The recent revolt in Egypt has filled me with hope for the world.
If the people of Egypt can throw out their oligarchic dictatorship, and establish a nascent, but working democracy--and not a theocracy run by the Muslim Brotherhood--it is possible that other Muslim nations will be inspired to follow suit.
Who knows: perhaps even the people of the United States of America will take note and follow Egypt's shining example.
And the circle will be complete.
The people of Egypt can teach us much. They can remind we Americans of our own revolutionary and populist traditions: from the Founders and Framers at the end of the Eighteenth Century; to the abolitionists and Underground Railroad who opposed the abomination of slavery in the first half of the Nineteenth; to the struggle for labor, civil and human rights (including women's suffrage , child labor laws, and desegregation) in the second half of the Nineteenth and first half of the Twentieth Centuries.
The Egyptian people have not staged an armed insurrection; they have staged a general strike and unarmed revolt. They have taken to the streets, and refused to surrender those streets in the face of vicious police assaults. Just as President Roosevelt did in Flint, Michigan in 1937, the Egyptian Army has intervened to protect the strikers from the police. As long as they keep it in the form of a non-violent strike, the strikers will eventually win.
Now Mubarak sends his paid "civilian" henchmen in to attack the protesters, just as the optimates of Rome sent their thugs against the populares in the Late Republic. There is nothing new under the sun.
The people of Egypt can still learn an important lesson from our Founding Fathers: the lesson of religious tolerance, one which too many Americans seem to have forgotten.
The attitude of the best and most famous of our nation's founders was an abiding curiosity and respect for all religions, including every denomination and sect that belonged to a given church, doctrine, or religion; it was not a slavish adherence to a single doctrine, even if they personally believed theirs was God's singular, eternal truth.
Benjamin Franklin made it a point to contribute to the building fund of every church in Philadelphia, including the first Jewish synagogue founded there. In his final years, Thomas Jefferson was teaching himself Arabic in order to attempt a proper translation of the Koran into English. President George Washington proposed, and the Senate under President John Adams unanimously ratified, a peace treaty with the Emir of Tripoli, which stated that "the United States is in no way a Christian state." Our Constitution states that "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." The first clause of our Constitution's First Amendment states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;" a fact that too many of our under-educated politicians forget.
Unlike Christianity, Islam has never undergone a religious Reformation, followed by a secular Enlightenment. Because of this, they have never had an ongoing, non-religious discussion on individual freedom, liberty, and rights, as the Europeans and Americans have for the last four hundred years; and still without any complete resolution on those terms' meaning.
The following are some of my own thoughts upon the subjects of freedom, liberty, and rights; incomplete and unfinished, but food for thought as we watch events reveal themselves in Egypt and the rest of the Middle East.
Freedom is not a possession we can hold: it is a sacred gift that we can only give or receive. It is a gift that you give to others, and that you receive from them in turn. You cannot hold on to it: it is like the tides of the ocean, it flows back and forth between the shores of humanity, raising and humbling us in turn, teaching us lessons which only the unbound mind may learn. To try to hold it is to lose it, to give it to others is to gain it for yourself, to deny it to others is to deny it to yourself.
Seventy years ago, on February 6th, 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt proposed in a message to our Congress his idea of the Four Freedoms. These were the Freedom of Speech, which for him included the press and every other form of human communication and expression; Freedom of Religion, which permitted all of humanity to experience the world as their conscience demanded, even if the demand was to believe in no Deity at all; Freedom from Want, that humanity should never again have to worry about having a roof over its head, food in its belly, medicine for its ills, work for its hands, or education for its mind; Freedom from Fear, that no one would ever have to worry about being taken from their homes and families in the middle of the night to be killed or thrown in prison without charges, murdered by their neighbor because of who their grandmother was, or their property and jobs taken away because the rich and powerful sought greater wealth.
Liberty is applied freedom, with the addition of responsibility added. Your freedom of speech does not include slandering someone. Your freedom of the press does not permit libel. Your freedom of religion does not permit you to deny others their own practice of conscience, even if your religious doctrine demands that you do so. Always remember: freedom is a sacred gift, not a possession.
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