Do We Take Our American Free Speech for Granted? A Celebration Tempered by Concern


Wednesday, December 6, 2017
Pasadena, California


Do We Take Our American Free Speech for Granted?

A Celebration Tempered by Concern

Have you ever worried that you take your first amendment rights for granted?
Despite their nauseating, embarrassing and shameful nature, Donald Trump’s daily Tweets potentially remind we Americans of the wonders of our first amendment rights.
We might be hard pressed to remember this precious right, this freedom, while absorbing the angry rhetoric of the contemporary political scene.
However, even if it slips our minds, we on some level know we can:
Carry a sign calling Trump’s a clown! 
Stand up in a park and proclaim our desire to establish a monarchy with Donald Trump as King!

Already obvious in countries like Russia, North Korea and Syria, recent reports of diminishing free speech rights in Hong Kong particularly capture my attention. I will be teaching psychoanalytic psychotherapy to students in Hong Kong this March; I was also there last January.

Are my colleagues and friends there losing their freedoms?

Just this last October, China introduced an iteration of a National Anthem Law which previously called for jail sentences of up to 15 days for “disrespecting” the national anthem. The new amendment–related to the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong during 2014–is gradually making its way into Hong Kong’s statutes. It would extend punishments to up to three-years in prison.

Meanwhile, and much like the kneeling protests at NFL games here, Hong Kong citizens have taken to almost routinely using the national anthem as a vehicle of protest. Protests, in general, have persisted since the original pro-democracy ones a few years ago.
Lately, Beijing appears poised to push back. The Anthem law has become the latest flash point for many who fear growing Chinese encroachment in Hong Kong affairs.
Obviously, the prospect of a law that could bring a prison sentence for disrespecting a song lights up, if not validates, worries about free speech.
Having traveled in China twice previously, I found the difference between the mainland and Hong Kong remarkable.
Traveling in the mainland, particularly away from any major metropolitan area, feels a bit like you’re in a developing nation; in contrast, when journeying through Hong Kong, it feels a bit, well, like traveling in Canada.
Hong Kong is extremely modern, cosmopolitan, and open city.
Or at least it was…
Hong Kong has a fascinating history in terms of democracy and freedom. Britain occupied the island during the First Opium War, using it as a military staging point. When Britain defeated China, it assumed control over Hong Kong in the 1841 Treaty of Nanking. Hong Kong became a Crown Colony of the British Empire.
It remained a British colony until 1997, when the UK released it to China. Deng Xiaoping, the Leader of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) at the time, proposed a constitutional principle called one country, two systems. Under the principle, autonomous regions like Hong Kong would continue to have its own governmental system and to operate its own legal, economic and financial affairs.

Furthermore, Beijing promised Hong Kong citizens the freedom to elect their local government. Despite the promise, the citizens of Hong Kong were only allowed to vote for candidates selected by Beijing–hardly a true democratic freedom. The umbrella revolution of 2014 erupted because a. Beijing had broken that promise, and; b. It planned to introduce its “national education” curriculum–a less democratic, state-wide educational program emphasizing Confucian values like respecting authority.

In other words, students in Hong Kong would learn to consider phrases like “Question Authority” taboo.

In the final analysis, we Americans, even when angered by accusations being equated with due process or by Trump’s tweeting abject lies, might temper our outrage with appreciation.

With all of our flaws–and oh so many exist–we deserve to feel prideful of our country’s founders’ emphasis of, and insistence upon, our first amendment rights.

We enjoy among the best preserved and flourishing rights of free speech in the globe. Citizens of Venezuela, Turkey, Russia and other oppressive regimes fear discussing opinions openly; writing about them proves literally dangerous. Those governments have arrested hundreds of journalists, executing some of them.

You may hate some of the opinions expressed by your fellow citizens.

But at least we enjoy the right to express them.



(If you like this blog, please tell your friends, family, and pets to subscribe by opening up alankarbelnig.com, clicking on any blog, scrolling to the bottom, and signing up. Like any selfless writer, I always seek more readers. Thanks so much! – Alan)



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