What is a free country? Is it a country that is free of being ruled by any other country, or is it a country of free people who are not afraid. The truth is that no country can be free, unless its people are free. Not freedom as embodied in legal documents or stirring anthems, which nearly every country has, but free in their minds. Unafraid to believe, to speak and to live.
Tyranny isn’t a man holding a gun to your head and telling you what to do. Tyranny is when you do what you’re told, because you’re holding the gun to your own head. And then you have become a collaborator in your own oppression. It is possible to be enslaved without ever becoming a slave. And it is sadly possible for people to act like slaves without any chains being anywhere in sight.
No regime, no ideology and no power can maintain absolute physical control of all the people, all of the time. To rule, they need to control not their bodies, but their minds and their souls. Tyranny wants loyalty, but it will settle for fear. And fear once internalized, destroys moral courage and replaces it with moral cowardice, eroding the strength of beliefs and ideas with the poisonous liquid of dread. The individual becomes an agent for the forces of tyranny, warning himself against any action that could get him into trouble. And then he is finally a slave.
In Stockholm Syndrome, hostages try to take control of their powerlessness by identifying with their captors. Under tyranny, entire populations can suffer from Stockholm Syndrome, paying devoted obeisance to the tyrants who murdered them in numberless amounts. Because once oppression is internalized, it comes to seem like a benediction. The mind forged slave embraces his chains as a moral good, clings to them as an expression of all that is right and sensible in the world. He will even die for them. Because to a slave, freedom is more terrifying than death.
Recently we rediscovered the simple fact that even on Cable television, on a network where anything goes, one thing does not go. Depicting Mohammed. Even in a bear suit. That same iron law has been unofficially passed in country after country, where operas, newspapers, books, television programs have been censored in order to avoid offending the people who might kill them, if they were not censored. Speech and image have been blocked, cut out, snipped and silenced. Not because anyone has actually been killed, but because attempts have made to kill some people. Which is enough to make free speech go the way of the Dodo.
And that is exactly the point. They don’t have to silence us, if we silence ourselves first. They don’t have to oppress us, if we oppress ourselves first. They don’t have to demand our surrender and submission, if we surrender and submit first. Islam, we love it. Sharia law, we’ll gladly adopt it. Free speech, it has to have its limits. Women’s rights, we’ll have to walk a fine line. Freedom. Ha, what freedom. We’ve already traded that away for a nice set of multicultural bongos, a few curry shops, a glass of arack and a leatherbound copy of the Koran.
A free country is not one that nickel and dimes its birthright of freedom like a ten year old begging his parents to extend his curfew. It is a country whose people uncompromisingly refuse to surrender their freedoms, in the face of tyranny, torture and death. In the face of armies, tanks, secret police and all the forces of the world arrayed against them. And a country that compromises on its freedom is no longer free. It will know fear. It will know terror. It will be oppressed, and there will be no relief from that oppression, until they choose freedom over tyranny once again.
Fear is a reflex. Tyranny thrives on it, imbues it and feeds it. It kills randomly in order to spread that terror further. To create populations who never know when their day will come. When the suicide bomber, the black van, the sword and the secret police will come for them. Men will fight and die for freedom on the battlefield, but the struggle to remain defiant in a society where everyone is afraid all the time is a much harder fight. Yet overcoming that reflex to find safety by surrendering and collaborating, by learning to love Big Brother and embracing his ideals, is what it takes to be a free citizen of a free nation.
Pavlov, the formulator of the Pavlov Reflex, knew quite a lot about conditioning. His own experiments showed that fear could be conditioned by the ringing of a bell. Perhaps those insights were what enabled Pavlov to go on defying the Soviet Union for decades. At a time when most scientists and researchers were terrified out of their minds at a slip, a wrong word that might send them to a long death in the basements of the Lubyanka or an even longer death in the Gulags– Pavlov would ride buses and lecture the passengers on the fascism of the Soviet regime. And while those scientists eventually ended up in the Gulags themselves, Pavlov died a natural death.
Where so many Russians had become conditioned to hear the ringing of the bell everywhere, and to search for it when they didn’t, to be afraid all the time, and to love the thing they feared in order to have some measure of security– Pavlov understood the reflex and rejected it. He chose to be a free man instead. And freedom comes from standing up to evil. From confronting it and defying it. Not from submitting to it and collaborating with it. From silencing yourself in the hope that you will no longer be afraid when the bell rings.
Today the bell is Islam. The bell is Mohammed. That two headed religion with its two faces, the Religion of Peace and the Religion of Death. And if you focus hard enough on it as the Religion of Peace, perhaps you won’t notice the grinning skull on its other side. And so the bell rings, and the poodles run to their master, licking his hands and showering him with adoration. Oh yes Islam is a wonderful religion. It has so many human rights. Truly it is a paragon for us today. If only we could be as free as Muslims. If only.
And what is the source of Islam’s power? Comedy Central reminds us of that again. Its power is simple enough. Its followers are more willing to kill those who resist, than those who are not its followers are willing to resist them.
No military victory. No superior technology. Not even sheer numbers, as there is still no First World country in which Muslims have officially become a majority. Their power comes from fear. From being prepared to murder anyone who disagrees with them. Until the mere threat alone, from a worthless source, is enough to badly panic a multibillion dollar corporation. The same corporation that would never take protests from Jews or Christians seriously, caves when a single Muslim on a previously obscure website threatens a beheading. What is the difference? The difference is murder. Muslims murder people who offend them. And having gained a reputation for that, they are quickly parlaying it into practical political power.
A nation’s police, legal and military divisions are entirely useless if they cannot protect the exercise of such basic freedoms. Without that they become nothing more than glorified social service centers that enforce the law only when it isn’t too dangerous for them. Only when it won’t offend the wrong people. The wrong people being those who kill on casual provocation. And such a country, though it may have documents to its name attesting its freedoms, and endless ranks of judiciary appointees and professors debating those freedoms– they mean nothing if the people cannot actually exercise those freedoms.
The Bush Administration’s War on Terror did not actually put an end to fear of Islamic terrorism, instead it fed it with endless alerts and prolonged battles thousands of miles away, while in the heart of civilization, terror remained emboldened enough to wave its green scimitar decorated flag. That is why the assault on Salman Rushdie was in some ways a more significant strategic blow than 9/11. On 9/11 thousands of our fellow Americans died. But when we surrender to Islamic terror and intimidation, our freedom dies. For everyone. And the bell begins to ring.
Only by defying Islam, can we begin the process of taking back our freedoms. Only by speaking out, do our voices matter. Because they don’t have to silence us, if we silence ourselves first.