Basboosa and the American Dream
Tarek Bouazizi, known locally by the nickname Basboosa, was poor but he dreamed big. He believed in his own version American Dream. That simple, amazingly powerful idea that it was possible, through hard, honest work, to build a better life.
Unfortunately, Basboosa had a rough start. His father died when he was three and he had to start work at 10 to support his mother and his sisters.
Absent any other options, he got creative and built a small income by selling fruit and produce from his cart. A business he was successful enough at, he was able to send one of his sisters to the University — a classic American Dream story.
However, this pursuit of the Dream didn’t end well for Basboosa. Over the last couple of years of his short life, he ran afoul of local Kleptocrats. Corrupt government officials that had demanded steep bribes (disguised as a “permit fee” when none was needed) to sell produce from his cart.
Of course, Basboosa couldn’t always pay the bribe, and when he couldn’t, the police would confiscate some of his produce. On a morning in December it escalated. The police didn’t just confiscate all of his produce, they took his cart too.
Unable to pay back the $200 he had borrowed to buy the produce or replace the lost cart, Basboosa headed to the offices of the municipal authorities to protest. The government official he saw, summarily refused to return his cart. Not only that, she summoned the police to throw him out of the office and rough him up in the process.
Humiliated. His hope for his own version of the American Dream shredded, he took an extreme step. He burned himself to death (he died two weeks later with burns over 90% of his body) in front of the Town Hall in protest.
Basboosa’s death was tragic. He was also a casualty in a much bigger conflict. A conflict between those of us that want the opportunity to earn a better life through our own version of the American Dream, and those that want the opportunity to take it all, the people that have ascended to the throne of the kleptocracy. So, even though his story occurred in Tunisia, it’s a story that we’re going to see play out again and again, in nearly every country.
It’s a story that will become even more harrowing when it becomes apparent that the traditional American Dream is dying at the very moment nearly everyone in the world has accepted it as their own.