By Kathryn Huth
This past July, I heard from a speaker whose jarring perspective radically rocked my own. In late July, at the J.W. Marriott in D.C., the Young America’s Foundation hosted its National Conservative Student Conference. At the conference, students benefitted by hearing from national conservative leaders speaking on topics such as Marxism, Socialism, abortion, national security, our constitutional heritage, political philosophy, history, and current affairs. On one day of the conference, we got to hear from speaker Enes Kanter Freedom, a human rights advocate and former NBA player. In his speech he spoke about his worldview growing up in Turkey and how it slowly changed as he started playing basketball in the United States.
Early in life, Freedom was a part of a community which universally hated specific religions like Judaism and Christianity and was influenced strongly by an environment where government narratives were adopted, espoused, and never questioned for fear of political backlash. After coming to the United States, he slowly began questioning his past assumptions and became aware of the reality of civil liberties. This caused him to start speaking publicly against government oppression in places like Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Tibet in order to renounce the oppression he himself experienced in Turkey. Once he saw the flaws in his former worldview, Freedom began turning towards an appreciative perspective of the West: one that loved the liberty he first experienced in the U.S. so much that he made “Freedom” his last name.
After hearing his speech, I was shocked at the far distance Freedom had travelled to go from his initial worldview to his present one. It seemed an impossibly dramatic separation because I had no way to relate to the original perspective at all- the perspective created by a lack of liberty in countries outside the United States. After hearing about Freedom’s activism in denouncing political persecution, I began researching government oppression in other countries. I had heard that Malaysia legalized political favoritism of the Malay race over non-Malay races and the country regularly unjustly imprisoned its citizens for voicing criticisms of the government and the state religion. This caused me to focus in on the country of Malaysia and soon I discovered vast human rights violations enacted by the Malaysian government.
In the Malaysian Constitution, Article 10 contains the right to freedom of speech, however, in the following sections of Article 10 (in 2,3 and 4) there are granted numerous permissions to restrict this freedom of speech. Qualifications to the right to freedom of speech include the prioritization of security, public order, morality, foreign relations, the security of Parliament and the Legislative Assembly as well as protection from contempt of court, defamation, or incitement to any offense (Federal Legislation). Since so many vague qualifications have been legally reserved for the Malaysian government, legislators have effectively gutted the law of its ever being actualized. Although the qualifications appear to be meant for limited use, specifically for periods of national security, the government disingenuously use them, a prominent example being the country’s claim of being in a permanent state of emergency which first commenced in the middle of the 20th century.
It is evident that the principle of freedom of speech is void in Malaysia, especially considering the country’s history of silencing government dissenters. In 2022, Amnesty International published a report which documented numerous events demonstrating Malaysia’s gross violations of civil liberties and human rights. During the period between 2020 and 2022, the government conducted 692 investigations into violations of the Communications and Multimedia Act, a repressive law restricting freedom of speech, which culminated in 87 prosecutions of artists, performers, comedians, and political activists. In the period following, more arrests were made under the authority of the Communications and Multimedia Act, the Sedition Act, the Printing Presses and Publications Act and the Film Censorship Act to tamp down unwelcome forms of freedom of expression. As well as quashing freedom of expression, the government also worked to prevent freedom of assembly. During the year the government arrested the organizers of a peaceful protest conducted by lawyers who sought the release from federal interference in the judiciary. While the evidence at hand already condemns the governing system in Malaysia, this overview of the report doesn’t even fully examine the entire extent of the government’s assault on civil liberties and human rights documented in 2022.
All this information served as a violent reminder that my life had been supremely privileged since I had no framework to understand a life in which I might not be able to criticize the government, not post my sincere convictions on social media or suffer legal injustice because of my race. Conceptualizing what government oppression must be like is impossible for me because of how much freedom I enjoy and take for granted every day. The American civil liberties that blanket the nation are such that we cannot but acknowledge our privileges; we enjoy diversity of thought through freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press and equal protection under the law. Although not every civil liberty has been practiced perfectly in the United States, we are nevertheless lavished with freedom that most of the world today and throughout history has been denied.
This brief examination attests to the truth of the Unites States’ uniqueness on the world stage. We do not have repressive laws that suppress our inherent right to freedom of expression. Critiques of the government and political figures are not punishable offenses, freedom of assembly is not infringed upon by the government, and arbitrary racial preferences aren’t legalized in our nation’s constitution. As the modern man takes these liberties for granted, as we all do, it becomes increasingly vital to remind society that such advantages are indeed exceptional and never promised- they must diligently be defended and practiced in order to preserve the state of our nation.