Riot police mass detain pro-democracy protesters during a rally in Causeway Bay district on May 27, 2020 in Hong Kong, China. Anthony Kwan/Getty Images

In Hong Kong, a Time for American Introspection

The pandemic is no excuse to allow human rights violations.

With the COVID-19 pandemic seizing our attention and taking hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens, Hong Kong is probably not on your mind. But it should be.

This week, China’s authoritarian government announced an illegal crackdown on civil liberties within Hong Kong. In an effort to squelch the remaining freedoms of Hong Kong’s residents, the Chinese have proposed this assault as a response to what they see as a dangerous threat to their rule by pro-democracy activists who staged a series of demonstrations last year. The demonstrations, in response to an additional encroachment on Hong Kong’s legal independence, were scaled back after weeks of massive and disruptive protests. But this most recent affront to human rights posed by the Chinese is an emblem of their toxic worldview when it comes to human rights. They are willing to disregard laws and international treaties, not to mention the basic principles of human rights, in order to stamp out any dissent. Now, you might say that this doesn’t matter to you because it is an event occurring in a far-off place that isn’t our business. The only problem with such a statement is that it is false, this is our problem.

The United States is founded not upon an ethnic or racial foundation, but a credal one. We were born as a nation dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. That most fundamental idea applies not just at home but everywhere in the world. If we believe that freedom of speech is a human right here, then we must acknowledge that it is a human right everywhere. If we believe freedom of assembly is a right here, then it must be a right everywhere. Where freedom and human rights are threatened, that is an affront to the very core of what it means to be American.

And so, yes, the vicious suppression of human rights in Hong Kong is our problem and we must do something about it. Imagine fearing for your life and for your family simply because you voiced your opinion. That is what is happening on a daily basis in Hong Kong. The Rev. Dr. King said that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere and this could not be more reticent than at this moment. It may not affect your daily life when citizens of Hong Kong are beaten and persecuted, but you are less free because of it. If America is to stand for anything in the world, it is that we are the true defenders of democracy and the free societies that inhabit the world. How can we stand idly by and watch a people clamoring to be free, like Americans were in 1776, or 1863? The Jewish people in particular should be swift to champion this cause, for not long ago we too were an oppressed group desperate for aid in our fight. It should remind us of the old adage, “First They Came.” The Jews, alongside every other people, have their freedom pegged to the freedom of those in Hong Kong.

If we have learned anything from this pandemic, it is that we can no longer live lives oblivious to what goes around in the larger world. From learning this the hard way, we should strive to take our first post-pandemic act as a mission to make our friends in Hong Kong and thus ourselves, a little freer than the day before. 

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Yoav Shames is a junior at The Ramaz School in Manhattan. He is a member of the Fresh Ink for Teens' Editorial Board.

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