Wednesday, 5 August 2009

The Return of Euna and Laura

It was wonderful to see Euna Lee and Laura Ling coming down the steps of the plane finally on home soil, no doubt incredibly emotional for them, but I was surprised at how emotional I and my family also were, almost as though we had been sharing the tension waiting for their release as if they were our own sisters, daughters or mothers. It can only be due to the efforts of their families to maintain their media presence and by doing so elevate the hope for their release.

For all of us who may have lost loved ones or been parted from those dear to us, seeing the happy reunion of these families seemed to do more for our awareness of humanity as an expression of common being unified by our similarities, than anything I have seen for a long time. It gives me hope not only that there has been a happy ending to their personal nightmare, but that there is the possibility for communication between conflicting nations and groups rather than the silence, mistrust and animosity that so discoloured the last century. It would be good to be able to go forward in the knowledge that internationally, the well being of one person anywhere is equal in its preciousness and pricelessness to the lives of all people everywhere. If everyone who found themselves oppressed, overlooked, and struggling could find themselves not alone but with family, friends and good samaritans such as the extraordinary friends, relatives and total strangers who wished, prayed for and willed the release and homecoming of Laura Ling and Euna Lee.

They have tried to separate the humanitarian from the political, so as not to threaten the sensitive and delicate process towards dialogue that both the political and humanitarian arenas require. Never have they been painted quite so glaringly side-by-side as the issues of nuclear powers, nuclear wannabes and the personal trials of two seemingly random yet pivotal journalists losing their rights in one foul swoop.

We watched as these issues were juggled by the media, one day hearing about emotional letters sent home from the imprisoned women and the next day the threat from nuclear missiles that North Korea were testing. I wonder considering the acts of the U.S.A, of Russia, China, France and the other nuclear powers who have all 'tested' their weapons hundreds of times, albeit in 'remote' areas or even gone to war; how their demands for international law to be respected could be respected by others.

The political and the humanitarian are intertwined, any human being affected by a political decision or the gigantic actions of corporations; is
personal. It is personal when a leader of a country arrests two people and threatens to take away their freedom for twelve years, and in fact intentionally does this to many citizens of his own country, are their lives any less important that they should not also be freed and allowed to return home to their families?Or the 'evacuation' of families both Jewish and Arab from the West Bank, forced to leave their homes against their wishes by their own government. Then there are the destruction of villages and whole country’s like Nigeria, in Africa so that oil could be got from the ground and sold to enrich people who have never set foot in those countries.

Then there are the actions of large corporations like G.E who with perilous negligence allow waste from their factories full of P.C.B’s or dioxins to wash into the Hudson River for forty years and then fight for another thirty years not to clean up after themselves even though people are dying from their actions. Actions which go unpunished, where fines are drops in the ocean and the perpetration of such acts are seen as ‘viable’ because they can afford the fines. Such actions by anyone are infringements of the freedom of all those affected, as they affect one of us so they affect all of us.

Companies and governments have for so long not been brought to justice because they hide behind the anonymity of a corporate logo, or the simple lapsing of time. They pull bureaucratic strings, play with the law that is no longer on the side of people without power or money and act with impunity.

Human rights as we have seen in the last century have finally been written down, they are there, but they are not enforced. Wider freedoms have been lost because of laws that protect those who profit but threaten those who don't. For example a village in the UK bought a wind turbine which supplied all their electricity and made them a profit but because of tax laws they are not allowed to have free electricity, so they must sell it to the National Grid and instead reinvest the money in the village. This means that they will always have to pay for their electricity even though they already supply themselves. The electricity companies are protected, but they have to continue to work in the economy in the particular way the economy decides they should. That appears to me to be a very large infringement of freedom tied up in red tape, anonymity and apparently beyond the ordinary folk to appeal against.

A supermarket that a local community does not want because they already have one and this one will bring in traffic, shut down local shops and cause the destruction of a local community centre offering local, organic alternatives; the supermarket loses in court the right to build due to the enormous community efforts to stop it, it appeals three times, it loses three times. The fourth time its appeal takes place in private without the awareness of the community and they win, the build goes ahead. Such are the actions of corporations, their power and the infringement and disempowerment of communities around the world.

Here Euna Lee and Laura Ling came home from a country that oppresses the rights of its own people to a shocking degree. Yet in our so called ‘developed countries’ freedom is also threatened. We are all in the same boat; in some worse crimes are committed than others, human life is valued less in some places and more in others. The question is what do we do about it? If we cannot build our own green energy projects so that we are self-sufficient because of tax laws, or if corporations and governments can trash and bulldoze our homes and backyards, our health and the lives of our children, or if dictators and militias, still over sixty years after the end of the second world war, can decimate their countries and the lives of the citizens within them; what do we do?

A million people died suffered horrible illnesses or died after the mass application of Agent Orange on Vietnam and yet it is the same dioxins that are used in herbicides the world over, or dumped in landfills in the form of transistors and other conductive appliances.

Until all life is recognised as precious such ignorant and barbaric actions will continue the world over. This article is about freedom and the lack thereof that exists or doesn’t exist in a wide variety of situations across history and across the globe.

I know the sort of world I want to leave for my children and it’s not yet this one, but there’s hope. There’s hope because of those individual and collective actions; to make sure freedom is apparent, that a person feel empowered to act and interact with their environment. What are the greatest freedoms?

So, far we have been reacting. We have reacted against the suppression of women’s rights, or to apartheid; we have reacted against those who threaten our homes or our countries or those of our allies. But we have not yet painted the picture of what true freedom would look like.

We have surrounded ourselves by laws, by signs, by systems of justice, by the military and versions of government that ostensibly ‘provide’ us with maximum freedom. the freedom to travel, the freedom to live, to have access to what we need, to provide for our families, to educate and fulfil our maximum potential. But we’re not even close.

We are in a darker age than the dark ages, and it’s precisely because there are few of us looking hard enough that few of us see this. So long as we’re alright its O.K. for whatever is happening to them, or over there to continue to happen and we’ll only intervene if it’s economical, if it’s profitable, not if it’s the right thing to do. It’s the darker ages, because there are millions more people starving, being killed or injured in wars, or being displaced than there ever were in the dark ages. We don’t know everything about then because it wasn’t documented as much as other times in history. But now it is documented. It is documented by people like Euna Lee and Laura Ling. There's so much documented we no longer want to look.

If we want to know how free or not free we are these are the people who tell us, who show us, who endanger their own lives in order to bring out the truth. My respect goes to them and to all those people who believe and strive for a world in which all life is known to be precious and treated as such. There is a greater freedom to work for even than that outlined by Martin Luther King. We will get there, because the old ways of oppression and greed are dying, the opportunities for developing noble qualities have never been more available. But of course there is always an opposite; we must keep our eyes open and our hearts yearning for the truth. We need to see clearly and act courageously, otherwise we will be unwittingly corralled by our own ignorance. Just as these journalists strayed into the path of danger, so all our paths are intertwined, as one of us loses their freedom so all our freedom is infringed. We have each other upon our conscience. I have you upon mine, and those who haven’t even be born yet. How can I act to secure the possibility for you to have the greatest freedom, how can I act so that your best interests have my immediate attention?

I don’t always know. But I can try.

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