By Mourad Anouar
By Mourad Anouar
Morocco World News
Oklahoma City, March 23, 2012
Another question would be: if you were Mohamed Bouazizi, would you set yourself alight? If I am allowed to write our contemporary Arab World history with all its complexities and incomputable failures, the timeline would start from the moment when Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation inspired revolution in and out of Tunisia, resulting in the unseating of the region’s brutal dictators. For the first time, millions of Arabs took to the streets demanding change after they felt emboldened by Bouazizi’s selfless act of heroism. Any fool can make history, but it takes a genius to write it as Oscar Wilde said. The fool in our Arab World context is Fadia Ahmed whose sense of haughtiness and power abuse outweighed her sense of human dignity, justice and respect for others. Hamdi, when she slapped and humiliated Bouazizi, was just a manifestation of the rulers’ whip to silence anybody who dares confront any form of authority. Bouazizi, on the other hand, exemplifies the genius and soul that has kept mankind striving for equality, justice and dignity for all throughout history.
And if you ask Fadia Hamdi why she abused Bouazizi, the famous fruit and vegetables vendor, she would definitely tell you that she was just doing her job. In other words, she would explain her inhumane act as obedience to authority. No wonder that the same explanation was given by Adolf Eichmann when he was reported to say, according to New York Times(1999), during his trial in Jerusalem in 1961”Now that I look back, I realize that a life predicated on being obedient and taking orders is a very comfortable life indeed. Living in such a way reduces to a minimum one’s own need to think.’
Eichmann’s failure to show any remorse for what he did reminded me of a must read book for anybody who wants to know more about the psychology behind the issue of obedience to authority. Entitled obedience to authority, the book was based on the findings of a very interesting and thorough study that was carried out between 1961 and 1962 at Yale by the book’s same writer Stanley Milgram. Traumatized by the Holocaust atrocities and being a son of a holocaust survivor, Milgram recruited more than 1,000 participants from all walks of life to help in finding new ways to improve memory through punishment, which would help in the education process. Some participants were selected to be teachers and others to be learners. The latter were strapped into a chair with electrodes attached to their arms. Placed in separate rooms and communicated without seeing each other, both teachers and learners (confederates) were told that the electrodes were attached to an electric chock generator, and that any incorrect answers from the learners would be punished by getting painful shocks from the teachers, but no permanent tissue damage would happen. What none of them knew was that in reality no shocks were administered.
The results of this psychological experiment were groundbreaking. Although many subjects showed signs of tension, three of them had “full-blown, uncontrollable seizures”, forty subjects obeyed up to 300 volts. Shockingly, twenty five of the forty subjects went up to give a maximum level of 450 volts. The study teaches us that while some of us could be seduced, initiated into becoming agents in terribly destructive process, and without any particular hostility on their part, others may refrain from doing so thanks to their moral compass. Milgram thought (2009) that” The disappearance of a sense of responsibility is the most far-reaching consequence of submission to authority.” About a decade later, Milgram come to conclude in television that “If a system of death camps were set up in the United States of the sort we had seen in the Nazi Germany, one would be able to find sufficient personnel for those camps in any medium-sized American town”
Milgram’s prophetic words were somehow true as around that time in Morocco Ahmed Marzouki, along with other fifty eight military officers, was locked away for more than 18 years in Morocco’s notorious desert prison known as Tazmamart. Marzouki and his inmates were exposed to the harshest forms of torture, oppression, mistreatment and emotional degrading by sadist guards. In his book Cellule 10 as translated by Orlando Valérie (2009), Marzouki spoke about the Hitchcockian scenes he witnessed there “We spent more than 18 years locked up in the dark, each of us in a narrow cell. Twenty nine of us were in each of the two buildings. The food we were given by the guards three times a day was insufficient to survive; we had five liters of water a day as drinking water, for washing ourselves and for cleaning the hole in the floor we had to relieve ourselves in.” The irony of Ahmed Marzouki’s story is while he was just following orders, as he claimed, when was caught involved in the 1971 coup in Skhirat [near capital Rabat], he was tortured by others who will surely tell you that they did what they were ordered to do. In the name of obedience to authority, both, his guards and he, did the most despicable acts without batting an eyelid. It is the fear that is instilled inside some of us through different channels that make them see obedience to authority as being dutiful citizens even if they do immoral and inhumane acts. Charles P. Snow explained (1961) that “When you think of the long and gloomy history of man, you will find that far more, and far more hideous, crimes have been committed in the name of obedience than have ever been committed in the name of rebellion”
Obedience to authority raises also the question of doing acts of violence in certain circumstances. While some would deem it legitimate when a policeman pulls the trigger and guns down an armless but violent robber who breaks into a certain house, others would argue killing the armless intruder outweighs the danger imposed. The first argument holds that the violence would not have happened if we did have such situational context. That in mind, one should sincerely ask the following question: Would I kill Jews in Nazi Germany, slap Bouazzi, mistreat Marzouki, gas the Kurds in Halabja, shoot a helpless and unthreatening kid like Ahmed Al-Dorra, or sexually humiliate the prisoners in Abu Ghraib?
In the riveting movie ‘The Experiment’, twenty three men were chosen to participate in the roles of guards and prisoners in a psychological study led by Dr. Archaleta to simulate a prison environment. With a select few playing guards and the bulk of the group playing convicts, each participant was promised to receive $14,000 after two weeks. A few basic rules were both given to the prisoners and the guards where the former must obey the latter at all times, while the guards are told to exact punishment for infractions in any matter short of physical abuse. Unfortunately, the study ultimately spirals out of control when one of the prisoners, Travis (Adrian Brody), started showing defiance and lack of obedience toward any type of authority. Considering him the leader of dissent, Barris (Forest Whitaker), ordered other guards to shave Travis’s head and urinate on him later on. The whole movie was about how far a man could inflict all types of sadistic acts on his fellow ones. Toward the end of the movie, after everybody was released and got $14000, Travis’s girlfriend notices that her boyfriend’s knuckles are bruised due to his constant brawling with the guards. An attentive viewer of the movie would connect this ending scene with beginning one when she noted that his knuckles are pristine, an indication that he was unable to do any types of violent acts at the time.
People like Fadia Hamdi, Eichmann, Marzouki’s guards, Abd Majid Ali chemical, Mohamed Al Dorra’s shooter, Lynndie England and the like share the same distorted notion of looking at obedience to authority as signs of conformity, prestige, discipline and duty. Even when it is abused, it would still be tolerated as long as order in society is maintained according to their logic. Klaus Fischer noted (2008) that “it is important to realize that the SS (social security) was perceived by most Germans, especially those who joined its various branches, as a noble elite order that only accepted the brightest and the best. This was part of the Nazi policy of pubic deception, of enshrouding aggression and immoral goals in the noblest form of Idealism.”
As the Arab Spring seems to be still reverberating through Middle East, one can’t help but hope to see more people like Bouazizi who have the ability and courage to defy authority when it is unjust and abusive. Meanwhile, we need also people who are, unlike Fadia Hamdi, rational beings and good examples of authority, not mindless machines. Commenting on the Arab sociology pioneer Ibn khaldoun’s view on obedience to authority, Philip Khoury (1990) noted that ‘he (Ibn Khaldoun) concedes the possibility that obedience to authority also exists “among dumb animas”(such as bees) but insists that in humans, to the contrary, this obedience is founded on the ability to reason and in the exercise of free will. Humans voluntarily agree to submit to a higher authority because their practical reason convince them of wisdom of the choice”
While trying to lead a decent life, Mr. Bouazizi was constantly harassed by the Fadia Hamdi and others. Like millions in Middle East, he could have let it go without having to lose his life, but people like him envision life different from what most people do. Life, according to Bouazizi, means more than just live a peaceful life, bring food home and obey authority even when it is unjust. He wanted, instead, to bring back a dignity that had been stolen from him, and us, for decades, if not centuries.
1–Cohen, Roger. “Why? New Eichmann Notes Try to Explain.” New York Times [New Work] 13 08 1999, n. pag. Web. 23 Mar. 2012. <http://www.nytimes.com/1999/08/13/world/why-
2-Milgram, Stanley. Obedience to Authority. reprint, illustrated. 224 pages. New York: HarperCollins, 2009. 8. Print.
3-Orlando, Valérie. Francophone Voices of the “New” Morocco in Film and Print:. illustrated. 262 pages. New York: Macmillan, 2009. 61. Print.
4–Charles P. Snow, The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution . London: Cambridge University Press, 1961. 195. Print.
5-Klaus, Fischer. The history of an obsession:. 532. Michigan: the University of Michigan, 2008. 266. Print.
6– Philip Shukry Khoury, Joseph Kostiner, First. Tribes and state formation in the Middle East. 351. Berkeley: University of California Press,, 1990. 86. Print.
Mourad Anouar is a Moroccan writer, novelist and poet. He received his bachelor’s in Journalism and a minor in German from the University of Central Oklahoma. He is the author of several poems and short stories both in Arabic and English.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial policy
© Morocco World News. All Rights Reserved