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Letters from Downunder

Liberty, Equality, Fraternity - and Recognition 

Submitted by Lindsay
Melbourne Australia!

Liberty: One of Imaginations most precious possessions.
Ambrose Bierce, 'The Devil's dictionary'

(9/12) The French shouted it at the barricades, and it is considered to be the motto of that nation. It has many variants, but its appeal has never really waned. We want Liberty. We want Equality, and we need fraternity. But in this day and age, do these words have the same resonance? Are we at liberty to go about our business and have equality under the law? It would seem not.

As I write this the standoff between the British and Ecuadorian governments over the fate of Julian Assange is headline news. In case you have not noticed, Julian is the founder of Wikileaks, the organisation that publishes secrets. Not my secrets or yours, of course, but some of the trillions your government has amassed over the past century. Have such revelations damaged your security, cost you trade, or messed up the economy? No, they have not. What they have done is to reveal the extent to which secrecy is thought necessary, and what they have suggested is that there are secrets that might be damaging if these leaks were to continue. Nothing revealed to date has had any relevance to anything, really, apart from being the reason for quite a few red faces.

Julian was born here in Australia, is an Australian citizen, yet our politicians have done little to ensure his safety. He was living in Britain, but had to flee to the Ecuadorian embassy there for sanctuary. Why Ecuador? Because they have taken in others sheltering from deportation on blatantly trumped up political charges - and the charges made against him are just that. He is accused of some illicit sex affair in Sweden, and must be deported to that country to stand trial there. Then he can be deported to America. Why Sweden? Because they are in the same camp, the same position as we are, as is Britain: If America says jump we jump - through hoops of flame if need be, and to hell with liberty and equality.

Recently released documents in Britain show that the USA is actively pursuing him, as they wish to make a show of how good they are at protecting their classified documents and prosecuting anyone who dares tamper. No one in the state department will say unequivocally that he will receive a fair trial if he should ever get there, and past rantings have been so hawkish that no one believes he would ever see daylight again.

The real conundrum, however, is 'why Ecuador?' If Australia, Britain and Sweden are prepared to hand him over - or allow that to happen without protest - what has this tiny Central American country got that we haven't? Well, for one, it has no love for Uncle Sam, for another it really has little to lose and much to gain. There's no minerals or other strategic stuff there, but there is a growing unease in many parts of the world over the seeming arbitrary manipulations in which America indulges. The biggest of these is, of course, the fact that America insists that everyone other than themselves pay back the money they owe, the insistence backed up by the fear of truly awful reprisals. There are many others, all to do with the notion of American superiority.

Much of the world has been corralled into the pen of passive acceptance of American foreign policy, or have joined the flashing lights of hoopla and music hall in its promotion. In doing so they have allowed their ideals and ethics to be swallowed up, their real doubts about the truth of what they are being told to wither away, all because they dare not face the alternatives.

Not Ecuador. As an example to other smaller nations it is in the forefront of resistance, something the USA may not allow for long because we all still need to know that above all it is in charge. That what it says goes, and if one believes the hawks and the republican nominee, that includes being in charge of China's place in the world as well.

That is not liberty, but, as Ambrose Bierce says, we imagine it is. We're too comfortable, too lazy to question it, possibly too afraid, but the land of the free it is not. No, that's too harsh - we're free to do what we are told, toe the line, and as the kids say, suck it up. Nor is it equality; George Orwell's famous line 'All animals are born equal, but some are born more equal than others' must bring a smile to many American faces, because they know that it is they who are the more equal. And are determined to keep it that way, for is that not their God-given right? Equality under any heading is not for the unsuccessful, those of differing skin colour or religious belief. As my wife said when she read this, 'It's dequality. You know, the debasement of equality.' No one expects to be equal in lifestyle or riches with the wealthy, but we have been brought up to believe that we are all equal under the law. Tell that to your political prisoners. Tell that to the indigent, the sick, and those who get sucked in by the financial lies that leave them homeless and jobless.

And Fraternity, that oft changed third part of the slogan - what of that? The brotherhood of man is good if it is about blood relatives, those who attend the same church, belong to the same gang or the same lodge - but mix with the dispossessed? Fraternize with anyone who is labeled an enemy? Or even care for someone other than ourselves? No, that is not going to happen, for the French slogan, like the American one, is really just a pious pacifier, an idealistic hope, and cannot be sustained in today's society.

When we recognize that our values are selfish, that our nation is built not on democratic liberty or equality, but self-centered approval, we may then allow our mostly dormant love of humanity, our care for others to rise to the surface. When enough people are sufficiently honest and prepared to do something to change this, something begins to happen, something that can be sustained: The lighting of a beacon of morality, one that is ready to say no to the selfish excesses of those in power.

This is the message from Ecuador.

Read Past Down Under Columns by Lindsay Coker