Freedom

Rajmohan - Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
Entered on December 8, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: freedom

I believe in a world that does not use torture to spread freedom and democracy.

It was 1983 and ethnic conflict raged in my country. The government was at war with its separatist minority. My youth and my ethnic minority identity made me a potential target. I still remember the glassy eyes and the oily face of my interrogator. When the military officers found me to be innocent, they let me go back to my university. But my persistent interrogator pulled me aside and told me in a fatherly manner that I should become an informant when I go back to school, otherwise he would come after me. Then he began to describe the type of torture techniques he would use on my body. Hearing his words, it was strange to realize how one’s body can simply react to words of terror. When I went back, I refused to become an informant or play the role of an invisible tool of military terror. But I feared that my torturer would come after me or that I would simply disappear.

I left my country for graduate studies in Canada in 1989. In 1998 I returned to my country. One day I was stopped by a group of soldiers at a checkpoint. They were collecting money for war. They looked innocent, enthusiastic, and patriotic. They thought I was one of them; a patriot belongs to the ethnic majority. Should I give money to a war that traumatized my people and me? Should I reveal my ethnic identity and say no? What would happen to me if I revealed my identity? There were many questions in those split seconds. A soldier pleasantly looked at me with his extended hand. A part of my soul died when I stuck a couple of bills in his hand and my car moved on.

Now I live in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. I teach courses on human rights, terrorism, and Gandhi at a great liberal arts school. It is wonderful to teach at Gettysburg where a great nation was born with its powerful ideals of democracy, civil and human rights. I love what I do and my students. However, I am painfully aware that even here my tax money goes to support places like Abu Gharib, and all the other outsourced projects of torture. Should we allow racial profiling and torture of suspects as a rational response to the fear of attack? Should we endorse the collective good over individual rights, national security over civil and human rights, as a nation’s response to terror? Should we allow the fear of the enemy to rob our integrity?

Agonizing questions again.

I believe in a freedom where people don’t need to compromise their conscience. I believe in a society that respects people’s civil rights. I believe in nations or groups fighting for a noble cause without forcing people to do what they don’t believe in. I believe in a world that does not use torture to spread freedom and democracy.