Slavery and Freedom

Avadim Hayinu, Ata V’nei Chorin. We were slaves. Now we are free.

These words ring true in every age. In ancient times, we gained freedom from slavery to Pharaoh. A century and a half ago, African American slaves were freed, a process whose social reverberations we can still feel. And today, as we look on, we see the people of the Middle East attempting from bring freedom from the oppressive rulers who have enslaved them for decades.

Our ancient ancestors had never heard of “Freedom of the Press” or “the Right of Free Speech.” They were unfamiliar with Freedom of Religion and they were unacquainted with the idea that a free people can and should criticize its leaders. But today, those ideas are precisely what we mean when we speak of “liberty and freedom.” They are precisely the rights that our soldiers protect and that our politicians tout. And they are the precisely notions for which the people of Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, and Syria are now fighting.

But the real test of freedom comes not when it arrives, but the next day. How a people stands up for liberty matters, but what they do with that liberty matters more. And that is the question that we are now waiting to see answered: Do these revolutions represent a new dawn for the Arab world? Will we, decades from now, know a Middle East that prizes human rights and pluralism? Or are we witnessing the transition from one form of slavery to another, from one oppression to another?

Avadim Hayinu, Ata V’nei Chorin. We were slaves. Now we are free.

We hope that the people of the Middle East, and all people, will soon be able to sing those words along with us. And that this remarkable time in which are living will signify the beginning of an era of freedom, peace, and understanding in a troubled area of the world.

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