Friday, December 08, 2006

When your rights are abused, you will suffer

"To have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it."
- G. K. Chesterton, British writer (1874–1936)

It seems as if this quotation were written for today. However, the truth behind its application has caused the people of many countries to engage in war, revolution or the overthrow of decent and honest political systems in favour of more sleezy and self-interested ones many times.

It's that truth behind the quote that has been used as a propaganda weapon in order to whip up the sentiments and emotions of people who were otherwise ignorant of the facts of a situation.

People who are oppressed, we believe, have a right to overthrow their oppressors and take change of their own destiny. But how far can that go?

Hitler convinced the German people that their lives were being controlled by Jews in the media, in business and in industry. So there was the Holocaust.

The people of Palestine believe they have a right to take back land that was stolen from them by the United Nations and given to the previously non-existent state of Israel. So we have suicide bombings and killings of both Palestinians and Israelis in the name of fighting for freedom and retribution.

Nearly one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were hacked to death by machetes during a 100 day period in 1994, in Rwanda, because the Tutsi minority had dominated the majority Hutus (with the assistance of Belgium during its protectorate days) for several decades. Both sides had done their share of killing of members of the other, so radical Hutus felt justified in committing genocide in the name of freedom.

Today in the USA, citizen rights are systematically being removed using the claim of national security post 9/11. Bullying on both a local and national scale is being committed and allowed in the name of freedom of speech. Iraq was invaded in the name of national security, to protect the American people from Saddam's non-existent "weapons of mass destruction."

With rights come responsibilities. The responsibilities do not include abuse of your own people or of others. They do include the responsibility to maintain peace among your own people as well as among others who have trouble with theirs.

Responsibilities should always include respect for human dignity and safety.

A Canadian citizen of Syrian birth was handed over the US authorities a few years ago along with the false information that indicated that he was "a person of interest" and one against whom evidence existed that he was a terrorist. US authorities, unable to pry any information from him, gave him to Syrian police who tortured him and starved him in prison for a year. Satisfied that he had no information to give them about terrorist activities, they released him back to Canada.

Maher Arar had a right to have police tell the truth about him, to not devise lies about him, to not send him outside his country to a country that is known to torture prisoners when they knew he had no information to give them. Canadian and US authorities expected him to die, so they didn't have to worry about him. He didn't. He lives now to remind us.

Rights and laws do not give anyone approval to abuse others.

They also do not give citizens approval to turn their backs on corruption and abuse within their military, their government, their leaders or anyone else who purports to speak or to act on their behalf. When rights are abused, the abusers must be held to account.

That's a responsibility that citizens have that goes with their right. If they choose to not exercise that responsibility, their turn to be abused may be next. And no one will care.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to show the difference.
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