- Monday, January 21, 2019

“Azadi 1” is the new license plate of my friend Tom Garrett, a former congressman from Virginia who has steadily become the voice of the voiceless.

Mr. Garrett recently traveled to Syria to highlight the plight of the Kurds, he’s heralded the hardship of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar and he has stood strong for Muhajirs suffering at the hands of an ineffective Pakistan.

Tom’s license plate reminds me of my family’s link to Azadi, which means freedom.

In 1970, my dad’s elder brother, Prithipal Singh Ahluwalia, was honored with the title of “Azad,” for he daringly gave speeches against the human rights abuses during “the Emergency’ in India. It was a controversial period in the history of independent India where civil liberties were curbed, the press was censored, political opponents incarcerated and elections suspended. He was imprisoned for 2 years, my father and cousins pleading for his release.

Even though I was very young at that time, I saw him as my hero and a source of inspiration along with Shaheed Bhagat Singh and Subhash Chandra Bose, leader of the Azad Hind Fauj (Free India Army), both were valiant freedom fighters of India’s Independence struggle against the British colonial rule. My love for history and liberty made me romanticize about those who fought for India’s freedom and other places in the world.

Azadi inspires us all. It empowers all Americans as free thinkers to seek their fundamental rights such as Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness. The Bill of Rights in the US Constitution has also perfected and secured the freedoms we all cherish today, and often take for granted.

Regardless of faith or which country we hail from, we all strongly support minority rights and religious freedom worldwide. The right to religious freedom is America’s First Amendment. It may surprise few, Presidents Trump’s foreign policy adheres to promoting American idealism and values around the world, as it is a positive force of good. It helps to develop strong, peaceful, and successful societies around the world. It is a movement which has taken center stage in his administration.

In July 2018, United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback hosted the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom at the State Department. Greg Mitchell, IRF Co-Chair has consistently put together roundtables and built coalitions to address various issues. There have been targeted efforts in support for Yazidi Christians and Kurds in Iraq and Syria, Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar and Uyghur Muslims, Buddhist and Christians in China.

Throughout the world, we are seeing a surge in deadly attacks on religious minorities. Oppressive regimes are violating individual rights and squashing the rule of law. Their leaders in the guise of democracy apply underhanded pressure tactics and threaten the freedom of the press. They unleash the government machinery in maintaining tighter control on social media and other news outlets. But they should be wary. We will not sit silently in the face of evil. We will isolate them internationally and hold them accountable for their atrocities.

My participation in South Asia issues has given me a front-row seat to the hardship of the region’s minorities, especially in Pakistan.

The recent tragic killing in Karachi of young bright Mohajir leader, Ali Raza Abidi, 46, in front of his home by two murderers on a motorbike is yet another example of persecution of Shia minorities. Murderous actions like these are aimed at dashing the hope of seeing a bright stable future of Karachi and Pakistan. He had been elected in 2013 to Pakistan’s National Assembly, which is equivalent of the House of Representatives. After receiving multiple death threats, Abidi pleaded with the authorities for security but was denied.

Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman accused of blasphemy, spent nearly 10 years in jail under a death sentence. The reversal of her conviction due to lack of evidence led to a series of threats to her and her community. The entire country was paralyzed by hardline Islamist groups. During the course of her trial, leaders were assassinated and judges intimidated by death threats.

I was recently approached by a business and political leadership group of an African nation who wanted representation in US. They were eager to enhance their political clout and grow trade relations with our nation. I realized their state had a checkered record on human rights abuse towards Christians and Muslims. In our dialogue, I conveyed that it is imperative to demonstrate respect towards the rule of law, basic human rights, religious tolerance and media freedom. These should be the corner stone of their trade practice along with other important factors in doing business with the USA.

It is not hard to be an ally to the United States, provided you believe in American values. The partnership between the United States and aspiring partners strengthens and benefits all, as it brings about a direct political and economic impact. These exchanges help in long term direct improvement and impact in the daily lives of the people. The self-reliance and pride is felt by the future generations, thus securing the advancement of our common interest and values.

Importantly, our nation does not impose its values on partners but identifies a mutually beneficial path to help our partners to mobilize their own resources to achieve growth and stability. We promote free market principles with fair and open trade while protecting the rights of intellectual property. We are an alternate choice for nations struggling under the influence of autocratic leaders or indebted to our rivals or in a hostage situation from bad loans and infrastructure and development projects. We promote free will and stand up against oppressive choking arrangements, which stifles nations’ economies and the local population. Having a strong stable partner like the United States ensures prosperity and stability of the economy and overcomes threats of fragility from all sides.

On January 16, 2019, we celebrated our nations long-standing commitment to freedom of conscience and the freedom to profess one’ own faith I strongly and proudly believe that our nation will always remain a beacon of hope and freedom for all. We will champion basic human values and stand up to rogues and bad actors. Our founding principles inspire and guide the new generation of Americans like me and many others. We will call out on those who do not respect their citizens, mercilessly see them burnt alive, allow rape and abuse of women, create orphans and break families forever.

Let not the passion of your faith get from your heart into your head, that one loses sight of basic humanity. The true faithful of God sees the beauty of all faiths, caste and color and accepts all with love. And then he is truly Azad!!!

Puneet Ahluwalia can be reached at nwsinc1@gmail.com.

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