The Perception of Freedom
The Perception of Freedom
Freedom and liberty in society are considered basic human rights, allowing citizens the freedom of speech, expression and choice. But are freedom and liberty in society conclusive? Furthermore, the word freedom is used in many different senses, for example: is it being able to do, as you like within society, is it a way you feel, or is it free will?
Those of us that believe freedom of expression is a universal and fundamental human right should be gravely concerned about “the freedom of words” in Turkey. Last year’s protests exposed issues including a ban on Twitter and YouTube that came in the aftermath of a stifling new Internet law and is an intolerable infringement of the right to freedom of speech. In March, Google reported that Turkey had intercepted traffic to its DNS service, part of prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s expanding repression of social media networks to prevent any information being circulated against him. Turkey’s narrowing of freedom of expression on the Internet follows mainstream media self-censorship and police violence against journalists.
As a global entity we connect both within and across borders through written and spoken communication. This free exchange of ideas is essential for democracy, as well as for creativity, empathy and tolerance.
Yet our extensive Freedom of Information Act repeatedly refuses requests from journalists and newspapers and publications are regularly hauled to court over supposed defamation suits that are often crippling.
Other communities seeking freedom not available in their own country, perhaps to a more perilous extent, are the Lampedusa Somali refugees. Setting out on a treacherous path, taken by thousands every year, they flee Somalia, cross the Sudan and Libyan Deserts, and finally cross the Mediterranean Sea to the island, bringing Italy’s immigration numbers to staggering new levels. And still they are not free.
Heralded in the United States under Constitutional Law, some may say that even America’s, in the land of the free – are not really free. Of course this is most evident in the Edward Snowden case. Crucial in a democracy, the spread of information helps to inform political debate and maintain government accountability – like journalists, many will argue this is what Snowden did. Opinion polls show that Americans vigorously support him, recognising his actions of exposing how the NSA had been undermining US freedom by randomly and illegally spying on millions of people across the country, as those of a whistle-blower, not a traitor.
As an ambiguous term, freedom can hold multiple meanings pertaining to various different things. Freedom is based on where a person comes from, their socio-economic status, their race, age, gender and numerous other factors. Some will believe we are free in society, and others believe we are not in fact free because we willingly give society power over us.
We should always endeavour to celebrate the freedom that we have in this day and age, the creativity and liberty that society does grant us. Though in some aspects it becomes clear that we are not nearly as free as we first believe, or would like, or indeed as free as many others would wish us to believe.
Cross-dressers do not have unwavering acceptance in society. Minority groups are regularly subjected to discrimination and disadvantage.
The internationally low figure of legal same-sex marriage is further perturbed by the fact that only as recently as March 29th did gay marriages become legal in England, a country whose capital city is seen to ingratiate itself with LGBT culture. Yet is this newly prescribed liberation for gay couples an imprudent accomplishment? Pension rights between couples will be less generous than heterosexuals. After a death the amount payable to a spouse will stem only from 2005, the year civil partnerships came into law, despite the length of the pension’s existence. Liberation in this sense seems to be more about politicians’ popularity than creating fair and equal standards within our society.
In the UK, International Women’s Day shows women’s roles, even in the Western world, still have antiquated undertones. I recently overheard a gender-issues conversation in a pub:
“Oh God, you’re a feminist?”
“Of course I am” she responded.
‘Well, you know, if women just tried a little bit harder, they might be equal to men. That’s their problem really.”
As long as feminism exists, as long as one man thinks women are second-class, women do not have the freedom and liberty of their male counterparts.
While observing the creativity and freedom that we are undoubtedly able to enjoy, we should remain mindful and contemplate the larger scale contention of how far that freedom actually reaches, while recognising not just the inequalities and injustices of other societies, but of our own.
Text: Clarissa Waldron