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A pre-Pesach reflection on freedom

In a follow-up to my post of a couple of days ago (which, disappointingly, no one has commented on) about Iraq, I'd just like to point out that just because Andrew Bolt says something doesn't automatically make it wrong. Anyway the morning after I wrote the piece, I heard someone say that all this killing is coming about because the Iraqis have never had freedom. I'll ignore the inherent stupidity of this statement: the assumption that if you give someone freedom for the first time they will become a looting, murdering savage; as well as the racist undertones. Instead, I'll focus on the stark admission. The Iraqis have freedom. It is somewhat ironic that over the last five years, while acting to increase freedom in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, many democracies have been acting to decrease their own people's freedoms.

But first, what is Pesach? It is a festival celebrating freedom. And how did the Jews celebrate their freedom from Egypt? By taking a 40 year desert trek and accepting the burden of a whole lot of rules. By moving from an oppressive slavery to an enlightened (usually) theocracy. Were they free?

In Dune, Herbert says that the power to destroy something gives you control and freedom over it. I don't quite agree with that statement, but in it, freedom comes from the ability to opt out. And that was why the Jews were now free. They could leave. They could slink back to Egypt. They could leave and join a fellow tribe, if that tribe would have them. They could take off by themselves. The ability to leave their situation gave them freedom. Each society maintains a set of rules and expectations. Basic freedom is the ability to opt out and leave the society. Someone who is imprisoned loses the freedom to opt out. Basic freedom is the knowledge that you can live a basic life within the rules and expectations and are generally safe within those waters. Greater levels of freedom rely on being able to impact upon the rules and expectations if you need to.

So are the Iraqis free? Probably. Are they freer than they were? Mostly. Will the freedom increase? Hopefully. Why? Because they now have a vote. A real vote. Because they are not subject to a dictatorship that considers it acceptable to kill them arbitrarily. Because societal improvement is in their hands.

Quite a few biblical phrases telling Jews to be good to strangers end by talking about Jews having been slaves in or freed from Egypt. As we lead up to Pesach, we can look around the world, and note all the people living in tyranny, in oppression, in fear. And we can hope that they will soon get the freedom to take their freedom for granted.

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