Someone wise once said, “Until all are free, none are free.” It’s not clear who first said it: you can find references to Martin Luther King, Gandhi, and ancient Jewish prophets.
It doesn’t matter where the thought originated. What matters is that we ponder it awhile in these challenging times.
What challenging times? Well, how about an emerging Security State apparatus that’s gaining momentum, an economic downturn that has already started, and polls suggesting Canadians are getting ever more concerned about the impact on immigration on our supposed “core values.”
Oh, yes, those challenging times.
When people are worried about their jobs and the price of gas, their horizons grow narrower. When they worry about an “enemy within” — well, you can ask Ukrainian-Canadians, German-Canadians and Japanese-Canadians who were sent to internment camps the last two times our nation was at war.
During tough times, fear grows. And as fear grows, people get meaner and look with suspicion at everyone outside their immediate family circle. It’s simple, really, so simple that leaders exploit the tendency generation after generation.
My hero, the British mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell, once wrote, “Neither a man nor a crowd nor a nation can be trusted to act humanely or to think sanely under the influence of a great fear.”
George Bush and his thuggish administration have exploited fear on a consistent basis since 9/11. There has been no second 9/11 in North America — and that’s probably got nothing to do with Bush’s Big Brother measures.
Meanwhile, average US residents live in fear of more horrors from the sky, or the subway or the people next door — and every time they begin to relax, the security apparatus sends out another orange warning to wind them up again. I can’t wait to see how many alerts there will be in the final weeks before November’s election.
Canadians also live in fear, though of a different kind. Right-wingers fear that the feminists and homosexuals are destroying their families, kidnapping the minds of their children, and generally weakening society. The paranoid fear that our culture is on the verge of collapse because some children of immigrants want to wear a hijab to class or in a soccer game. And rural Canada’s favourite perennial ghost: fear that a First Nations uprising is coming and the government is about to hand over lands that were fairly stolen by our great-grandfathers.
We gays and lesbians have won tremendous equality rights in the past two decades. But our sexual freedom and freedom from censorship are not yet recognized. The collective rights of First Nations are not yet recognized, even if our prime minister apologizes for some of the worst crimes of past governments and churches — residential schools.
There are other people — groups and individuals — who are not yet free. Take Omar Khadr who remains in captivity in Guantanamo Bay, even though he was a child soldier of 15 when arrested in a firefight in Afghanistan. Stephen Harper refuses to play hardball to have Khadr released even though every other western government has done so to get their own citizens sprung. Commentators suggest that Khadr is in Guantanamo because George Bush is deliberately undermining an international consensus that sees child soldiers as victims, and the Canadian governments of Jean Chretien, Paul Martin and now Harper have, to our eternal shame, played along.
Even Khadr’s guards say he is a “good kid,” note internal reports of Canadian officials who have visited him. He’s not an extremist, he doesn’t share the fanatical beliefs of the rest of his family.
Strangely, there’s no outcry from the Canadian public, though journalists have finally come to understand the injustice of holding this lad in a notorious jail rather than rehabilitating him at home. Why no outrcry?
Because we’ve been whipped up by seven years of anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant rhetoric. Because we’re becoming afraid of the world, afraid of the terrorism that hasn’t yet come, afraid of unemployment, afraid of the impending changes from global warming. We’re paralyzed by fear. We’re too scared to remember something that we know: Until all are free, none are free.