IN THE NAME OF 'FREEDOM'
"The only force powerful enough to stop the rise of tyranny and terror, and replace hatred with hope, is the force of human freedom."
From: President George W. Bush's Feb. 2, 2005 "State of the Union" Address - (Pre-release excerpts issued by the White House)
"President Bush used the word "freedom" 21 times and the word "liberty" seven times in his State of the Union speech on Wednesday night. It did not quite match the 28 uses of "freedom" and 15 uses of "liberty" in his inaugural speech last month - the speech which set the tone for his foreign policy - but it shows what this speech was all about." (BBC News, Feb. 7, 2005).
Dublin, on U.S. Inauguration Day:
"The picture on the front page of The Irish Times was a large four-color picture of a small Iraqi girl. Her little body was a coil of steel. She sat knees up, cowering, screaming madly into the dark night. Her white clothes and spread hands and small tight face were blood-spattered. The blood was the blood of her father and mother, shot through the car window in Tal Afar by American soldiers while she sat beside her parents in the car, her four brothers and sisters in the back seat.
No promise of "freedom" rings in the cutline on this picture. No joy of liberty underlies the terror on these faces here.
(From: What the Rest of the World Watched on Inauguration Day, Jan. 28, 2005).
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The above expressions make us painfully aware of the potential difference between the word 'freedom' and the actuality of what it means to be free. Also, of how freedom comes to be. Let us understand that freedom is not an outcome; it is a process. In the same vein as the spiritual principle which says "the ends do not justify the means," so too must freedom be achieved by means that involve a lack of oppression, deception, coercion, or fear-inducing threat. Otherwise, that which appears to have been 'set free', or some part of it, will rise up against the hidden oppression or threat which went unacknowledged during the time that 'freedom' came into being.
'Freedom', like other expressions that refer to the highest ideals we hold, is not a word to be taken lightly. Nor is it one to be used with rhetorical excess as it sometimes is in order to emphasize positive national vision and patriotic commitment.
The word itself stirs deep emotions within America and elsewhere, especially among oppressed peoples of the world of which there are many. The use of this word can also attach itself to dark purposes - to the purpose of engendering the very kind of emotionality that deprives people of a conscious and open choice regarding the process which leads to 'becoming free'. This is because the emotions that get activated when speaking of high ideals can cause a wish to believe that there exists a short-cut or quick path which will effectively eliminate all obstacles that stand in the way. Such a short-cut often creates an 'illusion of freedom' rather than the real thing. This illusion either glosses over or altogether neglects mentioning that which has been coerced, harmed, or threatened in the process leading up to 'becoming free' or 'setting free'. There are those who feel that such a 'short-cut' or 'make-it happen' philosophy has led to the invasion and prolonged American occupation in Iraq, rather than the choice for long-term international diplomacy, which would have been another option.
In the case of Iraq, Dahr Jamail, whose "Dispatches from Iraq" I have referred to before, has two newer articles which relate to the present situation: "Here comes "The Freedom" and What They're Not Telling You About the "Election". He has also interviewed many Iraqis who remain unconvinced by the political rhetoric of Amercan 'liberation'. These Iraqis, despite the pervasiveness of the rhetoric, dispute the means by which the so-called 'liberation' is being achieved, stating that, in reality, it is destroying the very freedom it claims to be liberating.
There are also groups within the U.S. who are careful to distinguish between the word 'freedom' and the actuality - who watch what is being done in the name of 'keeping the country safe' (See: USA Patriot Act) or 'keeping the world safe' from terrorism. For these groups, the sound of the call to defend freedom often rings hollow and may even set off alarm. For in the name of protecting freedom at home, many feel that the very freedoms for which protection is sought, are being violated.
It is important, and shall become even more so, to know when something is being done 'in the name of'' some ideal that bears little relationship to the ideal itself. We know that within personal relationships, that abusers often justify their abusive patterns (See: 'Isolation') in the name of love. We know that within corporations, huge profits are amassed at the expense of the poor of the world, while justifying this in the name of 'making a contribution' to the labor market within these poorer countries. Such a 'contribution', in light of the reality of what true help might look like, is often a form of disguised exploitation, covered over by ambiguous or deceptive language.
We also know that some who consider themselves to be 'pro-life' in relation to the issue of abortion, draw a line around what this means when it comes to respecting the existence of planned parenthood clinics and the life of its personnel. Certain 'pro-life' groups have, especially in the past, justified the use of threat and violence against such clinics while claiming, at the same time, to be 'pro-life'. Finally, we know that atrocities throughout history have, and still continue to be, committed in the name of God or Allah, and that this is one of the most disturbing and confusing aspects of present-day Islamic terrorism. There are many things that can and have been done 'in the name of' something, that have caused people to be unfree and to suffer greatly.
The seduction of words is something that we need to remain aware of, especially when those words become a battle cry which engage the dynamics of force through the activation of military power - to be used against what and whomever the words declare to be 'the enemy'. Then, we must be very careful to not give in to the seduction of emotion, especially when that emotion is carried by many people as if it were the only way to feel. Our own centeredness in something that cannot be 'played' like an instrument, or bought with polished phrases, or threatened by large numbers of people who feel a certain way, must remain in the face of pressure. The seduction of words has, throughout history, been used to justify acts that were not only undermining to the concept of democracy, but undermining to the very life and wellbeing of an entire people who did not know that they were being manipulated.
The circumstances may vary, the ideals themselves that are lifted up for all to hear may vary, but the process remains the same. It is the way of emotionally moving large numbers of people at a time when those people hunger to hear truth spoken and to feel a way out of their dilemmas, toward a position that is very convincing and looks like truth, but is not. This strategy, political option, or style, has been used, historically, by those in positions of power, often with unanticipated catastrophic results. Our own solidness with ourselves and steadfastness in relying on light to guide us, are the only things that will be an anchor in the times ahead, and we must learn to rely on both with every ounce of trust that we may find ourselves capable of.