Christmas will not bring cheer and hope to the never-ending despair in Somalia. Afraid of reprisal from jihadists, specifically those from local al-Qaeda affiliate Shebab, the religious affairs ministry of this mainly Muslim country has declared any Christmas and New Year celebrations that contradict Islam will be broken up by security forces. Although likely an inevitable decision for a failed-stated struggling to recover and cope with a crippling security situation, legally sanctioned religious persecution and a lack of free speech remind the Western world that cultural rights and personal freedoms should both be treasured and upheld for all.
Not only is the Somalia government unable to protect those expressing their minorities beliefs, fear pushes the very people, who are supposed to protect the rights of their citizens, to be the persecutors. At a time when the Islamic State threat, the Syrian Refugee Crisis, and a whole host of other issues are driving anti-Islamic sentiments and increased division in general, the mistreatment of Christians in Somalia should rally Westerners to protect fundamental civil liberties like freedom of religion and free speech. Where governments like Somalia cannot protect the rights of all their citizens, and many others will not, Westerners and Western governments must be the ones to protect civil liberties of all.
For Westerners, Christmas is a time for people to come together. Even though there are atheists who celebrate the cultural traditions of Christmas in the West, news from places like Somalia reminds Westerners that Christmas does not unify the world. The truth is that celebrations like Christmas, Hanukkah, Ramadan, Vesak, and Maha Shivaratri are celebrated to bring people of the same culture together, which inherently isolates those from outside of these cultures. As cultural rights must be respected and protected in order to secure the cultural identities of individuals, it is legitimate for people to practice religious traditions that happen to exclude others; however, welcoming others to take part in one’s cultural family has always been a major theme of Christianity as well as other religions. It is what makes these celebrations about inclusion instead of exclusion.
President Obama has offered his prayers to persecuted Christians throughout the world, yet he has not indulged in the highly divisive and alienating rhetoric seen from Right-wing political figures who fear the oppression of all Christians to the point they would suppress the religious rights of others. For many who place their Christian faith above their democratic ideals, free speech and religious freedom are noble pursuits, but ones that cannot exist in a society where the differences between Christians and non-Christian are far too great. Free speech and religious freedom cannot be save when people are too different. It is, however, this false choice that can blind faithful Christians and non-Christians alike to the necessity of free speech and religious freedom, which has protected their religious beliefs from political influence for centuries.
To be an all-inclusive society is to invite conflict. After all, differences become potential points of conflict when people interact. To thrive, an all-inclusive society must, therefore, confront potential flashpoints. Where Westerners tend to think in terms of a globalized and homogenized society, much of Asia, Africa, South America, and the Middle East belong to drastically different cultures. Views on civil liberties and human rights, for example, often conflict with the less liberal views of non-westerners. As such, policy conflicts inspired by cultural clashes, such as those over religion, morals, ethics, and other values, cannot be ignored. They must be confronted. From Somalia to the United States, the ability to worship freely with only exist if people stand up for the free speech and religious freedoms of all.
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