What is ‘Lawful’?

Right now I am contemplating the word ‘adventure’. A couple of dictionary meanings I am drawn to are:

“an exciting or very unusual experience.”   “a wild and exciting undertaking (not necessarily lawful)”

The second definition is leading me into a particular train of thought…. how do we evaluate what is ‘lawful’, what is

‘conformable to or allowed by law ‘?

Post Modernism tells us everything is relative and thus a matter of personal opinion, when one boils the philosophy down to its essence. As I am not a post modernist and believe in a code of behaviour which is bed-rocked on a definite and unchanging set of precepts,  it is important for me to work out in my own life what is ‘lawful’.

Most people would agree that to abide by the laws of one’s land is good and right – and lawful.

Most people would agree that human trafficking and pedophilia are not good, not right- and not lawful.

And so the question fermenting in my mind is – what is my personal response to a situation, where the laws of a particular country at best turn a ‘blind eye on’, and at worst, allow and even condone, such horrors as human trafficking and pedophilia to thrive?

Is there a ‘higher law’ that my conscience and my actions will be accountable to?

Is it right or wrong for people to rescue young children out of prostitution when these children have been ‘legitimately’ sold and bought. Are these people, by doing so, defrauding, even stealing from the individuals who ‘bought’ the children and exploit them in a country where it is ‘the done thing’?

And what about countries whose governments are in power without the consent of the ruling majority?

Governments who terrorise, torture, imprison and take away the basic liberties of freedom such as access to food and water, health care and education?

Is it lawful or unlawful for someone like me to desire to help, speak out for, the citizens who suffer unimaginably under such merciless rulers?

Is it unlawful for me to speak on behalf of and attempt to help refugees who have crossed international borders and are surviving ‘illegally’ in a country that doesn’t want them, and in fact, hunts  them like criminals.

And even more confronting is the question – is it lawful for ME to cross international borders to help the oppressed and the suffering, perhaps even  illegally, in order to live out a higher law which demands my allegiance?

On my second trip to Malaysia, alone, I found myself sitting next to a businessman who, for the greater part of the flight from Hong Kong, watched various bits of entertainment on the little screen in front of him, whilst I sat and contemplated what the next week was going to bring.

However  in the last hour of our journey, he suddenly removed his earphones, turned to me, and said something like, “So is this your first trip to Malaysia?’

This rather cliched opening led into a discussion that I will never forget and which I want to share the gist of now.

When this man proceeded to ask me why I was visiting Malaysia, I automatically thought, ‘ I can tell him I’m visiting friends – which is true, but certainly not the whole story. ‘ And then I realised that  I WANTED to tell him, I wanted him to know.

“I’m visiting refugees from Burma and taking them some stuff that they need”.

If  you ever want a conversation stopper, then that’s a great line to throw at someone.

He literally stared at me. “But that’s illegal. You can’t do that. They’re illegal immigrants and the Malaysian govt. has just now stepped up its campaign to get rid of all these people who are coming in. The police and civilian vigilante groups are ruthless – and don’t think you’ll be protected if you’re found with these refugees because you are a white woman. You’ll be arrested. Don’t do it!”

I must confess I actually enjoy interactions like this – not because I am necessarily argumentative, but because it gives me the wonderful opportunity to tell people about not only refugees generally, but those in Malaysia in particular.

As we talked, his little TV screen now folded away and his full attention directed to this crazy female whom he had the misfortune to be sat next to, I explained who these refugees were and why they found themselves in Burma. I described the 100 or so men and young boys whom I had met on my first trip, who were living in the jungle in makeshift huts, hunting for food, isolated, living in fear of being found by the authorities.

The businessman listened.

I told him about the young widows and elderly grandmothers whose husbands had died in Burma, and who were surviving in rundown tenement apartments, unable to work, with no access to school for their children and no means of medical care when needed.

And then I described how these gentle, humble people were hunted by vigilante groups who were paid a ‘bounty’ for each refugee they caught. I told him about women who were sexually harassed because they had no ‘legal’ status; about men who were beaten in the jails; about men and women and children who were caught and sent into detention camps, or worse, deported to the Thai border.

I mentioned that these refugees could  not return to Burma, although that was their hearts’ desire. I told this man that a slow genocide had been happening in Burma for nearly 60 years.

When this businessman asked me what I was taking these refugees I said,  ‘clothes, medicine donated by a Hong Kong doctor, and money given by friends’.

As the plane made its descent in to Kuala Lumpur we fell silent. There was a quiet  satisfaction in me that I had ‘spoken out’ to a total stranger about an issue I’m passionate about.  It didn’t matter to me what he thought of me, and at least he had listened – intently.

As the plane secured itself to the offloading terminal and people began jumping out of their seats and opening overhead lockers, this businessman turned to me and held out his hand. Looking me directly in the eyes he said quietly, “Thank you for sharing all this with me, I had no idea…”

And then – “You’re doing the right thing and I wish you every success.”

Funnily, it had not been my intention at all to ‘convince’ him that what I was doing was ok. My aim had been to inform, to enlighten a man who made frequent trips to this country – and knew it well. EXCEPT for what was going on with the ‘illegal immigrants’.

What is ‘Lawful?’ I recall a certain group of very religious people asked a certain Jewish carpenter that question more than once.

Is it lawful to do good? To help another human being who because of circumstances is help – less!

We all answer that question in one way or another – and if we agree that,yes, it IS lawful to do good then perhaps we need to examine our own response.

You see, passively agreeing and doing nothing is as good as saying ‘No’.

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