wikileaks in her right then? This is another hard to answer question. What do we know about Wikileaks? Who, except Julian Assange, is behind it? Wikileaks prides itself no innocent lives have been endangered by their info torrents. It publishes the sources together with the news, so readers can make up their own mind. Well-known and prestigious newspapers share the content. The Guardian, the New York Times, Der Spiegel, El Pais and Le Monde are not the least of the Western papers. They have a long tradition of well-founded journalism. So far Wikileaks seems to have the right on her side.

But the organisation, which has become powerful through the information they obtain and the access they have to a very very large audience, needs to restrain itself too.

What is the use of revealing locations vital to the US, except if you want to show your muscles? ‘Look, we know everything about you and we’ll spread the info around,’ they seem to say. Threatening to publish explosive information if anything happens to Julian Assange isn’t quite nice either. It is blackmail. Either you publish, because you think people have a right to know, or you don’t.


We need to reread Naomi Wolfs’ book and thoroughly watch who we are following, voting for, what laws we accept and which we dismiss in the name of Lady Liberty. To what extend do we let security imprison freedom?

We have to formulate our own ethics and live by them. Wikileaks succeeded in putting the finger on a weak spot: Democracy today is not as democratic as most think. Power corrupts, therefore those in power need to be accountable for their actions. That is one of the main reasons why freedom of press (and speech) is so damn important.

Only minutes after finishing this article, The Guardian tweets:

‘US Senator Joe Lieberman suggests New York Times could be investigated’. For the whole article, see pdf. WikiLeaks_ US Senator Joe Lieberman suggests New York Times could be investigated | World news | guardian.co.uk

What more needs to be said???

By Caro Sicking, nonfiXe, December 7, 2010