Uneasy Freedoms

by Sana Ali

What exactly is freedom?

Everyone seems to be for it: liberals and conservatives, old and young, socialists and capitalists, PPP and PML-N! But if everyone is for freedom, why are so many people so opposed to each other? There is nothing simple about the concept of freedom. Revolutions have been fought for it, and there is continuous debate in today’s democracies about what exactly it means. The general belief is that freedom is a wonderful thing, a truly noble and liberating aspiration for a society, which is doubtlessly correct. But the fact of the matter is freedom is a double-edged sword, and has the ability to make us feel very, very uncomfortable at times.

Some of the most obvious freedoms include the right to free speech, expression and religion. Yet these are the same ones that cause hostility and strife throughout the world. Take the recent headline of Pastor Terry Jones of Gainesville, Florida. Pastor Jones, along with 50 followers, planned to burn copies of the Qur’an on the ninth anniversary of the September 11th attacks. This caused an outcry throughout the world, with everyone from the President of the United States, European Union leaders, the Pope and civilians across the world condemning such a disgraceful act. Yet there was no legal way to stop him from carrying out his plan. Thankfully, he did not burn copies of Islam’s Holy Book, but the truth remains he was within his legal right to do it.  President Obama himself could not have ordered it to be stopped.

And that’s where the discomfort lies.  In 1977, the Supreme Court of the United States sided with a white supremacist group, the Ku Klux Klan, and ruled they had the right to hold a march with a legal permit. The case was a contentious one to have reached the highest court in the land, but the Court upheld the idea that the government must protect a myriad of viewpoints – even if we find the view in question to be utterly repulsive.

All this falls under the umbrella of “free speech,” and emphasizes the idea that rights for one person end where another’s begin. Pastor Jones has the right to express his foul, sickening and hate-filled opinion of Islam, and I have the right to express that I find it foul, sickening and hate-filled.

In Pakistan, we see much more extreme examples. Earlier this month, the Shia minority in Pakistan was dealt a devastating blow. Bombings hit three separate sites, as thousands marched in the streets of Lahore to commemorate Imam Ali. The processions were met with triple bombings in the city of leaving 50 dead and up to 200 injured. Unfortunately in Pakistan, we are struggling to have general acceptance of differing views of Islam. It is costing us too many lives and resources. The sectarian violence exists because people cannot accept another’s faith. Sunnis and Shias are locked in a terrible cycle of murder and mayhem. There is a nation-wide flippant attitude regarding the rights of Ahmadis in Pakistan. We are forgetting that we all have the same rights. Pakistan is a long way from social stability but it will all begin with the understanding that we all have rights to ourselves, not over each other.

One’s rights end where another’s begin. It is an uncomfortable truth to many, and has caused much anger, but it is the truth we all must accept.

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