The value of freedom cannot be overstated. It’s the foundation that gives all of us who live in western democracies — people of faith and no faith alike — the ability to live as we choose. It is critical to remember that for many people in the world, freedom is not a given, it is a gift.
Americans are born with it intact, and are taught to expect the rights designated in the Constitution to apply to our lives from beginning to end. The original framers of this document based its content on this premise, having defeated the British, and feeling the effects of true freedom from an oppressive government for the first time. Americans were able to plan their lives around the needs of themselves and their families without government encumbrance.
A freedom to choose. A freedom of speech. The freedom for me to write this article, and a freedom for you to choose to read it or not. The freedom to complain about your city government. The freedom to ask for more money for our schools. The freedom to choose what you want to do with your life, what college to go to, what career, what city to live in. The freedom to vote for our leaders. Freedom to choose our own church.
I think we as Americans sometimes take these freedoms and others for granted. There are other countries where just saying the name of “Jesus” in public can get you arrested or even killed. There are countries where if your father was a plumber, then you will also be a plumber. You would have no choice. There are countries that struggle with disease and famine. No healthcare, no vitamins, no insurance, no medicine. They are just happy to get their bowl of rice once a day as their community dies around them. Our cupboards are full of food, yet we say there is nothing to eat. They don’t even have cupboards.
Ask the Christians in Iraq or Syria whose relatives have been literally crucified by the fanatical terrorist group, the Islamic State. Ask Coptic Christians in Egypt who have been denied their freedom and forced to live as second-class citizens. Ask the Chinese citizens protesting and being censored in China right now.
I would argue that the majority of Americans could not even name five of the original Bills of Rights. We take for granted they will be there for us and future generations. This could not be more untrue or more dangerous.
These freedoms are not afforded to most people living in the Middle East, and death is often the punishment for exercising those freedoms. What are the freedoms that we often take for granted?
The freedom to follow any religion we choose.
The freedom for women to vote, drive and work.
The freedom to choose who we marry.
The freedom for each individual to decide what they want to wear, read and think.
The freedom to protest decisions we think are unjust.
The freedom to protest is important. It is critical that all people have a way for their opinions to be heard. But with the right to protest comes real responsibilities. To protest for the destruction of a nation and call for an entire people’s annihilation — which is being done at this very moment throughout the world — is a desecration of freedom, of the very values that gives us the right to protest.
Chinese censors and opponents of the protests sweeping Hong Kong are engaging in a cat-and-mouse game with demonstrators and commentators in a bid to stop news of the unrest spreading online and, in particular, reaching the mainland so it is not ‘‘infected.’’
Tens of thousands of pro-democracy protesters have braved police tear gas to make their views known. Spreading the word by using Western and Chinese social networks is a lot safer, but it is becoming increasingly difficult as mobile phone networks are disrupted and there’s increasing concern about possible surveillance. On Sunday, users reported that Instagram was inaccessible on China’s mainland. Chinese websites, including search engines and the Twitter-like Weibo Corp, have set about deleting references to the Hong Kong demonstrations.
Others have reported messages on WeChat messaging app, provided by Tencent Holdings Ltd, are being removed. Basically they’re preventing the opportunity for dialogue. Others in Hong Kong posted messages on social networks about an invitation to download an app which some suspected was a virus being sent by the movement’s opponents. China’s government has cut off news about Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests to the rest of the country, a clampdown so thorough that no image of the rallies has appeared in state-controlled media.
By contrast, media in Hong Kong have been broadcasting nonstop about the crowds, showing unarmed students fending off tear gas and pepper spray with umbrellas as they call for more representative democracy in the former British colony. The contrast highlights the differences in the “one country, two systems” arrangement that China’s Communist Party agreed to when it negotiated the 1997 return of Hong Kong. It also reflects Beijing’s extreme sensitivity about any possible sparks of pro-democracy protest spreading to the mainland.
The coverage of the Hong Kong protests has been confined in mainland China to TV anchors reading brief statements with no video and text reports with no photos. The reports have mostly mentioned illegal gatherings in Hong Kong and the efforts of authorities to disperse them.
Censorship of microblogs — including phrases such as “tear gas” — has kept online discussion muted. Instagram service was shut down in China over the weekend. The clampdown has been thorough, covering all media — traditional or new, central or local, governmental or market-oriented.
Some images from Hong Kong’s streets have seeped into the mainland via cellphone messaging services. Many users have converted words into images to avoid having searchable text that can be easily caught by censors. Still, users are complaining of posts being deleted, including in private chats with friends. The controls have been largely effective. A majority of the Chinese public does not know what’s going on in Hong Kong, only a handful do.
While Hong Kong is outside China’s “Great Firewall” that blocks mainland access to many foreign Internet news and social sites, authorities could conceivably shut down the Internet there — as they have done in the country’s restive ethnic regions — because of their control of telecommunications companies.
Don’t take your freedom for granted. The freedom to create, the freedom of thought, the freedom to imagine, because these are the freedoms no one can take away. Be thankful for the people who protect the freedoms that can be retracted, the ones we take advantage of most, the ones that didn’t exist 20, 50, 100 years ago. Realize you’re entitled to speak, to vote, to assemble because someone long before you put in the grunt work; realize that others might never see a day when they can express themselves in public. Understand that freedom is fickle, that we could lose it to apathy at any moment.