In 1977, moviegoers rushed to theaters around the world to watch the first installment in George Lucas’ original Star Wars trilogy. Over the past four decades, the Star Wars universe has expanded further, to include over a dozen films and several animated and television series. The success of the Star Wars franchise stems from both its classic themes of good vs evil as well as its engaging roster of heroes and villains. The series highlights the herculean struggles of rebels and defenders of democracy fighting against evil authoritarian forces. One of the enduring themes of the franchise is how difficult it is to beat the forces of the evil Empire. As the title of the 1980 sequel states, we should be aware that the “Empire Strikes Back.”
For those committed to promoting democracy around the world in 2023, there is much to learn from watching Star Wars. A recent series in the franchise, “Andor,” focused on the genesis of the rebellion that would eventually defeat the empire. The titular hero of the series, Cassian Andor, gradually comes to embrace the rebellion as he experiences first-hand the cruelty of the Empire and sees the extent to which it will go to crush dissent. Not only are those who are fighting for democracy targeted by the Empire but so too are their family members who are harassed, detained, tortured and killed. Far from deterring the rebels, the cruelty of the regime serves only to galvanize their resolve and underscore for others the stakes for which they are fighting.
I’ve been thinking about Star Wars and its heroes as I reflect on the many democracy defenders around the world fighting against their own authoritarian regimes. These include human rights activists, journalists, and others in civil society who have the audacity to demand that their fundamental rights be respected. In some cases, these individuals are beyond the reach of their governments. In these cases, echoing the actions of the Empire, the authoritarians go to great lengths to pressure these human rights defenders by targeting their families, filing false criminal cases, and applying economic pressure against them. Unlike in the fictional Star Wars universe, the stakes for these human rights defenders are all too real.
Those of us at Right to Freedom https://www.rtof.org stand in solidarity with human rights defenders around the world. Our specific focus and expertise relate to human rights and democracy in Bangladesh and the broader South Asia region. We come from a variety of backgrounds, including the private sector, journalism, diplomacy and academia. We realize that our advocacy for human rights and democracy will make some uncomfortable and will at times make us a target for criticism. We believe in the importance of freedom of speech and open discussion and do not claim to have all the answers. At the same time, we will not be deterred by political smear campaigns and will continue to stand with those fighting for freedom. We invite you to follow us on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/rtoforg and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/rtoforg to learn more about our activities.