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Leonardo Angiulo: A Pakistani Girl’s Experience Shows How Free We Really Are

Monday, October 15, 2012


Leonardo Angiulo, GoLocalWorcester Legal Expert

The last two months have provided the starkest contrast between our freedoms of religion and speech from those found in the rest of the world.  As we grow up we are told about the First Amendment in our middle school Government classes and we think we know it. You can probably tell me right now that you have the broad right to say what you want, when you want.  And, by the way, you can practice whatever religion in whatever way or opt out of the whole "God" thing if you feel like it. Sure, you've got an idea.

There is, however, a girl over in Pakistan named Malala Yousafzai that has a far clearer view of our freedoms than many of us do. This 14 year old chose to publish by blog, and thereby tell the world, about what was happening where she lived. One young woman, in the small Swat valley of Pakistan, was able to be bigger than herself by using words to illuminate the atrocity and oppression surrounding her.  

If you ever wondered why the First Amendment existed, do an internet search of this young woman's story. She isn't an adult by the standards of many cultures, yet she told truths that no one else would. She fought for herself, her community and the essential humanity of thousands subject to a fundamentalist agenda that prevented people from truly living their lives. And she did it without firearms; she did it with her words.

Now, lets take a look at what she spoke about. Essentially, the region she lived in is torn between Taliban and Pakistani rule resulting in attempted restrictions on the education of women and unyielding violence arising out of religious extremism. And she used the internet to tell the world what was happening. In an attempt to silence her, Taliban forces, described by some as a team of assassins, stopped her school bus, ordered her out by name, and delivered what they intended to be a fatal gunshot.

And here we see how our government, while admittedly imperfect, relies on core principles to afford its citizens unparallelled liberty.  For example, the education of all children, regardless of gender, is a notion we all subscribe to. Imagine, for a moment, if an authority controlled our neighborhoods that, by religious tenets, prevented equal education for boys and girls. This would clearly entangle the government and a particular religion.  

Thankfully, this cannot happen in our cities and towns because the First Amendment prevents such things. A corollary of the right to worship freely is the prohibition on our government becoming a vehicle for advancing a particular religion or religious purpose. So, the idea is that a young woman would never face the kind of social policies in Massachusetts that Ms. Yousafzai was exposed to in Pakistan.

It is situations like hers, however, that illuminate exactly what we have here. The right to free speech is more than an answer on a history quiz. It's the freedom of knowing that paramilitary forces will not show up at your door to take your computer and your life for what you posted on facebook last night.  Its knowing that we won't wake up to the reorganization of our communities into an ideologue's property. After all the campaign commercials and fundraisers, that’s what our country is all about: The freedom to live your life.  


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