I’ve been learning a lot lately. I’ve learnt a lot about the UN, Syria, WWII, The Cold War, Freedom, Equality, Democracy and so many other different things in this world that I feel like it has truly opened my eyes.
One thing I’ve learnt that has really hit home is in countries with totalitarian regimes and violent and oppressive leaders citizens; are not afforded the same luxuries as someone from a country with a peaceful democracy. I know this sounds straight forward and may seem quite obvious but have you ever thought about the fact that in Australia you can protest and no real harm will come to you? In Australia you can take to the streets, voice your concerns in a peaceful manner and the worst that could happen is being arrest and taken to the watch house. You won’t be shot on site or killed for standing up for your beliefs; not everyone gets this luxury, not everyone can take to the streets to peacefully protest without risking their lives. With this realisation, I thought it was important to voice it and show whoever will listen how fortunate we are, and how far the world still has to come
George Orwell wrote an entire piece on the effect of peaceful protest called Reflections on Gandhi which in short says that for peaceful/non-violent action to be effective one must presume compassion from the perpetrator, simply put there must be a certain level of freedom and a level of compassion. This is something that I have never considered.
All we have to do is reflect back to China in 1989 where thousands of people (mostly students) took to the streets in protest for the end of corruption, peaceful reform, economic reform and political reform. These protests saw thousands of people detained, imprisoned, tortured and executed. This peaceful protest turned violent and it is known as the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. These citizens expected their Government to listen to them, to do right by them and to change, however instead they were murdered, tortured, and imprisoned.
In more recent times we have the case of Syria. In 2011 many people took to the streets to Protest Bashar al-Assad’s presidency, the rate of unemployment and the high level of poverty. They were basically asking for more freedom and a higher level of dignity for themselves and all citizens of Syria. They wrote songs, danced in public squares, gave roses to soldiers, and peacefully protested for their beliefs. The Government and it’s forces retaliated by murdering activists, shooting protesters in the streets and ultimately starting this civil war. The protesters then took up arms and began defending themselves. This was roughly 7 years ago and this civil war has grown and become a conflict that is so complicated that I won’t go in to it any further (in this post at least). For more information about the Syrian conflict, here is an article by the BBC.
In both of these examples of China and Syria you have a leadership that lacks compassion. The al-Asad regime has been accused of using chemical weapons on their on citizens and China in 1989 was a heavily communist society with high levels of poverty and corruption. You can see how these societies lacked compassion and it is just shown further in their reactions to civilian protest. These citizens lacked the freedom to be able to use non- violent means, and their Governments failed them in not showing them the compassion to do so.
How is it that in the 21st century civilians cannot take to the streets to make themselves heard?
In Australia, people are awarded the luxury to protest for their beliefs. Marriage equality, refugees, pro-choice/pro-life, Adani are all topics in which people have tried to have their voices heard. People have taken to the streets in protest, they have had banners and marches – people didn’t die, no one was shot, people were able to go home and hold their families. These Australian’s had the privilege to speak up against their Government with no (or little) consequences, if nothing else I want everyone to realise how privileged they are, and how lucky they are to be even given the option for that.