JUST HOW MUCH DO WE AMERICANS TAKE FOR GRANTED?

That we live in a democracy is a given. That we have lived to witness a person of color become President is more than just progress, and that we have freedom of the press is something we must never take for granted. However, what many of us are asking ourselves these days is whether or not it will be possible to have any meaningful dialogue with presidents of countries who continue to express nothing but disdain for America? Given the world’s current state of economic and political chaos, one has to really wonder whether attempts to be fair-minded on the stage of such a political arena will succeed in bringing about peace with known dictators, murderers, and oppressors.

In a civilized society leaders are obligated to act in ways specifically designed to protect the rights of its citizens. Yet, when the citizens become the victims of leaders who threaten them with the loss of those rights, are we in the free world responsible to take action, especially when women remain subjugated and men are allowed “by law” to abuse them? Clearly such behavior is not civilized! And as events unfold in Iran, the question is whether we are witnessing a renaissance or a doomed revolution where those who are fighting for their God-given rights cannot possibly win?

I’m not convinced that there is one right position for America to take at this critical time. Surely, if matters deteriorate in Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan, or the Middle East, I don’t believe President Obama will have the luxury of remaining diplomatically safe. If he acts too hastily, though, there will most likely be a heavy political fall-out.

We have no shortage of problems here at home. Our plight is real and too many of us are feeling its impact! We are experiencing an economic upheaval with more people out of work or losing their homes, and our health care system is one in desperate need of reform. The list goes on. But, still, we have the extreme privilege of living in a democracy where Republicans can give voice to a wide range of their differences with Democrats, including the President, and Democrats can look to the past 8 years and know all-too-well the disasters created at home and abroad by the Bush Administration. But, we are able – despite our very real problems – to express our opinions without fearing death or imprisonment. For better or for worse, we do allow extremists on either end of the political spectrum to give voice to hateful prejudices, attempting, at the same time, to draw the line between freedom of speech and the freedom to act in ways that destroy lives and property. What we hope never to do is to allow those who act illegally or immorally to escape the consequences of their actions. In America, as in any free society, everyone is considered innocent until proven guilty. He is then judged in a court of law by a jury of his peers.

That brings to mind my personal horror at seeing photographs this past week of the two journalists in a North Korean Court who were sentenced to 12 years of hard labor. As many are saying, Laura Ling and Euna Lee are clearly being “used” as “bargaining chips” by Kim Jong II. Weeks earlier he had announced his intention to send a satellite into space (something many believed was a cover for a long range missile designed to strike the U.S.). He did, in fact, conduct a nuclear test on May 25th. Then, just days before Laura and Euna’s so-called trial, a series of short-ranged missiles were fired. Excuse the pun, but no one needs to be a rocket scientist to figure out the strategy or the goal of such a belligerent act.
So what do we call this if not man’s insatiable lust for power and a total disregard for the rights of other human beings? How do we ever begin to understand the minds of men such as Ahmadinejad or Hitler, for that matter? Theories, of course, abound. But, more striking is the fact that people follow their lead and, in so doing, diminish themselves and the possibility for their survival in the process. Those in Iran who are lighting torches for freedom – even knowing it may cost them their lives – are to be commended. And, at some point soon we are going to have to take a position to defend them and their right to be free.

I know no more than anyone who follows news reports these days, but I know enough to know that I pray for a day when the rule of law truly does rule and when men and women are in positions to lead their people towards a saner, safer existence, one in which the sun can shine without bullets ricocheting, where men and women are afforded the privilege of becoming educated and are then able to use their education to better the lives of all mankind.