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This is America!

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On 8/28/2007 at 9:49 PM, jbg said:

This morning, as I walked into my office building through the clean, warm, dry and comfortable late August air, I noticed the leaves moving in the breeze, and the beautiful sun in the sky. As I was walking, I was reflecting on my night's reading, and thinking how wonderful and special America was. I was saying to myself "this is America".

Last night, I was catching up on my reading. I was reading the Summer 2007 issue of Reform Judaism (link) among other things. I was also reading a copy of the recent Supreme Court decision in FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION v. WISCONSIN RIGHT TO LIFE, INC. (link to decision, open PDF reader first) affirming, once again, the virtually unlimited freedom of speech that is the US citizens' alone. I was reading the Supreme Court decision for the benefit of a Canadian active in politics, seeking to ensure that the Charter grants similar freedoms for political speech in Canada to US First Amendment protections, i.e. the persuasive value of the decision.

There was a unifying theme to the articles, which were about the seeming impossibility of an Islam that respects human rights and the right of others to exist in peace (link to parellel thread on article, with cite to article), and the difficult struggle of German Jewry to climb back from the Nazi Holocaust, and the Supreme Court discussion. Let me explain.

Prior to the colonization of the New World, the Old World was dominated, depending on where you were, by Islam and/or Christianity (we'll leave Buddhist and Hindu Asia out of the discussion for now). The one thing both had in common was that each was rife with rules and restrictions on what non-majority religions or ethnic groups could do or not do. These restrictions often took a deadly form, wtih the Spanish inquisition as but one example. Even Moorish Spain, considered a bright spot by many, imposed humiliating restrictions on Jews, known as "dhimmitude". Virtually all European countries prevented Jews from owning land, holding office and, where applicable, voting. These restrictions existed even in England, the cradle of liberty and freedom.

Fortunately, the dam burst during the two centuries after 1492. The Americas were a place where, at least initially, the various King's courts and priests' writs did not run. The focus was on what people could do to tame a wilderness, not the way they chose to worship G-d.

Now, how does this tie back to the Supreme Court decision, and the articles? Simple. The Supreme Court decision, while not unanimously supported, reflects the reluctance to curb speech. In other words, in America, people have the right to say something, and people have the freedom whether or not to listen. As to the articles, one of the articles, about the recovery of Jewish life from the Holocaust, focuses on the tragic and bloody extremes discrimination could go, and the fact that a gentle, scholarly people who always contributed much to the world and asked little were almost wiped out. The article about Islam demonstrates the extent to which one-third of people still, even after the fall of the Iron Curtain, live under the oppressive brow of a culture stuck in theh 8th Centurty. Mass media reflects the fear of violence and the false belief that the threat will go away if we just appease them. The bleating for "peace" ignores the fact that while we want peace, they do not.

Well, even with these threats, it is still wonderful to breathe the morning air, and bask in the freedom and material prosperity nurtured by that freedom. That is how I feel about my country. I hope it's how Canadians feel about theirs.

Eleven years and one week to the day, I still hold these thoughts.

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