I know TIME’s "Person of the Year" has become little more than a provocative end-of-the-year play for page views, and there’s nothing particularly wrong with that. But this year’s choice, announced today, of "The Protester" strikes me as a really bad call. It’s quite true that the protest movements in the Arab world, in Greece, in Israel, and the Occupy movement in U.S. share some things in common. All represent a challenge to the legitimacy of current economic and political arrangements. All have skillfully employed various social media tools to drive and organize that challenge. It’s important to recognize this, not least for what it says about the shared human desire for dignity and self-rule.
But the significance of the Arab Awakening should — must — stand apart from these other movements. The change that the people of the Arab world have sought, and the dangers that they have braved, and the punishments they’ve suffered to bring that change, are of an entirely different order than those other movements. TIME’s acknowledgment that "The stakes are very different in different places" is frankly insulting for its extreme understatement. The parents and families of the 256 children tortured and murdered by Bashar al-Assad’s regime are in a completely different class than those who camped out in Zuccotti Park and McPherson Square. As Jules told Vincent, "It ain’t the same f****n’ ballpark, it ain’t the same league, it ain’t even the same f****n’ sport."
There’s still a long, tough road ahead for reform in all of these countries. Some far longer and tougher than others. But 2011 belongs to the Arabs, bruv. Believe it.