What Would You Do To Protect Your Box?

Egyptian protesters form human chain to protect the Cairo Museum

We all have one. Maybe it’s a drawer or a shelf in a cabinet. Maybe it’s an old chest in the attic or a special box under the bed. It’s where we keep the precious things. The objects that have survived the summer garage sale purges that have come to symbolize our unique and individual life, a grandmother’s ring, a letter from a first love, a newspaper clipping of a piano recital, an old dear toy, a family photograph. They are solid and real compared to our ephemeral flesh and they will follow us to the end to stand witness to our silenced voice when we are gone. They will illustrate our personal stories and descriptions of one single life in the ocean of humanity that has lived and died here on this earth. What would we do to protect that box?

On January 29, 2010, in the heat of revolution, a group of Egyptian demonstrators formed a human chain against the threat of hired violence and military might to protect their box, The Cairo Museum which houses their precious things. The things that bear witness to the greatness, the struggle, the glory, the sorrow of their nation; the objects that symbolize the lives of their ancestors who lived and breathed and died in order for them to have life, to have their voice, to have their chance to participate in this human experiment. But who were they protecting their precious things from? An outside enemy trying to take power? A force of nature that threatened destruction? Unfortunately, the enemy was much closer and more devastating: their own government.

Imagine after your death, your family comes together to sort through your box, your children, your grandchildren, close friends and colleagues. Your oldest son, the executor of your will, knows how precious and meaningful these objects were to you and sees how important they are to his brothers and sisters, children, nieces and nephews. He knows that these things will give comfort in the desperate days ahead and yet, in his own selfish need to wield power, he purposely seeks to destroy them, without any care of his own to their meaning.

In order to de-stabilize the mostly peaceful protests in Egypt, Prime Minister Mubarek released prisoners into the street with the intention of causing mayhem to undermine the dissenters and to make the protests appear violent. After all, if the world sided with the people, he had no possible chance of staying in power. If the protests turned violent and ugly, though, he could win popular opinion on his side. But the Egyptian people weren’t interested in chaos and greed. They wanted freedom from his tyranny. They wanted justice from his inequity. They wanted to be the people their precious things, their symbols, as so proudly displayed in the museum, declares them to be. So in the face of the government-supported thugs who broke in to the museum to damage and pillage their heritage they joined arms and stood as human shields to protect the objects that express their humanness, their history, their Egyptian-ness. “We are Egyptians and this is the Egyptian Museum” they cried. What would we do to protect that box?

Everyday we lose more and more of the collective materials of our humanity. We’ve seen the destruction in Afghanistan and Iraq, the birthplace of our so-called civilization, where the museums were looted instantly at the start of the war. We’ve seen objects cross borders and land in the hands of those willing to pay the high price of ownership to hide them away from those whom the objects symbolize, crystallize, offer strength to and unite, now to be admired, out of any meaningful context, to bring prestige only to the new, disconnected owner for the exorbitant purchase-price paid. When will we cry “We are humans and these are our human museums”? What will we do to protect our box?

The objects in the Cairo Museum symbolize the power of the divine king. A human god whose right to rule was granted by the divine forces beyond human comprehension. The statues and regalia of the Pharaohs expressed the sacred bond between a leader and his people. Mubarek broke this bond by asserting his own hunger for power over the liberty of his people. What Mubarek forgot, though, is that the divine force of this power is fueled by the will of the people. It is the people who give power and it is the people who can ultimately take it away. It is the people who will protect the precious things, at any cost.

That protective human chain symbolized this power of the people, the divine power of the pride of a set of collective experiences, beliefs, ideas and perspectives; the unity which our human soul craves in order to walk hand in hand through the suffering of a chaotic universe. These are true heroes who should have the immense gratitude of all who call themselves human. So on behalf of the human race, I humbly thank them.

One of several objects damaged by government supported thugs at the Cairo Museum

~ by fultonm2010 on February 8, 2011.

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