A few days ago, I came across the movie “Spartacus”, starring Kirk Douglas. In the latter half of the movie, Spartacus’ wife asks him, what he prayed for. Spartacus replied, “That my son be born a Free Man”. And, at the end of the movie, Spartacus crucified but alive; is shown his son and told, he has fathered a child, which is free.

I don’t think there is any parent who would not wish his/her child to be born free. But, as usual, these words set me pondering on what is freedom and, can it be attained. Or is this another ethereal pipe dream?

The online dictionary displays two meanings for freedom; I am merely reversing their order for my own ease. These are: a) “the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved”, and b) “the power to act, speak, and/or think as one wants”. The first defines freedom as the absence of a state of imprisonment or enslavement. However, the second then qualifies the first, the “free” individual must also be empowered to act, speak, and think as he/she wishes.

Can anyone think freely; without any shackles?

Soon after my wife Bia had our first child, we acquired a plaque which read, “There are two lasting bequests we can give our children: one is roots, the other wings”. We were quite proud of this plaque; which was a daily reminder of our parental duties. And I am sure I must have pompously dilated to many a friend of my wisdom in this regard; “roots and wings”.

To follow up, each of our children received another plaque at age ten with four quotes all on the subject of freedom of thought. The first was Bernard Shaw, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to make the world adapt to him. Progress, therefore, depends on the unreasonable man”.

I was especially proud of the last quote because it emphasized the fact that I was more fallible than most others. Basil H. Liddelhart, “The only thing more difficult than bringing a new idea to the military mind, is to take an old one out.

At twelve, each child received a copy of Rudyard Kipling’s epic poem, “If”. In their teens, all children were encouraged to read Bertrand Russel, Oscar Wilde, and others; as well as free-thinking Urdu poets like Iqbal and the freest, Ghalib.

To my wife’s annoyance, whenever any of our children sought my help in making a decision, whether major or minor one, I merely spelt out the pros and cons [as were visible to me] and left it to them to decide. All in the interest of “free-thinking”.

One day a decade or more ago, the plaque at the entrance disappeared and I sat pondering it again. Suddenly a thought occurred; one to which I had been blind for decades. Before “giving” my children wings, it adjured me to give them roots. Who am I to “give” anybody his/her freedom and, what are “roots” if not shackles in better sounding words?

What are roots? Not just the laws of the state but, also customs, traditions, norms. And the latter too, not merely national but also at sub-national, regional, tribal, even familial levels. Aren’t all these shackles to free thought? In the 11th Century, Lady Godiva is reputed to have protested her husband’s cruelty towards his own peasants by riding down Coventry Street in the nude. Is that freedom? Are we in this country free?

Far from it I fear. Even at the national level our laws are cruelly warped. All Prophets, including ours have been blasphemed during their lifetime and have been subjected to inhuman cruelty. I do not know of a single individual in history who was punished by our Prophet for blasphemy. Shirq, the usurpation of divine rights is a crime and?

We seem to have decided that a right that Allah has repeatedly claimed as uniquely his own, the right to decide who is a Muslim, will be better served by decision of parliament and, of course, that is not Shirq either.

An injunction by Allah on the protection of women from false accusations, in specific reference to the Holy Prophet’s wife having lost a necklace and being subjected to the power of rumor, Allah decrees, “Don’t trust false accusations about women unless four witnesses testify, against them” has been amazingly warped by our learned(?) scholars and legislature.

Far from protecting women, if a woman complains of having been raped, she is deemed to have confessed to (consensual?) sex but, if she wants her rapists punished, she must produce four witnesses. In effect, a ‘license to rape’ for men.

So where does the world stand on freedom? I fear freedom is as elusive a concept as justice for all times/places, past, present, and future. Pakistan? As close to the bottom rung as we can get. The US/India? Inching close to us, ever faster.

What about my children? They are undoubtedly freer than the vast majority of Pakistanis and less free in thought than some; but merely relatively so. Finally, is this good or bad? I fear I know not. Absolute freedom could result in anarchy but, since absolute freedom will never exist; we will never know whether it will result in anarchy or not.

“Deher mein aish-e-dawam aeen kee pabandee se hai,

Mouj ko azadiyan saaman-e-shewan ho gayeen”; Allama Iqbal.

Permanent peace reins by following laws

Otherwise, the storm that follows will bring grief.

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