What happens when a people are brought up in repressive cultures, be it a household or an entire nation? In what state of mind and heart are they left as they reach adulthood? Do they experience greater vulnerability to be emotionally manipulated? What if the repression never ends? In a nation, what kind of political actors arise from such a petri dish of cultural repression? On the reverse, what are the traits of a people that are allowed to self-express as individuals and as a whole culture? How does their exercise of liberty, their having access to education and the human essentials which make community life enjoyable pivot their culture to one where social, political and economic pressures are dissipated and the hallmarks that make a free society flourish?
In today’s essay, I focus on how individual freedom and liberty are the ticket to bring positive disruption within many of the Middle Eastern countries along the Mediterranean Sea. A special focus on the countries of Jordan and Lebanon, juxtaposed with the Iranian governmental regime, the royal kingdom of Saudi Arabia, pre-war Syria and what was Iraq under Saddam Hussein.
Liberty & Freedom Allow Individual Self-Expression
People are people regardless of faith. We have different beliefs that drive us, but we want to live free at liberty to express ourselves and live our lives as we see best. If we have families, every Mom and Dad wants their kids to excel in their education and go on to be professionals of some kind or to use their skills in a successful self-sustainable manner. Through all this, family is key to most, if not all households across the planet. Family grounds us, can bring respite and a sense of belonging. This is true irrespective of our faith and country of origin.
In America, our coins have the latin inscription, E. Pluribus Unum, which means ‘One From Many.’ That said, we are primarily a Christian nation and we welcome people from every part of the world and these freely practice their faith as they see fit. Like a steady, controlled stream, we also continuously take in new immigrants seeking to live within a cultural atmosphere based on the fundamental of liberty and freedom which is a foundational principle underpinning who we are and how we operate as individuals, communities and a whole country.
Unfortunately, it is not so across every nation or region in the world. This has led to people of every tongue and nation coming to our shores by foot, boat and plane in hopes of something better. Has it not been that a lack of liberty to pursue educational and professional opportunity has fueled immigration into the United States? In Saddam Hussein’s repressive regime, his sons ran roughshod over the populace, kidnapping women as their father’s political-military government ruled with an iron fist of aggression and fear. His many palaces and wealth showed that he used Iraq as his personal corporate domain that mostly benefited himself and a powerful-elite subservient to him. The culture that existed and still exists in Iraq was and is so in spite of his totalitarian mode of operation. People are people. The ability for a balanced culture to continue to attempt to spring up even in the direst of circumstances is uncanny. In Hussein’s Iraq, culture was able to form not because of him, but alongside the governmental controls he impinged upon daily life. In Jordan, the reigning family of King Abdullah understands well that copious amounts of individual liberty serve to create the conditions on the ground for subsequent generations of youth to feel at ease and grow as unique individuals. Art, music and written expression enter community life. Young adults dream of starting new endeavors with their skills and families feel free to walk the promenades without fear of government forces checking in on them. There is rule of law. Few, if any young ones think of taking physical weapons, bearing masks and launching para-military organizations or joining some far-flung militant group that wages cultural war at the price of human life. In Lebanon, it is much the same, though it is closer to the theater of current war. The focus of the people is on ‘moving ahead’ their families and being part of a culture that is free and at rest to live out its lives as they see fit.
In many Islamic countries it is not so. Women are veiled and seemingly stifled from excelling at the top ranks of professional and political power. In Iran, it is a mixed bag. There is a great culture that thrives in the midst of a regime that has exported war to other countries in its midst, irrespective of the wishes of its people. Understandably, there are deplorable vestiges of Western civilization which run counter to the sensibilities of Islamic life, the culture of abortion practices being one of these. The tidal wave of self-expression which can be commercialized and exploited in America must seem like a foreign, downward step into decadence for many bastions of Islam within the Middle East region of the Mediterranean. Guarding against this may feel intrinsic, even if it comes at the expense of individual civil liberties. But the well-informed know that the crux of the matter when it comes to repressive governmental regimes lies far beyond cultural, philosophical divisions. Iran and Saudi Arabia are Islamic countries with distinctly different political regimes. In Iran, for example, women have a more prominent role in society, whereas in Saudi Arabia, women drivers are still a novelty. This speaks volumes on where individual liberty stands in each of these countries. In Syria, or what is left of it, its president has ruled with a strong police state in times past, even as it allowed a certain modicum of community to spring up within its closely-guarded security metrics. Government informers and a state of tension existed for decades prior to the devastation that has taken hold of it now with the rise of violent, extremist political-military groups. Sadly, at this time, the devastation to family and the culture that stems from it has been literally blasted away into rubble at the hands of internal and external players. At the same time, Saudi Arabia, a long-time uncomfortable military and economic ally of the U.S., has a variety of channels open to the Western world, yet its monarchy, the House of Saud, controls and almost exclusively enjoys the best the world can offer, leaving paltry room for a middle class. The socio-economic middle of Saudi Arabia that is not connected to the royal family is practically non-existent. The gears of positive change are slowly turning there, yet even so, it is evident that the lack of educational liberty and freedom available to the population of Saudi Arabia limits the social-economic opportunities that can thrust the culture forward and even prolong the current governmental dynasty. Iran, on the other hand, which does have a middle class, has been able to stay afloat economically and culturally, even as its governing elite plays and funds war regionally. It is a strange thing that such a culturally-rich country is hamstrung by the political ideologies of such a few who are bent on continuing to destabilize the region and give monies to proxy players outside of their land.
How is it that in countries like Jordan and Lebanon, even Iran enjoy a semblance of a middle class culture, whereas Syria’s pre-war culture, Hussein’s Iraq of the past and Saudi Arabia’s current system have or had nothing of the sort? Is not the answer that the culture in the best of these sprung up to the degree that liberty and freedom was allowed to all? Is it not that access to education and the pursuit of happiness was and has been more plentifully allowed in the best of these, whereas in the repressive regimes and in those that are more self-serving, people simply have not had the opportunities to grow and expand their horizons?
So it is that this is not actually a religious issue, but one of the ability to freely self-express oneself without reprisal, to practice individual liberty and to access education, be one male of female. Yes, the positive social and economic rise of people is tied to their ability to exercise individual liberty. This exercise, this reality of freedom keeps doors of opportunity open for people to pursue their desires in whatsoever profession they will or in whatsoever venture they purpose. Power then should rest with an educated people, instead of an elite ruling few. The goal then is to allow for the access to education to pave the way for people to reach and surpass their potentials. It has nothing to do with religious faith. It has everything to do with freedom and the ability to walk at liberty.