It’s Martin Luther King, Jr day today in the U.S. and it’s a federal holiday. This is only exclusive to the U.S. So, we have Wikipedia these days & with just a click of a mouse, you find out about what Martin King Luther is all about. If not, just two words you need to know… Human Rights. Now, back track a review or two and you will see my take on Google vs China, Round 1. Some says it’s about human rights issue, some says it’s espionage while some says it’s freedom of speech. Call it what you may, the issue has something to do with freedom (censorship is a constraint of freedom per se; although clearly or not clearly so, it’s up to individual judgement and perspective).
A few of us Lunchers here have written our views on Christianity
, etc, etc. None has on Freedom. I’m quite surprised as I figure what the American treasures most is Freedom
. There are many definitions of freedom, I’m not in the fashion of copying what one can find from a dictionary. If you don’t have one, check it out online
. That’s easy enough. What I’m curious though, is how we define freedom as constraint by the races we are born in and the culture and society we operate within.
I’ve lived a few years in Canada and is well acquainted with the western perspective of freedom (aka freedom of speech mainly) and how in country like the U.S., common citizens are allowed to own guns as well as to ridicule their presidents in talk shows or in the case of Denmark, to draw cartoons in the papers (claimed) to criticize Islam and the prophet Muhammad
. Cartoons leading to battle and war? Really? Truly! There had been death threats, there had been fire set. Now, I can understand why the Muslim got emotional. That’s totally understandable. What is not so understandable is the artist’s and newspaper’s agenda.
So, the question arises that to what extent is freedom governed or can it truly be governed under the law or the society’s to dos & not to dos? I’ve no answers as I’m not about to conduct a research on this topic merely to write a review on it. I do have observations and misgivings about some of the things people do in the name of freedom.
Granted, freedom is good. We all want freedom, even a child that’s just beginning to learn to crawl wants freedom. So, freedom is good, no one think it’s bad, I hope not! But what degree of freedom is allowed in each country and why the activists are still fighting for it in some other countries more than others? In the extreme cases, there are societies which might even treat another human being as slaves.
Pakistan: I’ve seen a documentary on a wife being burned by her husband and mother in law claiming that she had been indiscreet. Her eyes had been gorged out too! Barbaric, isn’t it?
Middle East countries: Some domestic helpers from Philippines & Indonesia had been raped and battered while working in the residences of some of the rich families. They are not allowed to leave the homes and there had been talks about them being sex slaves!
Women are not allowed to drink alcohol in public under the Sariah Law. A model
had been canned because she drank beer!
Freedom of Speech
Singapore: Every Singaporean knows that speaking out loud your displeasure about the government will render you under scrutiny with regard to your income tax returns and work. Unless he/she is a politician, he/she wouldn’t choose to exercise that right. It comes with too much discomfort, hassles and potential problems. Having it is almost equivalent to not having it!
China: Speakers beware and be responsible. Other than that, I don’t want to get into trouble myself either!
U.S.: No racial discrimination? Forget it, you don’t live in the world if you believe so. Otherwise, why the big party when Mr. President got elected?
Indonesia: If there is none of that, then the Chinese wouldn’t need to change their names to a local one, would they?
Singapore: Definitely. Discriminate in favor of foreigners, especially if they are investors with lots of $$$ and are from U.S. or Europe! That’s being hospitable as far as Singapore Airlines & the government are concerned.
I looked up Wikipedia for its articles on Human Rights & Freedoms.
Here it is for human rights:
Human rights are "basic rights and freedoms to which all humans are entitled".. The doctrine of human rights aims to identify the necessary positive and negative prerequisites for a "universal" minimal standard of justice, tolerance and human dignity that can be considered the public moral norms owed by and to individuals by the mere virtue of their humanity. Such prerequisites can exist as shared norms of actual human moralities, as justified moral norms or moral rights supported by strong reasons, as legal rights at a national level, or as a legal right within international law. Human rights advocates seek the strong protection of human rights through their effective realisation in each of these ways. The claim of Human rights is therefore that they are universal, in that they are possessed by all by virtue of the fact that they are human, and independent in that their existence as moral standards of justification and criticism is independent whether or not they are recognized and by a particular national or international legal system. or government..
Basic rights and freedoms, that’s the key.
Let’s take a look again at Wikipedia’s entry. I am quoting them because I figure these people know what they are talking about and assuming some of these entries are made by the professionals concerned. Me? I’m just blabbing most of the time ;-)
Rights are variously construed as legal, social, or moral freedoms to act or refrain from acting, or entitlements to be acted upon or not acted upon. While the concept is fundamental to civilized societies, there is considerable disagreement about what is meant precisely by the term rights. It has been used by different groups and thinkers for different purposes, with different and sometimes opposing definitions, and the precise definition of the concept, beyond having something to do with normative rules of some sort or another, is controversial. Nevertheless, the concept of rights is of vital importance in such disciplines as law and ethics, especially theories of justice and deontology.
Look at the 2nd paragraph. Disagreement about what is meant by the term rights. Different agendas, different translations. That’s what I thought.
The concept of political freedom is very closely allied with the concepts of civil liberties and individual rights, which in most democratic societies is characterized by various freedoms which are afforded the legal protection from the state. Some of these freedoms may include (in alphabetical order):
Key word: Democratic societies.
So, you cannot expect a non-democratic society to even think about freedom the way democratic societies do, can you? What then is the common ground to discuss about human rights? It’s no wonder U.S. is constantly pressuring China. They are both operate from a different system. It’s like getting a Mac computer to talk to the PC, on top of that, Windows vs Linux!!! That’s frustrating :D
Ok, based on my time in Indonesia, Singapore, China and Canada, let’s take a look at what I saw in the arguments for freedom:
- Assembly: Not allowed in Singapore unless it’s preapproved by the government first. Same for China. In most cases, political agendas type of assembly are hardly been approved.
- Religion: Predominantly, Indonesia is a Muslim country. China & Japan are Buddhist country. Christianity is not encouraged in these countries but churches are found. So, it’s up to you to figure what’s happening. I do believe churches only get into trouble if they choose to mix politics with religions. That’s what I think anyway. For the reality of it, you have to go and do your own research as I’m not into politics or religions per se.
- Speech: I don’t believe there is no freedom of speech in countries like China, Indonesia or Singapore. What I do believe is one is required to be responsible for what one claims, especially if the speaker choose to accuse the political leaders of anything. You do get sued, especially in the case of Singapore. If one is not clearly challenging the political system, it is best that one keeps his/her opinions among friends or families. But, if one chooses to attack, then one should be prepared to face the consequences. It is thus not right to say, esp. for the American media, that there is no freedom of speech in these countries. The media in the U.S. might be all powerful in the U.S. and it’s the U.S. government which allows them to be so, but that doesn’t translate to the same privilege around the world. Hubris is the word. Reporting is good but the American media often goes beyond that and that’s one thing I have misgivings about. For a story, the media no longer has respect for a person, privacy or even safety. Think Princess Diana and you know what I’m referring to.
There are more questions than answers in this write up because that’s how it is with me. At times, I accept the world answer to a specific subject; at times no. At times, the Americans are right and at other times, the Chinese are. At times, both are right at the same time although they held opposing views and stands as they held different perspectives and realities. What then is human rights? The right to food, freedom of speech or action? What are the constraints?
So, the question remains. To what degree is freedom termed being free and to what it is not? May be you guys can shed some light on this? Or is it a case of to each his own?
Food for thought:
"To affirm that humans thrive in many different ways is not to deny that there are universal human values. Nor is it to reject the claim that there should be universal rights. It is to deny that universal values can only be fully realized in a universal regime. Human rights can be respected in a variety of regimes, liberal and otherwise. Universal human rights are not an ideal constitution for a single regime throughout the world, but a set of minimum standards for peaceful coexistence among regimes that will always remain different." ~ John N. Gray, Two faces of Liberalism.
"The core of the belief in progress is that human values and goals converge in parallel with our increasing knowledge. The twentieth century shows the contrary. Human beings use the power of scientific knowledge to assert and defend the values and goals they already have. New technologies can be used to alleviate suffering and enhance freedom. They can, and will, also be used to wage war and strengthen tyranny. Science made possible the technologies that powered the industrial revolution. In the twentieth century, these technologies were used to implement state terror and genocide on an unprecedented scale. Ethics and politics do not advance in line with the growth of knowledge - not even in the long run." ~ John N. Gray, essay "John Conrad, Our Contemporary" in Heresies.
What then will the 21st century brings? The wheel of technology is turning full speed now and the fight against terrorism is on. Until freedom is universally defined, it is hard pressed to find the answer to human goals and values.