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Vancouver, Washington, United States
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Friday, May 19, 2006

Fighting injustice

A free man should never allow others, no matter what and who they are, to rob him of his rights, his dignity and his self value.  The Egyptians have a saying I like, and it goes like this:  “They asked the pharaoh why he became such a tyrant, and he said “because no one stopped me””.  Our tolerance of injustice signifies our acquiescence of it, and I dare even go as far as argue that it may make us in accomplice in it.  To quote Edmund Burke. "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.".

One of the biggest, most powerful and harshest perpetrators of injustice towards individuals are governments.  By the nature of their power, they can intimidate a person.  By the nature of their reach, they can establish fear in the hearts of so many.  To quote Thomas Paine in The Age of Reason, Part 2, "Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one.".

All governments by nature are corrupt, whether democratically elected or installed through other means.  When left unchecked, they grow to become regimes of tyranny, taking full advantage of the power vested in them by the people they govern.  Dictatorships repress their people openly by robbing them of their resources and taking away their rights, while democracies are more subtle about it, using instead fear, business, manipulation, security, social differences, the economy, just to name a few.  Regardless of the means, governments and the people who run them are bound to become corrupt.  To quote Lord John Emerich Edward Dalberg  Acton, "Power tends to corrupt,  and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Great men are almost always bad men...  There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.".

What sets a democracy a part from a dictatorship, however, is the fact that a democratic government relies on a system of checks and balances to prevent abuse of power.  As long as the citizenry exercises its right in enforcing such a system, the government will remain in check.  If the citizenry chooses to ignore transgressions committed by their government, the government is bound to continue to push the envelope as far as it can, and before you know it, the envelope will be larger than you ever thought it would be.  As Frank I. Cobb said describing the authority of the American constitution, "It is not the powers that they conferred upon the government, but the powers that they prohibited to the government which makes the Constitution a charter of liberty.".

A perfect example of this are the recent transgressions perpetrated by the US government against civil liberties and basic human rights in the name of security.  Innocent unsuspecting people are being unfairly arrested, interrogated, questioned, investigated, their privacy being invaded and their basic rights denied left and right for no reason; all in the name of national security.  We have learned recently that the government has been spying on phone calls without proper legal authorization.  The government shot back with a lie that it was only listening to certain suspect phone calls for the supreme goal of protecting national security.  While this could have been thrown out of a court of law by a magistrate who may have just recently graduated from law school, it seemed as if the American people and their representatives in congress bought it.  We then learn that this wasn’t the case, and that the government was actually compiling massive databases of information about calls between people without regard to their activities, their affiliations or even their national origin.

Of course the above is but a climax in the administration’s transgression against liberty.  Ever since the new climate of post 9-11 set in, the government carried out campaigns of arrests and interrogations against Arabs and Muslims who were temporarily living in its borders.  Most people saw it as a necessary act to protect themselves and were willing to tolerate it – after all, these were foreigners, and it could be argued that the government was rightly justified in maintaining its sovereignty.  Once comfortable, the government then started changing the laws to allow the indefinite detention of people it (and it alone) deemed a security threat, including those who permanently reside in the US (but who are not yet citizens), without even so much as a defined procedure or a sound legal argument.  Once again, people were willing to overlook this, since, an argument, unconstitutional, preposterous and illegal as it may have been, was made that these were not necessarily entitled to the rights enjoyed by American citizens.

Once these practices set in with very little opposition from the American electorate, we learned that indefinite detentions and the suspension of all legal processes can be administered even to US citizens, something inconceivable to little children brought up in this country.  Once again, however, people were only too happy to overlook this, since, well, those who were arrested were Muslims and had funny names, and hence they could arguably be connected to the perceived enemy in some way.  With the xenophobia and fear mongering that was filling up the media, people wouldn’t have a problem seeing you lynched in the name of national security if you are Muslim.  

Once again, the government found it could do it, and the next logical step of spying on everybody is now being turned into a reality.  We all submitted to injustice, we all accepted it, we did nothing about it either by tolerating it when committed against us or turning a blind eye when it was done to our neighbors.  All we could do now is to complain about the injustice that’s being done.  As Frederick Douglas so eloquently put it, "Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have the exact measure of the injustice and wrong which will be imposed on them.".

Everyone has his/her reasons for not doing what’s right.  For the Americans, it was national security.  For the oppressed in a dictatorship, it’s fear of being harmed by their tyrannical government.  For the poor employee oppressed by his boss, it’s his/her fear of losing their job.  If you think about it, by submitting to injustice out of fear, you will continue to live with both.  To quote the eloquent Benjamin Franklin, "Those who would sacrifice liberty for safety will have neither liberty nor safety.".

In a democracy, action translates into insuring that the system of checks and balances is implemented.  If a transgression occurs, it needs to be dealt with through the court system, the media and the ballot box.  Where a government cares about its continued rule (and believe me, they all do), and where that continuity is directly contingent upon its good reputation and adherence to a fair constitution and just laws, courts, the media and the ballot box are incredibly powerful weapons.

The incident which happened to me at Dubai airport, though long and treacherous, gave me a lot of confidence and courage to continue to say no to injustice.  By speaking up, appreciating my worth as a human being, knowing my rights and striving for them, I will live happily, content in the knowledge that I am doing my part to struggle against injustice.  If we all could find in ourselves the courage to do that, will there ever be such a thing as injustice?

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