Staring at the Ground: Reflections on the French Law

Saturated with all the impressions I had gathered during my study trip, including a visit to the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Lille, I walked outside. While I wanted to take a photo of the museum, I was approached by a young man. He pointed to the ground where it said: “Tous les êtres humains naissent libres et égaux en dignité et en droits.” (All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights). The young man asked how it was possible for the Netherlands to elect a nationalist to the government who opposed the constitution and democratic values. He was concerned because France seemed to be following the same path. I replied that this was driven by gut feelings and private interests. He emphasized that people have a duty to take an interest in matters beyond personal interests.

Meanwhile, it was dinner time and some of the travel group stayed at the hotel to dine, where I joined the former brigadier general of the marines, a BB commander of the Dutch Antilles Marine, and his wife. I told him that my father had also been a marine, but had served as a conscript marine and had participated in police actions. Despite his loyalty to the Dutch state, he was labeled a war criminal.

I asked the general, who had trained, among others, our King Willem-Alexander, for his view on the French constitution. He believed that everyone, including women, should serve a year of military service or community service, which would promote both emancipation and gender neutrality.

My own reflections as I grow older lead me to realize that freedom and equality are not automatic. It requires ongoing effort to acknowledge the differences between people and genders and to use them constructively for the benefit of a just society. Let us continue to strive for a world where all people, regardless of their origins, are free and equal in dignity and rights.


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