'Generation Freedom': Bruce Feiler Goes Inside the Youth Uprisings Revolutionizing the Middle East

PHOTO: "Generation Freedom: The Middle East Uprisings and the Remaking of the Modern World" book cover by Bruce Feiler.
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New York Times best-selling author Bruce Feiler's new book, "Generation Freedom: The Middle East Uprisings and the Remaking of the Modern World," takes a close look at the historic youth-driven revolutions sweeping the Middle East and what they mean for the future of Middle East peace, terrorism and the region's relations with the West.

Feiler, who writes the "This Life" column for the Times and is the author of multiple best-selling books on religion, culture and politics, offers readers a first-hand portrait of history in the making.

Read an excerpt from "Generation Freedom" below.

PROLOGUE

Freedom from Fear

The Twin Towers and the Two Doors

I heard the singing as soon as I crossed the Brooklyn Bridge. It came from the hole in the skyline where the Twin Towers had once stood. It was nearing 1 a.m. on Monday, May 2, 2011, a little more than an hour after President Barack Obama announced that American service personnel had just hunted down, trapped, and killed the world's most wanted man, Osama bin Laden. As soon as the president finished speaking, I told my wife I wanted to go to Ground Zero. She looked at me like I was crazy. It was after midnight. I told her I thought the still-open wound in lower Manhattan would be dark and tranquil at that hour, and maybe it would provide some insight into this near-perfect bookend to what had happened there a decade earlier.

Instead I found several thousand people—many who were only in grade school on September 11, 2001—gathered for an impromptu rally. They waved American flags, tossed toilet paper on the lampposts, and sprayed champagne on the crowd. The only thing missing was a sailor kissing a nurse. And just as I arrived, the crowd was finishing a rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner"—O'er the land of the free and the home of thebrave?—before breaking into chants of "USA! USA!" I felt like I was at a homecoming rally.

I waded into the crowd. About half of the people there were raucous college students. One was dressed as Captain America. Another shimmied up a traffic light pole and recited the Declaration of Independence by reading it from his Black-Berry. Another sounded an Australian didgeridoo. "I just wanted something that made a lot of noise," explained Dinos San Pedro, a jazz student.

Others had come for more solemn reasons and were offended by all the fist-pumping. "I'm happy bin Laden is dead," said Constance Lauria, a flight attendant for United Airlines, whose Flight 175 flew into the South Tower. "But people are not remembering the victims here. This is a hollow victory. It's not going to bring back all those souls."

As she looked around, it occurred to me that the number of people who had gathered for this rally was near in size to the number who had been killed on September 11.

I also noticed something else about the crowd. It reminded me of one I had seen in Liberation Square in Egypt a few weeks earlier. I had gone to report on the historic youth uprisings sweeping the region and what they meant for the future of peace, coexistence, and relations with the West. There, like here, young people dangled from light poles, painted their cheeks with flags, and held up iPhones to snap photos they posted on Twitter. "When I heard that young people over there started a revolution," said Averie Timm, a writing student from Pratt Institute, "I was so happy. People say our generation uses Facebook as a drug. For us to take technology and change the world, that made me proud."

At first glance, the uprisings across the Middle East and the killing of Osama bin Laden appear to have little in common. One was a populist movement to topple brutal dictators and demand greater freedom for innocent people. The other was a masterful plot by an elite military force to take out a brutal murderer who despised freedom and slaughtered innocent people.

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