The taste of freedom

“Freedom of speech, the right to own land, and a good education are among the things this man is fighting for. He believes democracy is the solution.”

Arab unrest: 5 eyewitnesses to history, CNN

This leapt out to me as I read this latest article from CNN on the wave of unrest sweeping the Middle East and North Africa since Mohamed Bouazizi immolated himself in protest against his cruel and uncaring rulers last 17 Dec. 2010.

I guess it hit me in a way only someone who came of age in that period between a dictatorship and a democracy can feel. I was born in 1977, five years after Ferdinand Marcos put the Philippines under Martial Law. I was in high school during the time of the first two governments following that strongman’s fall.

And, today, in my early thirties, I enjoy the fruits of that return to democracy, nominal as it seems to the seemingly-insatiable (unless it is their hands on the till?) members of the Left, Right and, yes, even the Center.

I could stay out until there was only an hour left until dawn comes. I’ve never done that while totally inebriated, but I have friends who have and all they have to tell us the next day is about the massive headache their hangover is giving them.

I could say the President of my country is a bastard who has less sense than an addled monkey, who is surrounded by people who can make an alligator blush with the level of their greed, and not only can I get away with it, but I’ll even get descriptions more graphic and base than the one I just said from friends and colleagues.

I spent six months jobless, yet I never really wanted for anything except perhaps my own money to spend. I had Internet. I had cable TV. I could eat as much as I wanted. And my family is not one of the wealthiest in this country by far.

It drives home a lot of things, when someone in a situation similar to, or better, than mine, gets confronted with someone who has had far less. Not only are these people who cry for change on the streets and sands of some of the most ancient lands of mankind deprived of a good future, they can’t even scream their sorrow without the fear of being hauled off to jail.

Imagine that: a society where expressing your dismay at your lot in life puts you behind bars. At the very least.

How can we know, we who were born to freedom and democracy, how it feels for a man, woman or child who has never known that word except as something on a movie poster or book (if they even have access to those!) to find themselves one day saying… I’m free?

I’m free.

Can you even imagine that? You who can buy and say anything you want, who can freely go to any point of your country for vacation, who can party all night and come home the next morning drunker than the alcohol you drank… can you even begin to fathom how it feels for a person to just have that right to say what he or she has been keeping in their hearts, without fear of reprisal from the State?

Just to be able to say that phrase – two words and a letter, really – in full, for real… to say even to themselves that the fear is gone and that their lives are finally theirs, that their country is theirs… do you have any idea how that can possibly feel? You whose only concern every Friday is where the next party will be held in?

But maybe this post isn’t for you. Maybe it really is for those who have the power to give the people of North Africa and the Middle East more than just the taste of freedom.

Maybe this is for those men and women who lead countries that enjoy democracy and freedom but deny it to millions of other people just so their people can enjoy the right to stuff themselves silly until they need a small car to move around, or to get so drunk they can’t remember a thing that happened the evening before.

I know how complex international politics can be. But for once in the history of mankind, can we who declared our guardianship of the ideals and aspirations of a free society set aside realpolitik and operate based on the real principles of our creed?

All they want is to be free. Do you think people like that will want what Bin Laden is selling, after all they’ve been through?

Only if we let them believe freedom and democracy is a sham, lies perpetrated by the Great Satan that is Western, Christian Civilization so it can take away the patrimony of the sons and daughters of Allah.

They just want to be free. To say what they wish. To take their lives and the future of their country into their own hands.

Why can’t we take their hands in ours and tell them, for real and not just as empty phrases in a press release or briefing, that we in the Free World will be there to help them up and out from the darkness of tyranny and enjoy the things we do as a free people?

Of course, if it makes you appreciate your freedom more, well… that’s good, too.

Might make you think twice about whose name you put in that ballot the next time elections come about.

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