Freedom: the quality or state of being free: as
A: the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action
B: liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, anyone who is not under the rule of a higher power is, per definition, free. What a brilliantly simplistic definition! How refreshing to see the concept of freedom watered down to a few short sentences! After all, dictionaries are the ultimate reference when it comes to language, aren’t they? People of all races, genders, ethnicities, sexualities have contributed to our near-holy dictionaries, which means that the complex, deeper meanings of every single word is reflected perfectly. Right?
Well, no. For centuries, dictionaries have been written exclusively through a white, European, cis, male gaze. The more one’s identity deviates from the writers’, the less one is able to relate to the language presented. A jarring example of racism is the deliberate absence of AAVE vocabulary and grammar in mainstream dictionaries. Therefore, linguists and dictionaries are neither impartial nor inclusive, no matter what your white English lit teacher might have said.
Back to the word ‘freedom’. Theoretically, in countries which abide by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, every person is entitled to fundamental freedoms and equal rights. Based on our definition of freedom, practically every person residing in the U.S. and Europe must be free. However, this hypothesis is based on a privileged person’s point of view. It does not take the plights of marginalized communities into account, nor does it acknowledge the sinister, cultural ways marginalized communities are forced to conform under a veil of freedom. The white, male, cishet contributor may well feel free, as he comes from a position of supreme privilege. However, the ramifications of enslavement, colonization and Eurocentrism are still felt today in communities of color around the globe.
As a Middle Eastern woman, I am daily reminded that my people and my region have never been, and will never be free from the ambitions of Western powers. Brutal force, invasion, economic embargos, Islamophobia, genocide and political upheaval are a few examples of how the West have sought to destabilize the region. Contrary to popular belief, the Middle East is not a war ridden, unstable region devoid of progress. However, centuries of Western interference has robbed the Middle East of its economic, political, military, social and religious freedoms.
Throughout history, the Middle East has been of the utmost important due to its geopolitical location. Spanning Asia Minor, the Caucasus, North Africa and the Persian Gulf, the region has been a crucial link for trade between Europe, China, India and Africa. Home to the earliest urban cities, rich soil, vast resources and trade routes, the Middle East captured the interest and greed of Europe early on. As a result, the region has been invaded, colonized, dehumanized and deprived of its resources and freedom for centuries.
Ah, but all of this is ancient history, I hear a few say. A quick glance at the Middle East’s past fifty years will prove that the opposite is true. We are still being abused by Western powers. We are still embroiled in foreign wars. Our lands are still occupied. Millions of us are forced to flee for our lives, only to be turned away by xenophobic governments responsible for the same instability ripping our communities apart. Our people living in the diaspora are subject to Islamophobic and anti-Semitic violence, racial profiling and outright hostility.
We are targeted in hate crimes and shot dead for our birthright in Chapel Hill. The same forces that have caused us grief and death decide how our conflicts should be resolved. Our image is not shaped by us, but by our oppressors. Our diversity is not acknowledged, we are all lumped into the same mythical, racist, monolithic fantasy culture that the West finds at once exotic and repulsive. We are arrested for science projects, we are taken off planes for speaking in our native tongue. The same people who think we all are Arabs and Muslims are the ones with the loudest voices. They are the presenters on Fox News, the European politicians who expel people for wearing the hijab and claim to be the ultimate human rights advocates.
So no, my people are not free, no matter what your dictionaries might say. We are not allowed to live freely, practice our religions, speak our languages, or decide our own fates. We, and our siblings of color, don’t fit your white definition of freedom. We are aware of the irony and hypocrisy of celebrating freedom in the U.S. on the fourth of July. We see how the myth of freedom is used against our communities to call us lazy, unaccomplished and subhuman. We regret to inform you that we will not attend your firework displays and barbeques, because we are too busy healing the wounds you have inflicted. But heal they will, for the strength and solidarity of People of Color are more powerful than any injustice you can inflict.