“Why should I care about his god, the lives, the destinies we choose when one unique destiny had chosen me, and along with me millions and millions of privileged others, who, like him, called themselves my brothers?”
Albert Camus in “The Stranger”
We are all born free and equal. Yet the moment the first oxygen particles enter our bodies and our shrill cries resonate throughout the birthing room, we lose this equality — that one “unique destiny” chooses us. One might call it luck, divine judgement or destiny, but that first moment undeniably and unchangeably defines our lives. It determines the color of our skin, the financial situation of our family, the living conditions in which we are going to either thrive or suffer. It decides which group we will (not) belong to in society and thus our treatment by others. After reading “The Stranger” numerous times, I started contesting this assumption of equality and the implicit notion of freedom that lay within.
The main character Meursault’s race, religious views, morals and upbringing separated him from the rest of his community. His “unique destiny” had casted him as an outsider long before he fired those fatal shots. His predetermined perception by society directly translated into the type of justice, or more accurately, injustice that would prevail in his trial. At the moment of his punishment, his detachment from his society was all that mattered, not the fact that all people are equal before law. His sentence was not for killing the Arab; instead, he was punished for being different and nonconforming. For he was not a part of the majority, he had to merely accept and obey whatever the society deemed just, even if it brought his execution.
Meursault’s story resonated with me because I have always been a minority at different levels. As a dual citizen, I am a member of the Turkish minority in Bulgaria. In Turkey, I am the daughter of an immigrant and oftentimes people directly deem my mother to be a Bulgarian or a half-Turk. Now I am an international student, and we comprise only 11 percent of the student body. Growing up, I always questioned my unique destiny, this sense of always feeling in between. I could not accept the utilitarian expectation that minorities should make sacrifices and conform for the greater good. I constantly asked myself, “Why is it always the minorities that have to give up some of their freedoms if we are all born equal?”
One part of me very well knew the answer to the riddle: It is utopian to think that each individual within a society could be made happy. For the sake of overall peace and unity, it made more sense to watch out for the best interest of the majority. But the other part of me would not give up so easily as this issue surfaced again and again in “The Stranger.”
Meursault had to make a sacrifice, in fact, had to face death penalty, in order to protect the order, the morals of the society in which he did not fit. Similarly, minority groups all around the world have to make sacrifices even in democracies, supposedly the most inclusive form of government. This is especially common in countries with electoral thresholds as minority groups cannot hold a seat in the government and thus have a very slim chance of having their needs addressed. This inevitably harms the legitimacy of the government, paving the way for marginalized groups to embrace acts of violence in response to their problems. Results of this are often catastrophic: terrorism, polarized society and even civil war.
One could argue that we need such sacrifices, especially electoral thresholds, to prevent extremist parties from gaining leverage in the parliament and thus to stop the erosion of civil liberties and democratic values. But can we even talk about liberty when my vote counts for nothing?
A person never chooses to be a minority; instead, this is determined by luck, divine judgement or destiny. Yet that same person usually ends up being the enemy, either physically punished like Meursault or forced to live under constant emotional and mental pressure. Leaders, elected to represent and uphold our democratic institutions, often become the source of this pressure as they target minority groups in their speeches, blaming those communities for depriving the majority of resources and destroying the economic wealth of the nation.
We are not all equal. Yet, Camus would argue that we are all privileged, since we are all given a chance to live — the most basic right. But is it still a right if the person is deported from the country because they are a minority? Is it still a right if the person has to face forced assimilation to fit into the community? Is it still a right if the person turns into a victim of genocide?
I believe that to live would be the most basic right if we were all born free. Freedom and equality are not interchangeable; in fact, freedom is the precondition of our desired state of equality and justice. A person is born free only when their unique destiny is a cherished part of their identity rather than a hindrance. We should all strive to realize this for the minority as much as we do for the majority. Only then we can truly say, “We are all born free and equal.”
SUDE YENILMEZ is a first year in Berkeley College. Her column runs every other Thursday. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.