A South American friend, let’s call him B, recently moved to the States and informs us that what he finds the most astounding about this country is its plethora of options. Having recently mastered English (in his own mind), B visited an American grocery store for the first time. At the checkout counter, the cashier asked the customary, “Paper or plastic?” “Cash,” B replied proudly. Embarassed on learning that he was being asked what kind of bag he wanted, B skulked away to dinner.
At dinner, B was asked how he wanted his steak done. “Why, cooked, of course,” B said with astonishment. “No, no, do you want it rare, medium rare, medium, medium well or well done?” Exasperated and amazed, B took the medium option.
So many picks. Options. Choices. The land of the free offers so much variety … take a little, leave a little. However, many forget that there is a vast difference between excess and freedom. What use is a gilded cage, especially one we build up around ourselves?
Of late, the United Arab Emirates is exploding with so much money they don’t know what to do with it. Forget the amazing Burj Al-Arab, get a load of
- * the Louvre opening a branch in Abu Dhabi,
- * the Palm Jumeirah, and
- * Halliburton moves global HQ from Houston to Dubai
The game is certainly afoot in the United Arab Emirates, it is “the place to be,” but at what cost? A 2003 Human Rights Watch report cites that 90% of the Emirates’ workers are migrant labor and are paid poorly to work in hazardous settings. Additionally, a State Department memo reports human rights abuses related to these workers, specifically those working as domestic help.
The first fifteen years of my life were spent in Kuwait, where I witnessed first-hand the treatment of highly-educated and dedicated foreign nationals at the nouveau-riche egos of their bosses. My ultra-competent mother, who singlehandedly ran her division and represented Kuwait at UN meetings, would never make top banana because she was a) a woman and b) an Indian woman. Yes, we lived and did extremely well in Kuwait, but would I want my parents to swallow that crap again, just to ensure good lives, educations and options for their children and respective families back in the Old Country? No. Will I ever live in a misogynist religious oligarchy again? No. Not for all the money in the world. There is lifestyle and then there is life.
And that’s the difference between freedom and excess. Freedom is equal rights for men, women and foreigners, the fair treatment and compensation of all labor, and political and religious freedom – it is choice, in the purest sense of the term. Excess is the product of that labor held up above all else. The hope of true freedom is what keeps me an American.