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The Future of Freedom

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By Wendy Melillo

Published Oct 1, 2008 8:01 AM


The Voices of Freedom

Art. Activism. Diplomacy. Public Affairs. Politics. Journalism. We asked a diverse group of human beings from many fields, within and outside the Bruin family, to answer seven basic questions about the future of freedom. Here are their answers ...

WHAT DOES THE WORD "FREEDOM" MEAN TO YOU?

Gisselle Acevedo: "Most of us come [to America] to escape persecution, to escape a sense of inferiority. For those of us who have integrated, it is a sense of hope, that in this country I will have the ability to get a college education. I will have the ability to make choices. That's really what we're talking about when we talk about freedom."

The Future of Freedom: Viewpoints From Across the Planet
Participants in alphabetical order

KHALED ABOU EL FADL
International authority on Islamic law and Islam
Professor, UCLA Law School
Past Commissioner, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom

GISSELLE ACEVEDO
Children’s advocate
President and CEO, Para Los Niños Regent, Loyola Marymount University Former president and general manager, Hoy

MIKE FARRELL
Actor, activist
President, Death Penalty Focus
Co-star, M*A*S*H

DAVID GERE
AIDS activist, dance critic
Associate professor, UCLA Department of World Arts and Cultures

FRANK GILLIAM
Public affairs scholar, political analyst
Dean, UCLA School of Public Affairs
Founding director, UCLA Center for Communications and Community

FRANK LUNTZ
Pollster, political analyst
Commentator, Fox News Channel
Author, Words That Work: It's Not What You Say, It's What People Hear

MOLLY MELCHING
Advocate, educator
Founder and executive director, Tostan
Winner, 2007 Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize

EDWARD PECK '56
Political affairs expert
President, Foreign Services International
Former Ambassador, Mauritania
Former Chief of Mission, Baghdad
Former Deputy Director, White House Task Force on Terrorism

DR. JOSE QUIROGA
Human rights advocate
Co-founder and medical director, Program for Torture Victims
Former personal physician to ex-president of Chile Salvador Allende

NATAN SHARANSKY
Dissident, politician
Chairman, Adelson Institute at the Shalem Center
Author, The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror

KEVIN SITES
Author, journalist
Correspondent, Yahoo! News
Former correspondent, CNN and NBC
Author, In the Hot Zone: One Man, One Year, Twenty Wars

GORE VERBINSKI '87
Film director, writer
Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, The Ring and Mouse Hunt, among others

YUNXIANG YAN
Sociocultural anthropologist
Co-director, UCLA Center for Chinese Studies
Professor of anthropology, UCLA
Author, Private Life Under Socialism: Love, Intimacy, and Family Change in a Chinese Village, 1949-1999

Frank Luntz: "Freedom is the opportunity to think and act without limitation. Freedom is peace of mind, knowing that my only limitations are my dreams and my aspirations, and that everyone around me has the same opportunities that I have. I love it, I live for it, I breathe it, I eat it, and I sleep with it. I don't know if I appreciate freedom as much as I resent the absence of it."

Molly Melching: "I've lived in Senegal for 34 years and the word 'freedom' has changed for me since I lived here. I didn't really understand what it meant in a context where people have certain freedoms but they do not have choices. When you don't have choices, freedom is meaningless. When you are born in a village without access to schools, or health services, or married at age 12 and have to undergo traditions relative to your ethnic group, you have really no choice. You can run away from that and find a place where you could have that choice, but then you are totally marginalized and outside your group."

David Gere: "I'm in Mexico City at the moment, preparing activist art exhibitions for the World AIDS Conference. And from this vantage point, freedom and democracy are not the big issues. Instead, we need to think about basic human rights. My discussions with people who are living with HIV/AIDS in Mexico City suggest that human rights trump the other two ... For people living with HIV/AIDS, access to new treatments for their illnesses or governmental protection from stigma and discrimination are basic essentials ... and since HIV is only communicable through shared body fluids, not through casual contact, restrictions against travel are nonsensical and ought to be lifted ... And so, from the perspective of people living with HIV/AIDS, let these discussions begin with human rights, and only then let us expand outward to consider the wider array of freedoms associated with democracy."

Gore Verbinski: "Creative autonomy is vital to me. It is the only way to achieve singularity and prevent homogenization of voice. Yet the creative process, like all things, needs conflict. It needs something to rub against. I think without restraints, financial or creative, we have the freedom to say anything and yet [have] nothing to say."

Natan Sharansky: "Freedom is not being afraid to say what you really think. If you can go to the town square and express your views and you are not punished, then that society is free."

ARE FREEDOM AND DEMOCRACY SYNONYMOUS?

Khaled Abou El Fadl: "[Freedom and democracy are] majestic terms that give expression to universally felt human aspirations. They incompletely and insufficiently give expression to something that's innate in human beings. Like justice or equality, goodness or even beauty, all of these terms attempt to identify something that's built into us as human beings. So this huge push to achieve freedom institutionally is rather naïve. After a long history of oppression and despotism, after decades of suppression, naturally a longing for freedom gets greater and greater. But if people haven't developed sophisticated institutional models, it can create a great deal of disappointment. The institutions fail miserably and people think their dreams of freedom are impossible."

Frank Gilliam: "Conventional wisdom presumes that democracy only happens in 'free societies.' But I suspect that both freedom and democracy are relative terms, and so they are only synonymous to the extent that their relativities are equivalent ... We see this in the Middle East, this notion that somehow we're going to democratize them. Freedom is relative in that context. Free from what? They would say freedom from imperialism and Western culture."

Melching: "In Somalia, a religious leader came to our seminar and said, 'I was ready to destroy Tostan because you teach democracy and we had learned that democracy was nothing but American propaganda. And then I realized that I didn't know what democracy meant. I didn't know what human rights were. Now I'm the biggest defender of democracy there is.' The person who has seen a picture of a lion and the one who has had a lion come after him respond differently to the word 'lion.'"

Mike Farrell: "Democracy simply means government by the people, thus a government in which the power resides in the people and is expressed through elected representatives. While one would hope that a concern for the general welfare would imply an attempt to provide a free society, the reality is that there is always the possibility of what some have called the 'tyranny of the majority.'"

Dr. Jose Quiroga: "After the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the balance between freedom, democracy and security has been lost. In the name of security, America and other countries have lost fundamental civil liberties and political rights ... Many of these actions, such as torture, are violations of domestic criminal laws, are crimes against humanity under international human right laws, and are war crimes under humanitarian laws."

Edward Peck '56: "As is the case with many of mankind's manifold political and social possibilities, freedom and democracy are largely in the eye of the beholder. If one person's concept of freedom, for example, may differ markedly from that of the next-door neighbor, think what it means in a cross-cultural context. The controlling factor is always and only perception, how people see things. An illustration of this compelling but often ignored fact is our current insistence that a) you cannot have freedom without democracy, and b) you are going to have both — whether you like it or not."

Sharansky: "Liberal democracy means the rule of the majority and defending human rights. Democracy is the system which protects that. It's technical. It's what you need to do to build a free society."

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