Swimming To Self-Awareness Shore

Freedom versus Values
By Sarra Moneir
Freelance Writer- Vienna

Your freedom is what you choose to be!

It all started when in  2nd grade primary school in Berlin, sports lesson, swimming hall, both young girls and boys on one hand, and me found puzzled; a 7 years old girl with an existential crisis on the other!

My parents, being Muslims, would always tell me "we have our traditions, Sarra, and they have theirs! You should have your freedom to practice your traditions and religion no matter what people say!" I remember standing in the young girls dressing room with my swimming suit on, unable to go swim with my fellow student, yet still wanting to jump into that luke-warm water.

That was when the striking reality hit me: TO SWIM or NOT TO SWIM…. That was my existential question!!

The truth is, my parents thought that through their advice they would save me the headache of self-discovery. Fact is…. it only made my growing up years much more complicated. Why do we ALWAYS misunderstand freedom and abuse our value systems and morality?

So, I think we all should just decide to “swim” after all… but according to how we see fits with our norms and values; swim with a culturally specific values attitude and look on you!

What Is It All About?

People are found everywhere all over the world talking about "freedom" and "customs" and "traditions". For example, on different occasions like Christmas or Ramadan, you are expected to spend them with your family, go to the mosque or church to pray simply since that is the tradition or the value system that comes along with such festive seasons.

On the other hand you find others saying, well, I have the freedom to celebrate as I wish with whom I wish, why fast or pray or go to the Church if I can spend Christmas on the beach down in Sydney, Australia, for example, or on Christmas Island?

This example makes me think: Did you end up being in a situation where your friends tell you they are free to wear what  they want, where they want, and when they get a negative comment on their appearance they say "that was very unethical" or "don't these people have values?!"?

Or were you a tourist to a country that is known for its freedom of religions and cultures, you go and make friends, they invite you to come along for a drink at a pub and you say "No", since you simply do not drink and it is against your values, and suddenly they end up telling you "you should know you are free to do what you want and do not need to stick to some norms simply because others dictated them to you!"?

Well, I have… and it certainly made me question the rationale behind all this naming process of what is to be considered as a value and what is regarded as freedom? Why do we need to put values away to be "free"?  And if that is the case, doesn’t this mean that there is someone or something dictating that all that is based on values and tradition is not looked at as freedom, if not even anti-freedom? And if we agree on these two questions, don’t we live in a world where what norms and what concepts to believe in and how to practice them are dictated upon us in order to simply "fit in"? And if not, then what role do the media play in all of this?

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Who Are We?

The media itself is making it worse. I find it rather odd that, we spend almost all day long either listening to aggressive music, watching action and horror movies, glorify "western" concepts and norms, glorify the character of the criminal, sex, dancing and nudity, glorify the murderer and the rapist in the movies we watch or the TV series aired even in Ramadan (if we were to talk about Muslim communities). We end up calling this freedom of expression, and still wonder why our children  and teenagers are absorbing such scenes as "the new normal" or "acceptable" while we teach them the total opposite at home.

So why do societies permit such films and norms to enter homes through TV or the internet, and then wonder why the harassment level is increasing on the streets? Why is it that a veiled woman is looked at in an odd manner, calling the Islamic veil oppressive and backward, while the same veil is worn by an Italian Orthodox lady after the death of her husband and a Jewish woman in her daily life style (either a veil or a wig) and be looked at as "freedom of religious practice"?

What I want to get at is that the two concepts of "freedom" and what is part of "the value system or morality" have always been put in comparison with one another. This comparison created not only a misconception of what they are, but a misconception of who we are, what we want to achieve in life. How we want to live, how we view each other, in fact also why we live!

This thin line between over-exaggeration, and group-specific or culture/tradition-specific bias of what to generalize as "freedom" and what not to accept from the norms, if believed, I think leads to an identity crisis.

Today, you cannot deny the fact that the “universally agreed upon freedoms” are what the “west” agrees on being seen as freedom. Isn’t that enough for causing an identity crisis for the rest of the world, who do happen, by some miraculous chance, to not be westerners?

To wrap this up, I believe, that the advice my parents gave me when I was little makes much sense after all, and the moral of the story reads as follows: your freedom is what you choose to be!

It is through your own values, traditions and norms that YOU choose to follow, that you create your own version of what your freedom ought to be.

So, I think we all should just decide to “swim” after all… but according to how we see fits with our norms and values; swim with a culturally specific values attitude and look on you!

Related Links:
Freedom Comes First
Freedom of Expression from an Islamic Perspective
An Interview on Freedom & Citizenship in Islam
Sarra Moneir is an Assistant Lecturer of political science at the Future University in Egypt. Moneir is currently a PhD candidate at the Institute of International Development Studies at the University of Vienna and currently specialized in grassroot and mass political psychology studies.

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