Thursday, November 30, 2006

Technology against tyranny.

Modern technology is the enemy of authoritarianism. Sure the despots and tyrants will try to use such technology to strip away freedom. But governments are dinosaurs, they are slow, inefficient, cumbersome, difficult to move around. They have none of the speed and power that the private sector has. I still think technology does more to undermine tyranny than to support it despite the best efforts of George Bush to prove the contrary.
Der Spiegel has an interesting article on the role of bloggers in tyrannical nations. And they discuss the case of Abdel Kareem Sulaiman, 22, who was discussed here previously. Sulaiman is in jail for criticizing the Egyptian government. And please note the Egyptian regime is funded by heavily by the United States. If the US had any commitment to civil liberties it could have Sulaiman released in five minutes. It doesn’t.

Spiegel notes that this case “casts a bright light on a new form of resistance: the constantly growing online criticism of seemingly omnipotent regimes and authorities charged with upholding morals. An odd crescendo is building on the Internet, one that resembles a fast-growing series of vibrations, at times as dissonant as its many voices, but also powerful and influential when similar interests converge.”

Blogs “are often used to challenge the official interpretation of events, especially in China, the Arab world, Southeast Asia and the former states of the Soviet Union.” In Egypt hundreds of men went on the rampage harassing women and even tearing some of their clothes off. Police stood by and did nothing. Bloggers took photos of the incidents and posted them on the internet. The state control media ignored the assaults. The Egyptian government merely proclaims it all a lie and they are experts when it come to lying. And Egyptian tyrants have 3,000 opposition blogs to deal with. The Iranian regime has a much bigger problem with 70,000 blogs in Farsi and English both.

The fact is that within Islamic nations there is a strong movement way from Islam toward secular, liberal values. This movement is entirely private and represents a potent force for good.

The Chinese regime is so concerned about the effects of the internet that they have 30,000 net nannies to investigate web sites for “subversive” ideas.

And often these attacks on freedom are done with the co-operation of US companies. When journalist Shi Tao was arrested it was over an e-mail he sent to another journalist. But he had done so from an anonymous e-mail account with Yahoo. Yahoo happily gave the identity of the account owner and the time he sent the e-mail to the Communist authorities and this was used to imprison the journalist. Yahoo’s excuse is that they operate within the framework of local laws and customs. In other words if a genocidal government decides to kill off lots of people and passes a law saying they are going to do so then Yahoo will help them find those people. Cowards!

In Burma the dictators have demanded that all computers be registered with the state. They use the power to set prices to stop people from accessing the internet, charging $1,300 just to connect.

Another example of technology undermining the dictatorships in the Middle East is in Iran where a “porno” film on DVD is reported to have sold 100,000 copies in Tehran alone.

The alleged star of the adult film is a popular Iranian TV soap star. Spiegel reports on the case:

“The religious fundamentalists who took power completely when the bigoted Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became president last summer, have branded the home-made flick a "national shame." They see the video as evidence of the decadent West's growing influence on the youth of the Islamic republic. Tehran's public prosecutor has already initiated "special investigations" into the starlet who sank into the mires of pornography. Her lover is also being investigated.

“Every kind of public intimacy between men and women is prohibited under the strict moral precepts of the Islamic republic. Even innocent cuddling on a park bench can create legal problems for young couples -- especially if they're not married. Sex outside of marriage is punishable by up to 100 lashes of the whip. The punishment applies to both men and women.

“In the Ebrahimi case, the DVD's producers even face the prospect of capital punishment. Iran's much-feared attorney general, Ghorbanali Dorri-Najafabadi, has gotten involved in the investigation, and he's demanding death by stoning -- a controversial punishment in Iran. Dorri-Najafabadi is arguing that the porn flick promotes prostitution, a thoroughly demonized activity in the country.”

That 100,000 copies of the DVD sold is good news. It means that there is a massive number of DVD machines in the Iran. It also means that ideas and images of the West are getting through. I suspect most Iranians are sick of the fundamentalists there. And if they could, they would do what the American voters did in November, vote them out of office.

The sale of this tape means that there are hundreds of thousands of “criminals” who know they violated the law of the mullahs. I would suspect for each copy of the DVD sold that multiples of individuals saw the film.

There is a hilarious television advert which showed an Amish mother cleaning her son’s bedroom. She finds a magazine under his mattress and pulls it out and is shocked. You see the expression of horror on her face as she opens the centerfold ot the magazine. The young boy is standing in the door watching with a frightened, embarrassed look on his face. Then the camera pans behind the mother to show the centerfold displaying an advert for a brand new car.

Western living standards and western freedom is corrosive to tyranny. People want what the West has. (All except the fundamentalists of course.) The quickest way to undermine a tyrannical state is to show people what is possible. I remember years ago reading that the best way to destroy communism was not to smuggle in Bibles but copies of Playboy, the centerfolds and adverts alone would make a huge number of people pine for the freedom of the West.

Technology undermines tyrants. And if you don’t believe just go to YouTube and search for “George Bush” and see what turns up.