Archive for the ‘Free Speech’ category

Where Are the Animaniacs When You Need ‘Em?

June 11, 2007

A new report suggests web censorship by governments around the world is on the rise. Certainly I myself couldn’t hop on Wikipedia when I was in China, which was a real bitch when it came to settling bar disputes. Troubling as the report’s findings are I can’t help but feel that the rise in internet repression must be tied to a greater rise in internet use by people who until recently had no way to reach the world or organize and opine so easily. The picture of internet freedom is not static. How much longer can tyrants keep the screws on such a dynamic form of expression?

Update: An interesting and rare case of Yahoo! speaking out against Chinese internet repression. Only one problem: it involves a case in which Yahoo! enabled that repression.

Further update: the lovely image I got off the internet has been whisked away to be replaced by this ruddy great copyright symbol. I’ve been censored!

Oh well, fuck it:


A Pen Dipped in Blood

February 2, 2007

Over at the SignandSight Web site (an invaluable resource for translated essays from the world of European magazines) there is a damning essay by Najem Wali, an Iraqi writer now living in Berlin. Using as a peg the annual gathering of the Arab Writers Union in Cairo last month, Wali unleashes a measured but scorching indictment of the Union’s rank moral bankruptcy.

At the meeting last month there were representatives from all Arab countries in attendance. Correction: all nations except Iraq, which was not invited (as it had not been invited to Damascus in 2004 and Algiers in 2005). The reason for this snub was that the Iraqis are suspected of maintaining relations “with the Zionist enemy.” That formulation, mind you, is a quote from the head of the Egyptian Writers Union. Egypt, nominally an ally of Israel (or, at least, nominally not an enemy).

Of course, when Iraq was firmly under the jackboot of Tikriti terror the Union was more than happy to welcome Iraqi representatives. Wali describes the Iraqi Union of the these days as follows:

For 35 years, during the rule of the Baath party, the union of Iraqi writers was formally and organisationally bound to the so-called “Special office,” which was directly responsible to the ruling party. This meant that the entire union had to follow the ideological and political line of Saddam Hussein’s so-called “National information office.” At the time, it was under the directorship of Tariq Aziz, who was directly and personally subject to Saddam Hussein. The election procedure in the writer’s union was strictly regulated. To qualify for the office of the president, one had to fulfil very specific requirements: the candidate had to demonstrate “intellectual immaculateness” and “pure Arabic origin.” And he had to conduct his work together with the “People’s militia” and “Saddam’s Fedayeen.”

Ahh…but these dealings are just a piece of a far more appalling whole. One could make a long list of intellectuals who have been incarcerated in various Arab countries – and Wali does: the poet Ali al-Damini and several colleagues languishing in a Saudi Arabian jail. In Syria, countless intellectuals are vegetating in the jails of the Baath dictatorship. The poet Faradsch Birqadar was put away fifteen years ago (a book about his time in jail appeared recently in Beirut). The Syrian thinkers Michel Kilo and Arif Dalila have spent the last year in jail. “In none of these cases did the Arab writers union publish a single statement demanding the release of these men,” Wali writes.

It turns out that there may be another reason for the anger directed at the post-Saddam Iraq: financial. Saddam was a great patron of their sycophantic prose. In return, no other Arab land received such high praise as Baathist Iraq.

Hundreds of intellectuals and artists were guests of Saddam Hussein’s men and travelled from one festival to the next. The Marbad Poetry Festival and the Abu Tamam Poetry festival were annual events. The state-run Babel Festival took place on the occasion of Saddam Hussein’s birthday; Arab ensembles performed side to side with famous European theatre troupes (the Ruhr ensemble among others).

The Iraqi government bribed so generously that dozens of novels and poems sang praises of the heroism of the Iraqi warriors and swore the fall of the “Zionist” and “Persian” enemies. The Egyptian “avant guard” director Tawfiq Saleh directed the film “Long Days,” which tells the story of the “combative” life of Saddam (the hero of the film was Saddam’s son-in-law, who was later killed by Uday). His Egyptian colleague Salah Abu Saif published “Al-Qadissijja,” which propagated racist ideology and praised the war against the “Persian spy.” Mahmoud Darwish (pictured above), the famous Palestinian poet, called the Iraqi Minister of Information (Propaganda) the “Minister of Poets.” More: he praised “feminine Baghdad” because he only saw beautiful women in its streets – their husbands were on the front lines of the war against Iran, fighting for the “lime moon.” Commissioned by the Iraqi Defense Ministry, the Egyptian novelist Gamal al-Ghitani wrote the book “The Guards of the East Front,” in praise of the murder of the Kurds in northern Iraq.

In the forthcoming issue of The Nation you will find an essay on Palestinian poetry titled “Lines of Resistance.” It is very much the sort of Third Worldist fare we have come to expect from the House of Shatz. Naturally, Mahmoud Darwish figures prominently in the piece. He is celebrated as a figure of resistance. There is truth to this characterization, but there is also much cowardice in his legacy.

(Hat Tip: Norm Geras)

C’est Treize Sérieux

November 9, 2006

Our legions (French foreign legions?) of francophone readers will recognize the above title as a jolly clever pun on Reporters Sans Frontieres’ “liste des 13 ennemis d’Internet” – “list of 13 enemies of the internet.” The fine froggy press freedom advocacy org is running a campaign for internet freedom in which they identify the “black holes” on the world wide web (that’s what “trous noirs” means), comprising the aforementioned 13 “ennemis”:

Saudi Arabia




North Korea









In keeping with the rather puzzling French habit of refusing to recognize English as the new lingua franca, the campaign seems to be entirely in French, unless I’m so stupide that I couldn’t find the English version. If you go to the campaign’s website you can click on one of the black holes to “roll back” censorship, registering a “vote” by doing so. What this vote means precisely is a little unclear but I think it’s a kind of “whole world is watching” (or clicking) idea. You can also record a message for Yahoo! founder Jerry Yang telling him what a bad man he is for caving to Chinese internet restrictions. The cheeky beggars at RSF even projected their map of black holes onto several Parisian monuments during the night, including the French headquarters of Yahoo!. They will be meeting with Yahoo! executives next week to hand them the condemnations recorded during their “cyber-demo.”

Nearly 25,000 people have gone to the map and registered their protest against internet repression. We at small-d suggest you do the same. After all no-one in Burma or Saudi Arabia, or anywhere in the world for that matter, should be denied the right to access this.

Haw Haw Haw!

Bloodied Are The Peacemakers

October 25, 2006

I’ve been remiss in getting this up:

Bangladeshi journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is on trial for his life on a preposterous charge of spying for Israel. His great act of espionage: advocating peace and Muslim reconciliation with Christians, Jews and Israel. In November of 2003, he was arrested when he attempted to travel to Israel after accepting an invitation from the Hebrew Writers’ Association. A strident opponent of Islamic radicalism and intolerance, Choudhurry was blindfolded, beaten and left to rot in solitary confinement for 16 months for his trouble, only to be released on bail after international outcry more or less into the hands of an Islamist mob and savagely beaten once again. After complaining to the police, he was arrested once more.  International PEN is campaigning for his release and protection, asking that people write letters to Bangladeshi and US officials on his behalf. Jeff Weintraub has more.

My Two Shekels

October 11, 2006

I feel compelled to add my own pontificating to this Tony Judt foofaraw (actually, I’d say it qualifies as an arglebargle), though I do of course concur with my partner-in-thought-crime’s comments on the matter. First, it seems obvious to me that, while their being a little coy about it, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee applied behind-the-scenes pressure on the Polish Consulate in an effort to have Tony Judt’s talk cancelled. Shame on them for their efforts and shame on the Polish Consulate for caving to the pressure. How do you say “chilling effect” in Polish?

Second, Tony Judt is no crank. He is a widely respected historian and public intellectual. I happen to find his specific views on Israel and particularly his lunatic policy prescriptions for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict deeply objectionable, but that is entirely beside the point. What the man has to say about American support for Israel and the influence of the pro-Israel lobby is part of an important public debate and any effort to silence him is a disgrace.

Third, and perhaps most obvious, how friggin’ stupid can Judt’s opponents be? Nothing gives more credence to Judt’s accusation that American Jewish lobbying groups stifle debate on Israel than an attempt by American Jewish lobbying groups to prevent Judt from making that very accusation. They might as well have walked into the room where he was scheduled to speak at the Consulate and made his argument for him.

Access Denied

September 26, 2006

Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan, a prominent critic of U.S. foreign policy, has been denied a visa by the U.S. government even though some rather flimsy-sounding charges against him of supporting terrorism have been dropped. In 2004, Ramadan accepted a tenured position at the University of Notre Dame, rented a house in South Bend, Indiana and enrolled his children in school there, only to be barred from entering the country on the grounds that he allegedly “endorsed or espoused” terrorist activity.

Personally, I don’t see why expressing support for terrorism, as apposed to actually being connected to a terrorist conspiracy or knowingly providing terrorists with funds, should be considered anything other than protected free speech but the point is moot since the government subsequently dropped that charge anyway (indeed Ramadan insists that he abhors terrorism in all its forms).

Ramadan was able to enter the country on a temporary visa to lecture at Harvard that year but did not even get a response to his application for another temporary visa to lecture again the following year. Following an ACLU lawsuit, Ramadan learned that his application has been denied on the grounds that he allegedly provided “material support to a terrorist organisation.” The “material support” in question were donations made by Ramadan to what he and the ACLU say are legitimate French and Swiss charities that provide humanitarian aid to Palestinians. The State Department refuses to discuss any further details. It’s hard to see this case as anything but a politically-motivated effort to muffle dissent, or the administration’s use of vague insinuations to banish its critics as anything but ominous.

Free Speech in Africa

August 29, 2006

“The conditions of press freedom and freedom of expression are deteriorating rapidly or systematically in all regions of Africa.”

So says the Network of African Freedom of Expression Organizations (NAFEO). At a June meeting in Lagos, Nigeria NAFEO took note of significant increase in the arrests, detention, repression and harassment of journalists and other media professionals, singling out six countries for particular opprobrium:

• The Gambia
• Ethiopia
• Eritrea
• Zimbabwe
• Tunisia, and
• Swaziland

NAFEO is planning a campaign to pressure governments to repeal laws criminalizing press offenses and to free individuals who have been detained or imprisoned for exercising their free speech rights. We will keep you posted.