What’s The Point of Having a Jewish State If It Doesn’t Have Jewish Values?
I share the civilized world’s revulsion at the destruction being wreaked by anti-US demonstrators in the Middle East over the past two days, and in particular the savagery of the Libyan extremist militants murdering the US Ambassador. I also feel deeply for the Libyans, Egyptians and others in the Middle East whose hard-won hopes for democracy and a better life are being set backwards by the violence in their midst.
I echo the words of others that there is simply no justification. The Libyans would be still fighting a vicious civil war, slaughtering each other as the Syrians are today, if it weren’t for the strong support from the US and others in the West that helped to bring about a speedy end of the Gaddafi regime.
But the tragedy of Benghazi and riots in Yemen do not signal the end of the Arab Spring. Nor is it an indication of any “failed policies,” any more than it is justification for the shameful practice of political candidates in the US attempting to make points from a US Ambassador’s death.
Setting aside the armchair generals who would throw the US into full-on war in the Middle East, there are limits to what the US can do in any given region and situation to influence the course of events and outcome. The current US administration has used that limited capability prudently and effectively, with well thought out strategies.
It has been more than 200 years since America won its independence — long enough to forget that fragile countries coming out from under decades of oppression have a long walk to real democracy. Incidents and explosions happen along the way. It was not that long ago that Boris Yeltsin, Russia’s first democratically elected President, was firing cannons into the Russian Parliament. My country, East Timor (Timor-Leste), exploded in violence with angry mobs burning homes and shooting in the streets in 2006, four years after becoming a new democracy. Iraq is still spilling blood on that road.
Like Iraq, Libya and Egypt have the added challenge of extremists and Al-Qaeda remnants in their midst, who do not intend to go quietly into history. And these must be separated out from the demonstrators. In Libya the mobs were used as a cover for deliberate, targeted murder — in the hopes, no doubt, of further inflaming the situation and destabilizing the country.
Each of the examples above had similar elements in their countries, attempting to profit in one way or another by creating mayhem. All had individuals who had been thrown out of power who had not forgotten, as well as criminal elements and external influences look for openings to gain a foothold in a fragile State.
The forces for democracy need serious support, and true leaders, to come out on top of such challenges. They will remain vulnerable, and the country will rest on a precarious edge, until the programs that bring stability can take hold.
Stabilizing these new democracies cannot stop with containing a mob or stopping bloodshed. Once violence is contained, peace must be built. It is built with education, with employment, with human rights education, with the citizenry starting to see a better life for their children ahead. But these take time. They do not come automatically with regime change. The challenge is to keep the instigators at bay long enough for it to happen.
In Timor-Leste one of our peace building priorities has been literacy. As Thomas Jefferson knew, democracy cannot function smoothly with an illiterate population. They are too easily manipulated and open to being inflamed by unsavory elements for political or financial gain — as we have just seen.
While these young democracies attempt to get on their feet, an idiot American meth cooker who decided to call himself a filmmaker has just handed the extremist elements a birthday present.
Those who would attack Obama for an apology issued by an embassy staff member are either completely naive on foreign diplomacy or have forgotten their own education. What child in a democratic society has not been taught that with freedom comes responsibility, that if one exercises his freedom of speech to yell “fire” in a crowded theatre, he or she must bear responsibility for those injured or killed in the resulting panic?
Any person producing a film — though the term may be over-complimentary — such as this one knows the exact reaction it will create. It was not by accident that it was translated on YouTube into Arabic. He or she opened the perfect window for extremists to step through. Almost too perfect.
As one who knows the challenge of trying to walk a nation, however small, out of violence and oppression into a functioning democracy, I recognize the extreme challenge being faced by the administrations of Egypt, Libya and Yemen right now as they work to restore calm and decency, root out the extremist elements attempting to throw gasoline on the fire in their countries, and keep their countries on the road. While they struggle, all of us who enjoy freedom of speech and other basic human rights in our daily lives should be apologizing for the gross abuse of this freedom that just occurred, and the extreme setback it created.
The jerk who made that video, the one that supposedly incited rioting and murder in Egypt and Libya, is the very definition of a troll: He made it to elicit the reaction he was sure he’d cause. That is what trolls do.
Those who reacted are trolls, too, but of course worse: murderers. They exploited just any excuse — an obviously cheesy, fake movie seen by no one — to stir up their band of fanatics into visible outrage and violence.
The media who cover these trolls — the trolls who make the bait and the trolls who look for bait — are dupes themselves, just continuing a cycle that will only rev faster and faster until someone says: Stop. Stop feeding the trolls.
We’ve learned that online, haven’t we all? Oh, I sometimes have to relearn the lesson when one of my trolls dangles some shiny object in front of me and I snap. I just pulled the food bowl away from one troll: no reaction for you. I was just delighted to see another troll get his comeuppance and said so. But as a rule, a good rule, one should never, never feed the trolls. They only spit it up on you. Starving them of the attention they crave and the upset they hunger for and feed on is the only answer.
But still, there’s no controlling the trolls. Some still think the trolls can be stopped. An Australian newspaper just started a #stopthetrolls campaign to bring the ride miscreants to justice and silence. Good luck with that. In a sense, the rioters and murderers in Libya and Egypt and now elsewhere are demanding that someone stop the trolls they are choosing to get heated up about.
But, of course, there is no stopping them. Neither do I want to stop them. I believe in protecting free speech, which must include protecting even bad, even noxious speech.
Zeynep Tufecki, a brilliant observer of matters media, digital and social, cautioned on Twitter that we must understand a key difference in attitudes toward speech here and elsewhere in the world: “Forget Middle East, in most of Europe you could not convince most people that *all* speech should be protected. That is uniquely American,” shetweeted yesterday. “In most places, including Europe, ‘hate-speech’ — however defined — is regulated, prosecuted. Hence, folks assume not prosecuted=promoted…. U.S. free speech absolutism already hard to comprehend for many. Add citizen media to mix, it gets messy. Then, killers exploit this vagueness.” Excellent points and important perspective for the current situation.
But the Internet is built to American specifications of speech: anyone can speak and it is difficult unto impossible to stop them as bits and the messages they carry are designed to go around blocks and detours. The Internet *is* the First Amendment. We can argue about whether that is the right architecture — as an American free-speech absolutist, I think it is — but that wouldn’t change the fact that we are going to hear more and more speech, including brilliance and including bile. There’s no stopping it. Indeed, I want to protect it.
So we’d best understand how to adapt society to that new reality. We’ve done it before. This from Public Parts about the introduction of the printing press:
This cultural outlook of openness in printing’s early days could just as easily have gone the other way. The explosion of the printed word — and the lack of control over it — disturbed the elite, including Catholic theologian Desiderius Erasmus. “To what corner of the world do they not fly, these swarms of new books?” he complained. “[T]he very multitude of them is hurtful to scholarship, because it creates a glut and even in good things satiety is most harmful.” He feared, according to [Elizabeth] Eisenstein, that the minds of men “flighty and curious of anything new” would be distracted from “the study of old authors.” After the English Civil War, Richard Atkyns, an early writer on printing, longed for the days of royal control over presses. Printers, he lamented, had “filled the Kingdom with so many Books, and the Brains of the People with so many contrary Opinions, that these Paper-pellets become as dangerous as Bullets.” In the early modern period a few “humanists called for a system of censorship, never implemented, to guarantee that only high-quality editions be printed,” Ann Blair writes in Agent of Change. Often today I hear publishers, editors, and academics long for a way to ensure standards of quality on the Internet, as if it were a medium like theirs rather than a public space for open conversation.
Joshua Trevino is a staunchly pro-Israel conservative columnist who once worked as a speechwriter for George W. Bush – you know, the guy that bombed the hell out of Iraq in search of WMD that were… well, not there.One telling quote:When boats carrying unarmed civilian activists attempted in June 2011 to break the blockade of Gaza, Treviño tweeted out a message to the Israeli army: “Dear IDF: If you end up shooting any Americans on the new Gaza flotilla — well, most Americans are cool with that. Including me.”Trevino has been fired from his position as a columnist with prominent British paper The Guardian. (Do read the full TMI article)Reason?Being involved with (now defunct?) website called Malaysia Matters, which appears to have been dedicated to Anwar bashing. Word is that this was through FBC Media – that storied company paid to try and put a fake gleam on Malaysia’s tarnished record, and subsequently suspended by the BBC.At least the British seem to know when to drop a bad egg.Also worth asking, just so we don’t get more and more confused: do you BN people want us to believe that Anwar is pro-Israel or anti-Israel?Just saying, I’m losing track here – all this agen Yahudi business, but then hiring Zionists to bash Anwar?If you’re as tired as I am from this tirade, please feel free to peruse the much more amusingly cut video by MediaRakyat:
There is a desire to *control* conversation, to *civilize* it, to *cleanse* it. God help us, I don’t want anyone cleaning my mouth out. I don’t want anyone telling me what I cannot say. I don’t want a society that silences anything that could offend anyone.
I understand why Google decided to take down That Video from YouTube in Libya and Egypt, given how it is being used, while also arguing that it meets YouTube’s standards and will stay up elsewhere. But YouTube thus gives itself a dangerous precedent as some will expect it to cleanse other bad speech from its platform. YouTube is in a better position in Afghanistan, where the government blocked all of YouTube — but then it’s the government that is acting as the censor and it’s the government that must be answerable to its people.
But in any case, blocking this video is no more the answer than rioting and murdering over it. All this will only egg on the trolls to make more bad speech and in turn egg on trolls on the other side to exploit it.
The only answer is to learn how to deal with speech and to value it sufficiently to acknowledge that good speech will come with bad. What we have to learn is how to ignore the bad. We have to learn that every sane and civilized human knows that bad speech is bad. We don’t need nannies to tell us that. We don’t need censors to protect it from us. We certainly don’t need fanatics to fight us for it. We need the respect of our fellow man to believe that we as civilized men and women know the difference. We need to grow up.
Just weeks ago, Nabeel Rajab, the “Gandhi of Bahrain,” spent his birthday in a prison cell. Originally “jailed for a tweet,” Rajab, the renowned president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, now faces up to three years in prison for allegedly inciting violence among protesters against the Bahraini monarchy. Bahrain has been engulfed in turmoil since early 2011 when the US-backed Al-Khalifa regime launched a violent crackdown against the nation’s popular non-violent reform movement. The regime has since selectively targeted the island’s ethnic-majority, its Shia population, and has gained a terrifying reputation for using brutal torture tactics on those citizens detained. Recently, Bahrain’s appeal courts upheld the sentence of 20 other opposition activists, ignoring domestic and international outcry.
In the Spring of 2011, I met Rajab and his family in their home in Bahrain. His then nine-year-old daughter, Malak, joined us for the interview. Just hours before our arrival, masked state security forces raided the Rajab’s family compound in the middle of the night, bombarding the grounds with teargas and forcing their way into the Rajab’s home with heavy weaponry. Needless to say, little Malak was far too traumatized to attend school that day.
Now Malak joins her brother, 15-year-old Adam, and her mother, Sumaya, to demandjustice for her father whose appeal verdict will be announced on Thursday, September 27th. This date comes after the Bahraini court decision to postpone his hearing this week, a move that his lawyers claim was an attempt to prolong his jail-time. A countless number of international human rights organizations have joined in this call to action, and nearly 20 members of U.S. Congress demanded Rajab’s release in a letter to the King of Bahrain. Following his August 16th sentence, U.S. State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nulandcalled on Bahrain to “vacate” the charges against Rajab and called for “the government of Bahrain to take steps to build confidence across Bahraini society and to begin a meaningful dialogue with political opposition and civil society.”
Actions Speak Louder Than Words
These condemnations from the State Department, however, are not reflected in U.S. policy toward the Bahraini monarchy. Despite the well-documented violence against its citizens, the U.S. Department of Defense resumed arms sales to Bahrain, rekindling a relationship that sold $200 million worth of weaponry to the regime in 2010. American companies added further insult to injury by hosting international oil and natural gas conferences and the 2012 Formula 1 Bahrain Grand Prix, amidst the curfews and kidnappings that characterized daily life for the majority of Bahraini citizens. This gaping distance between America’s actions and words continues to send a far louder message to Bahraini civilians than the lip-service of the U.S. Department of State.
Bahrain’s Radical Regime, Moderate Subversives
Rajab is famous throughout not only the Middle East and North Africa, but alsointernationally for his tireless human rights advocacy and his pioneering commitment to using social media for social justice. Identified by Al Jazeera as “the informal leader of the Bahraini uprising,” Rajab responded that he plans to “forever remain in civil society” when I asked him about any potential political aspirations. Throughout the entirety of the uprising, his commitment to reform has been as steadfast as his tactics have been innovative.
Rajab is not alone in these traits or in his victimhood. What has deteriorated into violent clashes with security forces began as peaceful calls for reform, not Revolution. At the beginning of the uprising, a leader of the largest political bloc in Bahrain’s parliament, Matar Ibrahim Matar, described the exhaustive political jockeying in which his party had engaged with the Al-Khalifa family to avoid a breakdown in dialogue. Matar, too, has beensubjected to kidnapping, imprisonment, and alleged abuse at the hands of the regime, in addition to threats to his and his family’s safety.
“We are proud Bahrainis, despite their [the Al-Khalifa family’s] attempts to align us with Iran and call us subversives,” he explained. “We wanted to improve our country by continuing a moderate path of reform. That’s it. This crisis could and can be avoided.”
Indeed, these basic demands for reform were echoed among many of Bahrain’s young organizers. 27-year-old banker Mohammed*, a particularly visionary online organizer but not who one my typically picture as a “subversive,” imagines Bahrain as “the Singapore of the Middle East.” “I’ve done the math,” he explained in our interview. “And the discrimination against the majority of our people only serves to hinder our entrepreneurial potential.”