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May 27 2010

Free Speech under attack… apparently EVERYWHERE

Every morning when I come in to work I scan the headlines in the CBC, local news and the BBC. The more interesting stories, or those that I think deserve my special attention, get thrown into a folder in my e-mail that I keep filed away for later. That’s why sometimes I’ll feature news stories that are separated by a few days or a few weeks. Oftentimes there’s nothing blog-worthy – stories about federal politics and African elections are interesting to me, but not really the purview of this forum.

Other days, the shit really hits the fan.

Seems like I’m always picking on China. There’s a reason for that – the Chinese government is a repeat offender when it comes to free speech. China is in its economic position because it has perfected economic and industrial techniques that were developed in the United States and Europe. Those techniques were only possible under a capitalist system that allowed free speech. It’s the height of hypocrisy to use those techniques to shut down the very principles that made the techniques possible – I am seeing flashes of Hugh Ross and other fundamentalists that rape the principles of science and logic to “prove” religion. China is using the internet, the biggest source of free speech in the history of the world, to shut down dissent. Part of me thinks that people who post comments online should be held accountable for the things they say, rather than being allowed to engage in the kind of hit-and-run tactics we see in forums all over the internet. However, that kind of accountability is not possible under an oppressive regime that makes it a criminal offense to criticize those in power.

Apparently there’s been a state of emergency in Egypt for the past 30 years, such that the emergency powers that allow the government to tap the phones of political opponents, crack down on free media and confiscate property have been on the books since then. Police are also allowed by law to beat protesters – good thing too, because as everyone knows, freedom rings with the sound of boots and truncheons on skulls. While the president has said he plans to remove the wire tapping, confiscation and media provisions, he still insists there’s a constant state of emergency, and that the laws are required “to battle terrorism”. Someone’s been paying attention to the United States – Patriot Act anyone?

How do you know when your government is corrupt? Surely one of the telltale signs must be when people are imprisoned for being critical of government policy and actions. Every night I pray that someone at Fox News spends an hour or two watching episodes of The Daily Show and realizes that it’s possible to keep your ludicrously-obvious bias while divesting yourself of obvious hypocrisy. Clearly, they never do, and feed the beast known as John Stewart’s sarcasm gland more and more each day. In a similar act of blind obliviousness, the Iranian government has sentenced a reporter to 13 years in prison and more than 70 lashes with a whip for reporting on the massive protests and accusations of fraud that surrounded the last federal election. They don’t even have to pretend to be a legitimate government at this point, it’s blatantly obvious that they’re corrupt.

Ever wonder how dictatorships get started? This is how – by giving an elected leader immunity from prosecution, abolishing term limits, and passing laws enshrining him as a figure above criticism. My prediction is that, like Egypt, a state of general emergency will be declared, the president will be granted “emergency powers” that place elections on hold indefinitely, and parliament will eventually be dissolved. It’s not rocket science… it’s barely political science. The paradox of power is that those who seek it the most vociferously are the ones you want to have it the least.

This all happened in one day.

I talk about free speech because it’s important for me. Democracy and enlightened government are built on free speech. The same rights that prevent a government from declaring it illegal for women to own property or for black people to vote have their foundations on principles of free speech and equality of personhood. When those rights are chipped away, we end up with situations like the ones I described above. It is of the utmost importance that we fight for the right to speak freely, to criticize those in power, and to have open, accountable government. I’m much happier living in a society where I can say what I want, even if it means living in a country where morons and racists are afforded the same privilege.

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