Taking a pen to war: a message of peace for freedom of speech.
I met a man a few days ago, his name was Muhammad and he was from Egypt. In Egypt, he was a major league soccer referee and here (in America), he drives an Uber. I asked why would he leave his life to start over in a new country so far from home, to what he answered: here, I am allowed to think. With just six words, he made me realize that what is a right to us, in some places it’s a privilege.
Freedom of speech is still a fantasy in plenty of countries, but exactly how bad is their situation? Is there something we can do about it? Would it make a difference at all? It’s easy to forget how good a situation can be without a point of reference.
Right now, we are less free than we were 20 years ago. Only 40% of the countries in the world are truly free, according to a study by Freedom House, an organization fighting for democracy for the past 75 years.
“Freedom” means being able to own your home, to travel, express your thoughts without fear, and to be able to demand your government fairness and justice. “A country is not free without freedom of the press” says Yassine Imrani, journalist for Mic.com, “And media freedom faces severe pressures across the world with more than 500 journalists being arrested for their work.”
In the meantime, a man in Saudi Arabia is feeling the blade that is putting an end to his life, caressing his bare neck and disconnecting his head from his spine. His crime? “Inciting public opinion.” 85% of the population of Africa and the Middle East lives in oppression, according Reuters News.
In Yemen, the murders of journalists are a regular occurrence. People are so afraid of their own government that self-censorship is common, no one can even mention change without fearing a bullet through their heart. Last year, an artist in Cuba was arrested because the government thought his pieces with political undertones were “inappropriate”. And no one knew about it until earlier this year, because only 25% of Cubans have access to internet.
People can not dare to say even the smallest word of disapproval, for they risk not only their freedom but also their lives. It’s hard to think that expressing an opinion could be a death sentence, but for more than half of the world, it’s a reality.
So, is there something we can do about it?
First, let’s remember and be aware that we live in the land of the free. America is the fifth country with the most freedom of speech in the world, says the World Press Freedom Index. Here, we can start our revolutions with ideas, and fight in them with our words — not guns.
America has been fighting for a democratic world since the early 70’s, but their approach is much more hostile than it should be. Mark Lagon, from the Council of Foreign Relations, states that “Military intervention should be a last resort”, and yet, with so many wars and interventions, it seems like it’s the most popular option.
You, as citizens of the free world, can help even in the smallest way, by speaking for who can’t and fighting for peace with your art, your words and your voice.
At the end of the day, a grenade could never get its message across louder, and more clearly than a message of love.
But, would it even make a difference?
“To ask for freedom, is not a crime.” This was the message the suffragettes carried to achieve votes for women, and this year, we had the first woman running for President of the United States. This proves that change is possible, but to achieve it we must speak up, and force the world to listen.
It only took for one woman to refuse to give up her seat, for us to see a black man leading the White House.
Our ethnicity, sexuality, gender and social status should not be used as a reason to silence us. So why should our location?
As journalist Meghan Weft says, “While media bombards us with stories of bloodshed, the true spotlight should be on those standing together today asking for equality for all.”
So if they did it, why can’t we? Why can’t we be the generation that not only fought for our rights, but for others who can’t?
Freedom of speech is still a fantasy to 60% of the world, but that doesn’t mean we can’t help. By raising awareness and peacefully protesting we can achieve change — it’s been done before. We still have a long way to go towards absolute equality, but after so many efforts, we live in a much more tolerant society than the one our grandparents’ grew up in.
Because in America, our voices are not whispers but echoes as loud as thunderstorms that can start a revolution. Why not take advantage of this and try to help our brothers and sisters of the world?
So go make art, music, write, protest, whatever it is you want to do. But just please, say something, because here no one can take your voice away.