Our leaders must show moral courage in face of oppression

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Too often, in the face of global atrocities, oppression and the deprivation of basic human rights and liberties, those with the largest platforms – our elected officials, cultural icons and the leaders of our largest corporations – are woefully silent. 

From LeBron James, the NBA and Disney keeping quiet about Chinese human rights atrocities in order to keep that government’s censors from cutting into their bottom line to those elected to represent our nation placating tyrants in the name of appeasement and political considerations, it is in the darkness of this silence that evil is allowed to flourish. This is why we need moral courage in the face of oppression.

The personal cost involved in standing up for human rights and human dignity is enormous. We have both felt it. Enes has been blackballed from the NBA and has had to endure the imprisonment of his father in Turkey as a result of standing up for freedom. And Tina spent the early weeks of her pregnancy in Iraq following the ISIS invasion, at one point holding in her arms a grieving woman whose child was ripped from her hands and taken away by violent extremists.

And we are united and inspired every day by the knowledge that around the world there are many living under the darkness of oppression and tyranny who daily put their lives and well-being on the line to fight for their families to have the protections of liberty that we enjoy here in the United States.  

Tina Ramirez, president and executive director of Hardwired Global, meeting with Iraqi kids in Iraq.

Tina Ramirez, president and executive director of Hardwired Global, meeting with Iraqi kids in Iraq.
(Tina Ramirez)

CHINA IS AT WORK IN AFRICA WITH A DANGEROUS STRATEGY. US MUST ACT NOW TO COUNTER IT

Today, emboldened human rights fighters in the worst environments on Earth still believe the improbable is possible and that the obstacles they face can be overcome. We won’t let them fight alone.

We are all more similar than we are different, and these differences should be the starting points of discussion rather than the flashpoints for conflict.

It is astonishing and shameful that so much of the world is still bound by the chains of oppression in 2022. For individuals under authoritarian rule, the terror of prison or grave suffering is an all too real existence. These injustices are not hidden, they are plain for all of us to see. 

Ethnic Uyghur demonstrators take part in a protest against China, in Istanbul, Turkey, Oct. 1, 2021.

Ethnic Uyghur demonstrators take part in a protest against China, in Istanbul, Turkey, Oct. 1, 2021.
(Reuters/Dilara Senkaya)

From Uyghur Muslims in China who are imprisoned and forced into concentration camps to Christian schoolgirls murdered in public in Nigeria, all people of all faiths are entitled to the same rights, dignity and respect. 

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It is hardwired into each of us to believe in the inherent value and dignity of all people, and we are all hardwired to be free. As such, it is incumbent upon us to speak up for the victims of such ruthlessness and violence. 

As President Ronald Reagan famously said, “America is a shining city upon a hill whose beacon light guides freedom-loving people everywhere.” 

President Ronald Reagan famously said, "America is a shining city upon a hill whose beacon light guides freedom-loving people everywhere." (AP Photo)

President Ronald Reagan famously said, “America is a shining city upon a hill whose beacon light guides freedom-loving people everywhere.” (AP Photo)

This concept is at the heart of why Enes chose to become an American, why Tina founded her religious freedom nonprofit organization, and why we both have dedicated our lives to the cause of advancing human rights around the world. 

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If America is to continue to be that shining city, we must maintain that beacon light so that it is steady and stalwart. To do so requires risk and, most of all, moral courage.

We should expect those who are at the helm of our largest corporations, those who are in the spotlight of celebrity through sports and entertainment, and especially those who are elected to represent us as Americans to have the moral courage to stand opposed to tyrants and to stand in defense of the most vulnerable and oppressed. If those who are in the position to lead lack the courage to do so, then we simply need new leaders.

Tina Ramirez is the president of Hardwired Global, a human rights organization, and was the founding director of the bipartisan International Religious Freedom Caucus in Congress. 

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