Dignity First

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By Nidal Sakr

“Hand me the cup of death but with dignity, and do not give me life in disgrace” is another famous Arabic saying we can all subscribe to. We always talk about human rights, civil rights, the rights to this and the rights to that, but often forget the one right that is most important of all.
Every human was born with one entitlement - that is freedom. From that basic right to freedom comes all other rights. From freedom you choose what to believe or think, what life and future to have, what contribution to make to your family and community, what to die for, and what to leave behind. We all own these rights, but we do not all enjoy the rights we are all entitled to.

Whenever you see injustice, you know that these rights are being taken away. Whenever you see oppression and corruption, you know that someone is taking something that is not theirs, and whenever you see misery, you must know that someone is taking more than what they are entitled to.

These are not things we normally like to think or talk about, particularly when things are going well for us. After all, why all the blues and why spoil the fun? But now things are not going well for us, and things have not been going well for much longer for many more people other than us.

You just cannot live at a time knowing that somebody else is living in despair thinking it is not your problem, and expect that your life will be just fine. Human race and communities are intrinsically connected and when you lose that connection to someone else’s suffering, no matter who that someone is, you are calling for a life of misery that is bound to come back to you at one point or another.

America is miserable today and the American people just cannot accept that. We must first before we judge our misery remember two things. There are millions out there who are born in misery, die in misery, and are only remembered in misery. We must also remember that we did have a hand in either making or having many of these millions miserable.

We voted for an “unusual” president to take us out of misery. But Obama did not bring us misery. We did. No matter how much of a super hero Obama may be or wants to be, there are forces of history, logic, and nature that are more powerful than any super president.

In all religions and ethics, when you sin you fall down a step on the scale of human integrity that you may never recover unless you recognize your failure first. Then you must do something to remedy that failure by repenting and trying to alleviate whatever damage your sin caused.

In relations between people it is no different. When I sit down and think what do we need to do as nation and how much do we need to do to be morally solvent and start clean, it just appalls me how enormous our task is. But we must never forget that we are now at a detrimental phase called “payback” with no emergency exits to escape.

The debt collector of humanity came knocking on the only door we have left with no locks to keep him away. The late notice is ages past due, and the collector this time either collects payment or confiscates our soul. The payment this time is not only monetary in terms of how much money we must give but also how much of our spirit we must pay back to debtors. Our debtors are totally nameless and faceless, but only to us, while everybody else knows all too well who and how many they are. Unlike all we are accustomed to know, our debtor this time is one we are not used to. Our debtor is not some greedy banker, corrupt politician, or our neighborhood bully.

Our debtor is someone just like you and I, born sometime, somewhere, to some parents, with just the same rights. We lived our life taking very much all that is ours, and some of what is not ours. We had our freedom, and a little bit of someone else’s. In the process we went about life enjoying pleasures, good life, and family. All the while that someone just never got his. But first and foremost that someone did not cry for all the toys we had and he never got to see. All he wanted was one thing. It is called freedom. It is called life with dignity.

Whenever you hear the word extremism, remember that no one is born as such. Some people turn into bullies and in the process some become victims. Some victims decide to fight back, and the cycle of violence, suffering, oppression and terror turns.

In a world where we interconnectively live, we are either bullies or victims. If you either contribute to or merely condone someone else’s suffering, no matter what your argument may be, then you are a bully.

When you put your head on that pillow tonight, remember that it is an invention many people have never seen. While at it, also remember that there are so many people who are too frightened to fall asleep fearing what may happen to them in their sleep, or too scared to relive the nightmares of their reality, and sadly we have been a part of much of that.

A miracle president may help us feel a little easier at times of despair, but getting out of our misery takes an entirely different kind of miracle.
The miracle we really need is to understand what being human really means and the responsibility that comes with it.