During the warm heights of the summer holidays, my wife
sent me off to get some bags of ice to have at home.  As a rule, I don’t like large supermarkets –
rows and rows of seemingly similar items, all priced slightly differently,
packaged as attractively as possible, screaming out “buy me; not him”.  Give me Budgens any day.  But popping out for some ice seemed
relatively harmless, so off I went. To my great surprise, upon reaching the
main freezer, I was confronted with a choice of ice.  Three different brands; same size bags; same
price; just different brands and different packaging.  It is rather embarrassing to admit that I
stood there for a while wondering why, and what in fact was the difference
between them all, before making a decision on which to buy.  Choice comes in all shapes and sizes – at the
other end of a very large spectrum, who would be in David Cameron’s shoes at
the moment, trying to decide whether or not to bomb Iraq – on the one hand, how
can the World stand by and watch what is happening over there, which is a
direct attack on what the vast majority of us would hold as civilised
values.  On the other hand, recent
first-hand experience has shown that many innocent people will be killed, a
whole new wave of terrorists may well be created and it is hard to see
immediately where and how it all stops.  We
confront choice on an hourly basis – and it ranges from the trivial, and frankly
annoying, to the monumental and potentially overwhelming.

But the alternative to choice is, of course, no
choice.  I have a close Zimbabwean friend
who tells me of his family’s experiences in the time of President Mugabe’s
worst excesses, only about 10 years ago. 
At that time, to go to a supermarket was to be confronted by rows of
completely empty shelves.  Imagine the
terror.  What little food could be bought
cost quite literally wheelbarrows of cash in a country where inflation had run
riot and money had lost all value.  To
find food, one had to either barter and exchange with friends, or drive – on a
two day round trip – to neighbouring Zambia to stock up at their supermarkets
and of course, to get petrol.  Likewise,
what choice do the Iraqi people have at the moment?  What say does the shopkeeper have, the
librarian, the road sweeper?  They face
being bombed or being left to the mercy of Isil; and they do not even have the
right, or the power, to make that appalling choice. 

As a country, and as individuals, we are unspeakably
lucky.  We cannot choose everything we
do; but at least we have the right to choice in most things which matter.  We must respect that right, must respect each
other’s decisions, and must never take for granted the liberties which many
generations have toiled to achieve for us.

 

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