Friday, July 4, 2008

And With Freedom From Tyranny For All

As much as we Americans like to gripe about what our government has been pulling on us for what seems like a very long time now, on July 4th, we still come together in celebration of freedom. There will be concerts and BBQ's. We'll have dance-a-thons and sing alongs. To top off the day and evening of celebrations and beer drinking the nation over, explosions will light up the skies of virtually every city across the land.

Although it is well and good for us to hold festivities paying homage to what we as a country have accomplished over the last two and a half centuries, we should also stop and reflect on three important issues. The first would be the people who have fought to protect what we have and although we have a separate holiday to honor them, today should also remind us that many have paid the ultimate sacrifice to defend our way of life.

Second we must keep in mind today during our celebrations of freedom that there are those who wish to take those freedoms from us, and they are our own countrymen and women.

Third, we should all take a moment every 4th of July to think about the people all across the world who have absolutely no freedom, and who live under the most brutal and repressive regimes known to man. There are literally billions of people living under tyranny, with no hope, no future save abject poverty and despair.

Regimes such as the Saudi government, our 'friends and allies' who put bloggers in prison for speaking our against the regime or it's policies. A country where freedom of religion is not even a thought, and where beheadings are such a ho-hum happening, that spectators to the gruesome practice hardly give the executions a second glance any more. Just being gay can get a rope put around your neck and Lord help a woman who isn't covered from head to toe. A place where young children can be arrested for such minor offenses as running away from home, or being seen together with another child of the opposite sex without an adult present. The boys can be held for six months without any judicial review, and the girls can be kept without charge indefinitely for re-education. This land that provides the world with most of their terrorists also does not allow women to do or say anything without the permission of a man. Being declared a witch in a Saudi court of law will be cause for execution.

Sudan's al-Bashir must be one of the first to come to mind also when we think of tyrannical madmen who enslave their own people. Although we have all heard of the plight of the Darfurian people, who are being systematically tortured and murdered even as we speak, we never hear about the rigged elections, the absolute control of the media, the death sentences for speaking against the government, or the ordinary citizens who have no food and no hope. All of Sudan's oil wealth sits in accounts at banks in the Caymans, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and the Bahamas. The people of Sudan benefit not one cent from all of this fueling of China's war machine, only those at the very top of government and military power are growing fat off the land there.

In President Bush's soon to be new home, Paraguay, (There's no extradition treaty between Paraguay and the U.S. and the Bush family bought a massive ranch there a couple of years ago), human rights abuses are so rampant that Amnesty International has called their criminal justice system one of the most corrupt and depraved in the world. You don't think of South American countries when the word tyranny comes to mind, but in Paraguay, women are arrested by police on made up charges, thrown in prison for years in some cases without ever seeing a judge, all so some big wig can profit from her body being rented out. There are children in these prisons, their 'crime' being that of begging in the streets. Past calls for reform in this country have been laughable due to the government's blanket immunity for all involved in past abuses.

Ethnic cleansing is the norm for the small country of Bhutan. Situated just north of Bangladesh, Bhutan citizens whose ancestry is Nepalese have been forced to live in refugee camps under appalling conditions and have had their citizenry revoked. Nepal has refused to take them in, and so hundreds of thousands live in squalor and hunger due to no crime save being born.

President Bush the 1st expelled Saddam Hussein from Kuwait in the name of freedom for that tiny emirate, but almost 20 years later, reforms are slow in coming or non-existent. Along with the Saudis, rich Kuwaitis are the largest employers of imported domestic workers from former Soviet bloc nations. And they are the worst abusers of these vulnerable people, forcing them into virtual slavery. Working for nothing more than food and a cot, their passports taken by their employers, they suffer physical abuse as well. Although women are allowed to vote due to pressure from the U.S., they enjoy no equality here. Routine whippings, honor killings and the like are the norm. And forgotten by all are the people called 'bidoons', born in Kuwait, but denied citizenship by the government for being from the wrong tribe.

There are so many nations that flagrantly violate the U.N.'s mandate for human rights that we could be reading about them for days. These are but a few of the really bad offenders. But what is most interesting is that over the past few years, the United States itself has been cited by human rights groups the world over for abuses against it's citizens. Pointing out the almost routine use of tasers by American police, Amnesty International says that several hundred people have been killed by these nasty little toys since 2001. And they're handing them out at an ever faster clip. Also noted has been the blanket denial of conscientious objector status to those soldiers who feel the war in Iraq is unjust, and according to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, that makes them prisoners of conscience.

So although when stacked up against many a country the world over, the U.S. enjoys much greater latitude than others, there is a backward slide that is not something that has gone un-noticed by rights groups. Everyone on this planet has the right to be free from tyranny, and that includes us here at home. Fireworks and BBQ's do not freedom make, but an ever vigilant population willing to call abuses of power for what they are. Tyrants, attempting to subvert what we have held dear for a very long time. Enjoy the light shows in the sky, take the weekend and hold your family dear. And as the new week begins, contact someone and gripe about an issue you feel is wrong. Keep the politicians on their toes, or they'll start passing even more bills to restrict our freedoms and tear up the Constitution. But if they know we're watching and won't hesitate to make our displeasure known, they will get back in line and do the People's bidding.

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