Although tomorrow is the actual anniversary of America’s declaration of independence from Britain, many companies are giving their employees the day off today to celebrate. After all, what good is a holiday if it doesn’t get you out work! Back in January Freedom House, an American lobby group, released its report about “how the world fared with its freedoms during the Bush years — “an initial five years of improvement were followed by a three-year decline—less in 2008 than previously, but still disappointing” [“It never stays long,” The Economist, 17 January 2009 print issue]. The report was gloomy because of “Russia’s rigged elections” and developments in countries that were once part of the Soviet Union. Iraq posted “a slightly better score” than the year before but Afghanistan moved “from ‘partly free’ to ‘not free’ in Freedom House’s broad three-category system.” In general, “the Middle East and north Africa region—the centrepiece of Mr Bush’s efforts to promote freedom—showed little measurable improvement over the previous year” and next year will probably be even worse based on the travesty of Iran’s presidential elections and the drama unfolding in Honduras. The article reports:
“More widely, the number of ‘electoral democracies’ (those with tolerably free and fair elections) dropped by two, to 119 (thanks to four demotions and two promotions). The general trend was down too, with declines in freedom of expression and association, and a weaker rule of law.”
Although people in the United States too often equate freedom with the type of representational democracy it enjoys, there are many people who long to enjoy even the most basic of human rights. In China, human rights lawyers are being disbarred. In Africa, activists against corruption are being killed. In Iran, protesters are beaten, jailed, and even gunned down. That is why it is important to have a day that celebrates freedom and reminds us that freedom is something to be cherished and protected. We can only hope that The Economist is wrong when it declares that freedom “never stays long.” Dwight D. Eisenhower, who served as both a general and a president, said this about freedom:
“Freedom has its life in the hearts, the actions, the spirit of men and so it must be daily earned and refreshed – else like a flower cut from its life-giving roots, it will wither and die.”
Freedom cannot be taken for granted. If it is, leaders will inevitably come along who will claim that they must provide security by limiting freedom. With cunning and guile, they will slip the noose of tyranny around the necks of their people and claim to be leading them to the promised land. In the end, they will only tighten the noose and strangle the last gasps of freedom from a country. Celebrating freedom is a good thing; but defending it daily is even better.