I spent the weekend in Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown, Virginia, where the first settlers arrived from Europe 400 years ago. The tours, scenery, and bike trails were spectacular. On Easter morning I visited the Bruton Parish Church where most of Virginia's eight Presidents attended services. The highlight for me was not sitting in the pew occupied by George Washington or Thomas Jefferson, but climbing the stairs to the Slaves Gallery for the personal slaves of the Williamsburg elite. The day before I had learned that notices announcing runaway slaves often contained St. Paul's admonition that "Servants are to Obey their Masters".
I could not help making a comparison between four stages of Williamsburg history and that of Tunisia. Stage One, from 1611 until 1776, saw Virginia living under British rule. Stage Two, for almost the next hundred years, had Virginia experience independence and freedom - but only for its white population. More than half of Williamsburg during that time were slaves. Stage Three began with Abraham Lincoln's Proclamation of Emancipation, and the freedom of the slaves. It was only Stage Four, under leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, when blacks were legally integrated into all parts of society.
One might think this was a 400-year process, but in reality the changes came in short powerful spurts of energy. The years just before and during the Revolutionary War set the course for the next one hundred years, and the few short years surrounding the Civil War propelled events for the century to come. The Civil Rights Movement of the sixties, again a focal point of activity compressed into a few short years, set the pace for the next fifty years until the present time.
Tunisia has experienced not four, but three stages of recent history. First was living as a French Protectorate from 1881, second was independence under President Habib Bourguiba in 1956, and the third was the Jasmine Revolution of 2011. The question to be asked now is, Will there be a Fourth Stage? Will a Martin Luther King arise to lead Tunisians into true freedom, or will the country sink into a morass of Islamists and Power Hungry politicans?
I'm not optimistic about Tunisia's short term prospects. The last thing Muslims want to hear, but to me the most rudimentary truth, is that they have to make a choice between Muhammad and freedom. They simply can't have both.
The words "free" and "freedom" are mentioned dozens of times in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. The second chapter of Genesis, the Bible's first book, announces, "You are free to eat from any tree of the garden." (well, except one!) One of Jesus' primary messages was, "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."
How many times do you think "freedom" is mentioned in the Quran? The Arabic verb to be free is Hurr, to set something free is Tahrir, and freedom is Huriyah. The verb Hurr does not appear in the Quran a single time. Tahrir is mentioned a few times, but only in a legal sense - if a Muslim kills another Muslim, he must set free a Muslim slave in compensation (not a non-Muslim slave, mind you!). And the most important word of all - freedom? It is not found in the Quran a single time. There is a reason for that, you know.