Shutting down the opposition: the next step of tyranny

A couple weeks ago, I pointed out a few stories that seemed to support my conjecture that free speech is the bedrock of a free society – that if you want to impose a tyrannical agenda on people, the first step should be to shut down their right of free speech. However, it’s not enough to simply trample the rights of individuals, you also have to shut down any dissenting political voices as well. The next step in establishing your iron-fisted rule must be to shut down any political opposition.

For evidence of this, we turn to Sri Lanka:

The main opposition Sri Lankan United National Party (UNP) has accused the authorities of undermining democracy by intimidating parliamentarians. It says that Mangala Samaraweera, the first foreign minister under Mahinda Rajapaksa’s presidency, has been unfairly questioned for hours by the police. Mr Samaraweera has admitted responsibility for printing a poster depicting the president as a dictator.

Sri Lanka has been a consistent feature on this blog since they granted wide additional powers to their president, as I see it as a perfect example of how a tyrannical state begins. First, a titularly-democratic nation invests power in a single person or political party. It shreds any checks and balances that allow the leader to be overthrown (by anything other than military force), or that places reasonable limits on the powers of the government. The next step is to use its newly-expanded power to shut down the rights of individuals to speak freely or hear ideas that are not state-sanctioned. And now, the government is literally jailing people for criticizing its actions. While sometimes hyperbole is uncouth in political discussion, I don’t think it’s unfair to call president Rajapaksa a dictator; I think in this case it’s a legitimate criticism. Legitimate or not, putting someone in jail for calling you dictatorial is… well… dictatorial.

And of course we can’t talk about the abuse of state power without bringing up China:

China has warned the Nobel Peace Prize committee not to award the prize to well-known dissident Liu Xiaobo. The Chinese foreign ministry said giving him the prize would be against Nobel principles. Mr Liu is serving a long prison sentence for calling for democracy and human rights in China… It would run contrary to the aims of its founder to promote peace between peoples, and to promote international friendship and disarmament, [a spokeswoman] added.

Did you catch the implicit threat there? Honouring someone who promotes democracy will endanger peace and disarmament… how? Well, obviously, by provoking the Chinese government into endangering peace and disarmament. The causal relationship here, however, does not start with Mr. Liu; it starts and ends with the Chinese. They could choose to ignore the results of a foreign private consortium. They could do what so many Americans did when president Obama won the peace prize last year – deride the selection criteria and committee. However, when you use the peace prize as justification for undermining world peace, you expose your willingness to shut down opposition in favour of your own agenda, rather than dealing with legitimate criticism.

Again, the source of this next story is as obvious as picking on the Chinese:

An Iranian court has banned two leading reformist parties, judiciary spokesman Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejeie has said. The Islamic Iran Participation Front and the Islamic Revolution Mujahideen Organisation were “dissolved”, he said. Both supported opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, the main challenger to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in last year’s disputed election. Members of both parties were jailed during the government’s efforts to stifle the mass protests that followed.

The Iranian regime, in doing this, completely undermines any credibility they have been trying to garner as a stable democratic nation in the eyes of the international community. It is a dictatorial theocracy that views dissent as treason. While I am constantly aware of the spin that news organizations use in their reporting of stories, the repeated actions of this government (indeed, all of these governments) are clear signs to me that their explanations and rationalization are thin and poorly-constructed lies.

So while I would very much like to see our current government ousted in favour of one that actually uses its brain, I would be among the first on the protest lines to defend them against any over-reaching attempt by a Liberal or NDP government to outlaw the Conservative party. A healthy opposition is vital to the existence of a stable democratic state, and any attempt to shut down such opposition is not only tyrannical, but a betrayal of the citizens of that state.

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  1. says

    I totally thought of you, Cromm (like a bratty child, now that I know this annoys you, I find morbid amusement in shortening your “name”), when I came across this today from a commenter at VFR:

    According to this post at Jihad Watch, the prosecutors are pressing the incitement charges. And they are alleging that truth is not a defense against those charges. (You will remember that we discussed that question once–whether in Holland the truth of one’s statements is a defense against the types of charges brought against Wilders.) Evidently their reasoning that truth is not a defense goes like this: The things Wilder has said are the kinds of things that can’t be known definitely to be true and hence remain only personal opinions. Since they are merely personal opinions, expressing them is not protected speech, even if Wilders believes them to be true.
    Pretty convoluted, huh? “Nobody can really know the truth on this subject, so we can control what you say about it.” In American laws like libel, it is (I understand) exactly the opposite: If some matter is considered merely a matter of opinion (e.g., “Michelle Obama wears ugly clothes”), someone cannot be sued for libel for saying it, because you have to argue among other things that the statement is false to bring the suit. In postmodern Europe, the claim that something is merely a matter of opinion is used as an argument for bringing charges against people who express the politically prohibited opinion.

    What do you make of this latest development in the Geert Wilders trial especially when it comes to free speech?

  2. says

    Interesting, Natassia. Thanks for the link.

    In order to make sure that I have a regular stream of content, I have set up a system in which I write my posts about 10 days in advance. This prevents me from getting caught by laziness if I miss a day here and there. As a (frustrating) result, I often can’t swiftly comment on news items. I have written about Geert Wilders, but that post hasn’t gone up yet (it’s going up on Tuesday). Basically, my position is that if you’re going to make a statement and then refuse to engage in dialogue, you’re an asshole. Even assholes deserve free speech, although I don’t like it. I am definitely not in favour of prosecuting hate speech though. Admonishments to violence yes, but hate speech no.

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