“I will not be silent”

Recently Raed Jarrar, an Arab-American architect, was prevented from boarding a plane at JFK because he was wearing a t-shirt with Arabic script on it. Was the message some anti-American screed or pro-terrorism propaganda? No, it was a simple message that even included a convenient English translation: “I will not be silent”. Here’s more on what happened.

Soon after, a thread was started on DegreeDiscussion, a forum for talking about distance learning, higher education, and accreditation, but which also often delves into a wide variety of off-topic subjects. I was surprised and dismayed that this collection of intelligent, educated people all responded either neutrally or against Mr. Jarrar. It seems that there is support for the idea that people have a right not to be offended and that their ignorant prejudices should be coddled.

I can’t help but wonder, if Western society accepts condemnation of those who are different, isn’t its difference from a society based on Sharia no longer one of kind but only of degree? It is precisely to the extent that we do not act that way that gives us the moral high ground. Don’t get me wrong, I realize that people with minority opinions in the West have a great deal more freedom of expression than people in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, and many other places. But when it comes to liberty, it’s not about outrunning the other guy — it’s about outrunning the bear.

As for me, I have ordered a similar t-shirt for myself and will wear it next month when I travel to attend the Pan-Commonwealth Forum in Jamaica. I expect that as a native speaker of English my experience will differ from Mr. Jarrar’s, but at least it means that I too will not be silent.

Dominica: Where the Freedom Is

Note: Recently I was offered a preliminary look at a new index of which countries are the most free, both in terms of civil liberties and in terms of free markets. Here was my response.

I thought your index was interesting, but it had the same problem as all of the indices from which you draw information — small island states are not listed.

For several years I lived in Dominica, the small English-speaking island in the Eastern Caribbean, not the larger Spanish-speaking Dominican Republic on the Northern Caribbean island of Hispaniola. It is on par with anywhere in the world when it comes to liberty.

There is simply no meaningful restriction on civil liberties there. People say what they want, when they want. There’s a guy who literally drives around in a car with megaphones on the roof declaring his opinions on every subject. News media are critical of the government almost to excess, and freedom of religion is respected as well. There are laws against drug use, but few seem to care about them and there are people who smoke marijuana openly. I found more people cared more about the public health effects of drug use than in the use itself.

There is no military, and those in the police service are part of the communities in which they live and work, rather than being militarized and separate as here in the U.S. I found they mostly served to settle individual disputes rather than harass people. (I’ve heard this wasn’t always the case back in the day, especially against Rastafarians, but that things have changed and that the bad apples were dismissed.)

There are controls on immigration, but they are not strictly enforced. Even so, it’s not difficult for foreigners to get a work permit. Their biggest problem with illegal immigration are “Spanish girls” (i.e., prostitutes from Santo Domingo). There are Haitians working there illegally, mostly in agriculture, the island’s dominant industry, but they’re appreciated for working hard, and no one seems to bother them otherwise.

Economics are not quite as good, but still excellent. Taxation is not excessive, and a foreigner coming in to start an international business easily can have a work permit and a ten year tax holiday. There are competitive telecommunications for phone service and broadband Internet, although rates for international phone calls are very high, and it’s well worth using VoIP. There are monopolies for power and water, but thanks to the rainy climate the latter is easily evaded through use of cisterns, and the former is annoying, but nowhere near as bad as in many other developing countries.

So if it’s so great, why doesn’t it show prominently on the indices of free countries? It’s not the only missing entry, as many other Caribbean small islands states are missing as well. I think it’s because their populations are too small. At 70,000 people, Dominica is just 1/3 of 1% the size of the U.S., and some islands are even smaller than that. While that’s bad for the accuracy of freedom indices, I have to admit it’s probably a good thing for those of us who know where the freedom is.