Liberty is a fragile achievement requiring constant care. Some think it should be treated as a gated community, in which “I” should hide, excluding “you.” Others view liberty as a common good best shared. Both groups, however, surely agree that to take liberty for granted is to weaken it. Consider, in this context, the significance of some events currently taking place in the Mideast and the U.S.
Across the Arab world, people are putting their lives on the line by publicly protesting, often in the face of both laws prohibiting freedom of speech and security forces with a reputation for torture and murder. Simultaneously, Arab societies are now building civil society. In Egypt, for example, a free union federation has just been organized.
Meanwhile, on March 2 Israel totally closed a border crossing into Gaza via which limited but critically important food aid was being transferred into the ghetto, thus intensifying its policy of collective punishment. In addition, yesterday used F-16s to attack a university building under construction in Gaza. This is perhaps understandable: if you wish permanently to repress a population, it is indeed useful to prevent them from being educated. And this is not an isolated incident of Israeli efforts to prevent Palestinians from becoming educated. On the West Bank, an armed band of Israeli terrorists from the illegal settlements there—settlements recently supported by the U.S. government at the U.N.–attacked Palestinian villagers.
In the U.S., the right to bargain collectively, won under near-revolutionary conditions during the Great Depression, is now once again under attack, albeit by peaceful, fairly democratic, though arguably illegal methods. In addition, the U.S. government is holding a soldier naked in jail every night “for his own protection.” Having kept him in confinement for months, much of it in solitary, the government has evidently succeeded in so damaging his psyche that he might stuff his shirt in his mouth and kill himself. Even Solzhenitsyn’s tales of the Gulag Archipelago didn’t include this legal tactic.
Now, these are just random events and do not constitute proof of which country has a more decent government or a more responsible society or a stronger democracy. But these events do suggest something about the direction in which various societies in this world are moving, and I would like to suggest that it would be in your interest, as a citizen, to pay attention.