In Stephen Daldry's recent film The Reader, based on Bernhard Schlink's German novel Der Vorleser, Professor Rohl of Heidelberg University School of Law instructs his students: "Societies think they operate by something called morality, but they don't. They operate on something called law....The question was never asked, 'Was it wrong?' (meaning morally wrong), but 'Was it legal?' - And not by our laws. No. By the laws of the time. The law is narrow." Add to Professor Rohl's view Mahatma Gandhi's statement in response to the British viceroy's observation that there would be innumerable problems if Britain granted independence to India. Gandhi replied: "Yes, there would be difficult problems to overcome - but they would be our problems, not yours. And we will be ourselves responsible for solving these problems, not you. And we prefer it that way." My attempt here is to focus on two fundamentals in nation-building. One: that what Gandhi said is (and should be) the mindset and the hallmark of independent, self-reliant, dignified and sovereign nations and their leaderships. Two: Professor Rohl considers the development of a society based on a legal framework as flawed - it is so because, as he says, "law is narrow," law is time-bound, law can be irrelevant in the context of current societal norms, and the wider implication is that law can be oppressive (as we have known, for example, in the history of race-relations in South Africa or the US, during the colonial period throughout the world and laws enacted under dictatorships) and above all, a legal framework is not necessarily based on morality or humanitarian ethics. In my personal judgment, a civilised nation lends its development to sociological advancement, cultural heritage, traditional values and conventions, voluntary acceptance and tolerance of diversity (both in personal attitudes and in community diversification) and on the moral dimensions of humanitarian well-being. There is a need to de-emphasise "narrow law" over moral imperatives and the larger sociological advancement of a nation's consciousness. For instance, let us consider the global push (largely pressured by US-West's political spin-doctors) for laws to ban smoking in public areas worldwide. Irrespective of its covert political dimensions (to be mentioned later) the larger questions that beg attention are of a common sense nature: Perhaps smoking kills, but much greater issues are pollution from vehicle emissions and from industrial production and unregulated manufacturing that cause enormous damage to collective public health - not to mention the environmental disaster of global warming. How about US-Western economic sanctions and continuous military invasions that destroy cities, do irreparable environmental and infra-structural damage to human habitat - and kill people in millions? The question is: When the entire world is in such disarray and multiple forces of problematic industrialisation and militarisation are at work against human existence and its welfare, then why is the "smoking ban" the top priority of the contemporary world, with its leaders calling for instituting laws for this prohibition? If cigarette smoking is, indeed, such a danger to humankind, then a simple solution is to completely ban its manufacturing But that will not happen. This course of action would cut down the profit-making of the large multi-national corporations and the capitalist West would not allow that to happen. Imagine the staggering amount of money made worldwide in profits and advertisement revenues by cigarette manufacturing companies. Six American companies spend more than $4 billion on advertising alone annually. The profits of the tobacco industry are massive, indeed. The "Health Warning" on cigarette packets and other tobacco products is enough and should suffice. People should be allowed the freedom of how they wish to conduct themselves in their private lives and for their choices in personal health. Compared to the devastations wreaked by poverty, toxic pollution or lethal military bombardments on humanity, public smoking holds nowhere near the importance that has been accorded to it. (Nearly 5.8 million CHILDREN die each year due to hunger-related causes; the WHO estimated that in 2003 1.6 million people died from the lack of access to safe water and basic sanitation and that 4.6 million people die each year from causes directly attributable to air pollution; over 2 million people have been killed in the on-going Iraq and Afghanistan wars.) Then the question is: Why are governments in many countries making "public smoking" such a major health and legal issue? The answer is the following: a global smoking ban is a diversionary strategic tactic to divert public attention from major issues of our times (such as war, poverty, economic imbalance, healthcare and schooling for all, massive unemployment, etc. and the failure of the capitalistic ideology) and bring manipulative politics to the doorsteps of common people (The government cares so much for your personal health). In addition, there are two other political dimensions: First, the US-West is exerting pressure on leaderships of all nations to follow their dictates, even in domestic policies. The "smoking issue" is a micro-level issue with macro dimensions; it touches nearly everyone's life. What else could be so effective in creating a positive and caring image of the West? At the same time, political leaderships in the Third World are becoming ambitious in terms of extending their legal-political power over the personal lives of its citizens - It is an excuse for greater control over the masses and hence a corresponding increase in the state's institutional legal power (and in the governing elite's power), and thus it gives a government the right of legal intervention in the lives and liberties of individual citizens. This must be stopped Some are already confronting it. Last year on July 30th, Germany's top court ruled that a ban on smoking in public places was unconstitutional. The "smoking ban" law was poorly received by the German people and they publicly expressed disapproval of this prohibition. A majority of German citizens said that on a continuum of sociological advancement, it was unfair to deny their fellow citizens the right to smoke when and where they wished to do so. They also said that tolerance of a personal habit was more important than laws interfering with individual choices. Iraqis are fuming in anger over a proposed law banning smoking in public areas. They are resentful of Al-Maliki's government and see the proposed "smoking ban" law as pleasing the mostly Western investors. "We have no electricity, no jobs, people still get killed...We all have to deal with anger issues here. That's the reason people smoke here, to run away from that," said one Iraqi citizen. And yet, the Iraqi government wishes to enact a law "to woo foreign investors" in defiance of popular public resentment. Let us randomly pick August 23rd as "Smoker's Day." If you care for personal liberties and wish to confront the arbitrary growing powers of the ruling elites in your country, whether you are a smoker or not, you should light up a cigarette on August 23rd at 12 noon. Say "No" to the proposed Iraqi law on a ban on smoking Say "No" to wooing foreign governments and their investors against the wishes of their citizens Say "No" to foreign interventions in our domestic affairs Say "No" to the ruling elite's interference in our personal freedoms and choices Professor Rohl was right. The law is narrow. Mahatma Gandhi was wise to instruct: dignified nations resolve problems themselves. I am not a smoker, but I will smoke a cigarette on August 23rd at noon. You should, too The writer is a professor, political analyst and conflict resolution expert. E-mail: hl_mehdi@hotmail.com