The Axe forgets but the Tree remembers

We have all heard harrowing stories about the despondency and misery under dynastic rule, read heart-wrenching firsthand accounts of the unfortunate victims of this malaise, seen pictures portraying the atrociousness and ghastliness of the numerous crimes committed as a by-product of autocracy and watched videos depicting the extent to which tyranny is deep-rooted, still, in some parts of the world.

Recently, I have come across a TV show that has successfully and boldly, brought the Middle-Eastern crises live to our living rooms. Tyrant, an American drama series, has brilliantly captured the despair of the common people subjected to dictatorship, particularly in the Middle-East, and showed it to the world so that people like us, with fragmented knowledge in this area could gain an altogether different perspective to what constitutes a dictatorship, how it works and why it is so essential and at the same time, onerous, to end it.

The exemplary courage and persistent determination displayed by the masses during the Arab Spring; all the uprisings, protests, demonstrations, social media activism, sit-ins, among other forms of resistance, to demand for regime change, democracy, free elections, restoration of human rights and economic freedom took us by surprise and awe. We were inspired and moved by them. We lauded their commendable efforts. Editorials, opinion articles, blog-posts, tweets, all carried songs of victory. But, did any of us bother to know what really went on behind the scenes? Did any of the print/electronic media focus on the complex and, often, vacillating thoughts of the protestors? Well, the answer is a clear no. And this is what this TV series has rightly targeted.

A brief background of the show: An unassuming American family is drawn into the workings of a turbulent Middle Eastern nation, which is witnessing a rising insurgency against the present dynastic rule and an unwavering demand for free elections. Poignantly incorporating all the elements involved in a transition toward democracy, this show, according to me, is close to perfection. It has, a wonderfully crafted script which veraciously balances reality with the necessary fiction, a compelling storyline that attempts to narrate the complexities of the Middle East through the lens of comprehensibility, a formidable cast with the characters appearing so real that you relate to them at every instant, and lastly, splendid cinematography that seizes and secures the Middle Eastern unrest with genuineness and accuracy.

The evil lies not with the autocratic rulers or the ruling family, but with the whole system and ideology, which is so skewed, contorted and endemic, that it requires monumental, sustained efforts to bring about a change in it. A conventional “taking the bull by the horns” strategy doesn’t work here. One cannot simply shout slogans against the present Government, and expect it to pay even the slightest of attention. One cannot simply flood social media with anti-Government posts and not expect it to immediately impose a media blackout. One cannot form protest groups at prime locations without being aware of the risk of being gunned down. In short, people cannot so much as even voice their dissatisfaction, let alone express criticism against the ruling Government and demand for a democracy, simply because only a democracy embraces this. Yes, it’s a vicious circle. Tyrant has painstakingly shown the futility of these efforts and how a systemic approach is required to overthrow a dynasty.

The key point to be noted is the power of blood. Both literally and metaphorically. At one end of the spectrum, we have mass shootings, civilian strife and unnecessary bloodshed all culminating into a potential civil war. And on the other end, there appear hints of peaceful solutions being worked out behind doors between members of the ruling family. The former, however effective and necessary it may seem, at the end, is nothing but futile. Violence is the favoured weapon of the powerful. But where it should be the bête noire of the protestors, it becomes their main retaliatory mechanism too. Since two wrongs don’t make a right, this is when violence fails to yield tangible results. It only further alienates the Government, dilutes the efficacy of peacekeeping efforts of the minority and, to put it quite bluntly, defeats the purpose altogether and may end up making villains of the protestors themselves. The literal power of blood is thus, dangerous and precarious.

Say hello to manipulation and artfulness. What, you may wonder, is the Achilles heel of autocratic rulers? Well, as surprising as it may sound, it’s their ardent, pure and impassioned love for their family. Their blood. And naturally, not everyone in the family harbours totalitarian notions. There are always some, albeit very few, who are practical and realistic enough to understand the underlying inevitability of a democracy. The pen is mightier than the sword. It becomes essential thus, to focus on attacking this chink in the armour; gaining the trust of these potential influencers, evolving strategies to best leverage their position in the running of the regime and actually approaching and negotiating with them in a clandestine manner. The metaphorical power of blood is thus, potent and conclusive.

Tyrant has portrayed this reality in a highly subtle and ingenious style. All the struggles, conflict of emotions, shift of loyalties, reformulation of views, erosion of principles, dirty politics and twists of fate centred around each and every character have been effectively and intensely sketched, analysed and shown to the audience.

I was left reeling after watching the show. It was unbelievable. It felt so close to actually being there. As a matter of fact, I wanted to be there. With the protesters. With the civilians. Against the oppressive regime. I wanted to fight for their freedom. This is the depth to which this show touches you. At the end, I just felt blessed to be born in a country that was democratic and extremely grateful and thankful to our freedom fighters. To conclude, the transition to a successful democracy and its retention is the best gift a country can give to its citizens.