In the wake of social and political upheavals now spreading like wildfire throughout Northern Africa and the Middle East, we hear noble slogans and soothing words about the will of the people being expressed and their desire for democratization. We find such sentiments slipping comfortably from the lips of Western politicians and splattered across the pages of our presses, as they seek to reassure us that this is just the natural longing of the human spirit to participate in our ideals of democracy and free markets. There is a concerted effort on the part of our elites to paint these events as an endorsement of Western values and lifestyle. But what exactly do these calming references to ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ denote coming from our elite? And are the changes these diverse populations seek really consistent with the worldview and values of the West? In light of these questions, it is appropriate to consider the role of language today, and particularly the challenge it poses with respect to the discomfort underlying current global upheavals.
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