Monday, February 28, 2011

The Presage

I'm tired and stressed out as a result of the current situation that has gripped my country for the last 12 days and of discussing it with friends and strangers all over the globe. I'm tired of the news on TV in which I only see Armageddon, I'm tired of having to update my status when we have a connection so that friends and family know that I am still alive. What happens if I am no longer alive to update it?

I need to switch off and take another approach, perhaps talk about something that has been bothering me for a while now. It may turn out to be relevant to our topic du jour but it would provide some relief from having to think about an unknown future, one where I don't know if would be alive to see it.

Let me take you back to January 2010. On the 21st of that month, I listened online to Hillary Clinton's "Remarks on Internet Freedom" . I remember very well telling myself as noble as this all sounded it was not good. In fact I still have the note to myself that I needed to blog about this because it smacked too much of what I like to call 'modern imperialism' for want of a better world. But the days went by and I did not get out of my blogging hiatus.

However, I also clearly remember telling a friend of mine to mark my words that this date will be the last one in terms of local internet freedoms and will spark something big. She rolled her eyes and laughed at me dismissively.

The very next day You Tube was blocked. Though the disappearance of that website and a couple of others did not really bother me, the significance was immense, it meant that someone now was taking an interest in the Web and that felt uncomfortable in a way, just like having someone watch you undress through a keyhole.

I think it was on that particular day that I felt a foreboding on a number of aspects and my friend had to admit that my hunch was right.

What was it in Mrs Clinton's speech apart from the usual arrogant approach that made my body hair stand? I've picked up the most relevant passages and highlighted words I felt were key. See below:

"[...] The freedom to connect is like the freedom of assembly, only in cyberspace. It allows individuals to get online, come together, and hopefully cooperate. Once you’re on the internet, you don’t need to be a tycoon or a rock star to have a huge impact on society.[...]
On their own, new technologies do not take sides in the struggle for freedom and progress, but the United States does. We stand for a single internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas. And we recognize that the world’s information infrastructure will become what we and others make of it. Now, this challenge may be new, but our responsibility to help ensure the free exchange of ideas goes back to the birth of our republic. [...]

The United States is committed to devoting the diplomatic, economic, and technological resources necessary to advance these freedoms. We are a nation made up of immigrants from every country and every interest that spans the globe. Our foreign policy is premised on the idea that no country more than America stands to benefit when there is cooperation among peoples and states. And no country shoulders a heavier burden when conflict and misunderstanding drive nations apart. So we are well placed to seize the opportunities that come with interconnectivity. And as the birthplace for so many of these technologies, including the internet itself, we have a responsibility to see them used for good. To do that, we need to develop our capacity for what we call, at the State Department, 21st century statecraft. [...]

We are also supporting the development of new tools that enable citizens to exercise their rights of free expression by circumventing politically motivated censorship. We are providing funds to groups around the world to make sure that those tools get to the people who need them in local languages, and with the training they need to access the internet safely. The United States has been assisting in these efforts for some time, with a focus on implementing these programs as efficiently and effectively as possible. Both the American people and nations that censor the internet should understand that our government is committed to helping promote internet freedom. [...]

We want to put these tools in the hands of people who will use them to advance democracy and human rights, to fight climate change and epidemics, to build global support for President Obama’s goal of a world without nuclear weapons, to encourage sustainable economic development that lifts the people at the bottom up. [...]

That’s why today I’m announcing that over the next year, we will work with partners in industry, academia, and nongovernmental organizations to establish a standing effort that will harness the power of connection technologies and apply them to our diplomatic goals. By relying on mobile phones, mapping applications, and other new tools, we can empower citizens and leverage our traditional diplomacy. "

By mid January 2011, Ben Ali was ousted, on February 7, Southern Sudan seceded and by February 11, Mubarak had resigned. I was very happy to see the yoke finally falling from the neck of the neighbouring countries. Then events started developing at such a rapid pace it became very difficult to keep up, Bahrain, Yemen, Libya, Algeria, Syria, Jordan, Morocco, Mauritania etc... it was an epidemic!

Media and thinkers, (but whose media and thinkers?) were quick to label this 'internet revolution' taking from the credit of the people who suffered and died.

My ears were very hot because Mrs Clinton did specifically say 'over the next year' i.e. 2011.

This could be a clue that regardless of the right and wrong of what is happening across the Middle East and North Africa, the legitimate feelings of the people in this swathe of land have been taken advantage of and perhaps manipulated at some point, and I fear they have been/are harnessed for the benefit of Western/US foreign policy.

I am terrified that when all the ashes from the uprisings that are consuming us settle down we become blinded by the celebratory mood and find ourselves having exchanged one agenda for another whose nature would be like an octopus: soft but with many slippery tentacles.
This is not me being a conspiracy theorist, but those familiar with my writing know that I am a big fan of the Realism school in international relations where national interest and security reign king probably with large dollops of personal interest ( that's my addition to the theory :P ).

I don't want to dampen anyone's euphoria but I'm afraid that we will rush in where angels fear to thread. Everybody is feverishly planning and we should not be caught unaware. So to all those involved in state building or re-building; can you please watch out for the wolves in lamb clothes.


Maya M said...

I am sorry that we are "blackmailing" you to post even when you feel too tired to. Please put your needs first.
About this current post - I think you ARE being a conspiracy theorist. Remember your recent post about how oustering of pro-Western rulers by the "Arab street" has revealed the hypocrisy of the West's attitude towards democracy?
Now, all those promises of "securing the freedom of expression" are just nice but impotent words, bla-bla-bla. The truth is that Internet services are an almost unregulated emerging market where private companies fight for their interests and the law of jungle reigns. My former host/registrar, a US company, snatched my domain name last year. And I am not alone. If you are not rich enough to sue the hell out of them, your "freedom of expression" is nonexistent.
To be honest, the big providers Blogger and Wordpress have not disappointed me so far.

Anonymous said...

I would like to soften and widen the perspective. This is not at all a US-only phenomenon.

Leaders of most industrialized countries have voiced the idea that: "We [the nation] are thrilled by the possibilities that the Internet gives as. It is our duty to ensure that it is used for good." The problem with that is that they also mean "We [the Government] define the meaning of good and bad."

Is it good to question your own governments foreign policy? Is it good to criticize your own governments health care reforms? Is it good to spew anger over your own governments fiscal policies?

programmer craig said...

Good observations, Highlander. I think you may be onto something, though if so I think the US has a tiger by the tail.

programmer craig said...

"We [the Government] define the meaning of good and bad."

That only happens in socialist countries like yours. But, you like it that way, right? You must, else you wouldn't have set up a socialist system :)

Is it good to question your own governments foreign policy?

Only when it doesn't reflect the will of the people.

Is it good to criticize your own governments health care reforms?

Only when they don't reflect the will of the people.

Is it good to spew anger over your own governments fiscal policies?

Only when the government forgets whose money it is they are spending, and when they bankrupt the country so that future generations will have less than past ones have had.

An example of the internet being put to bad use would be anytime a marxist or a socialist uses it to express their stupid opinions. I think they should be banned from owning a computer on the grounds that it's a crime against humanity. They should be restricted to hanging out in libraries and public parks, where everyone could just give them their loose change so that they'll go away and hassle somebody else, like the good old days.

Pinky Tabor said...

Once Arab nations adopt a democratic government (which is not bad, of course), they will eventually be perceived as 'westernized', and thus ONE WORLD/ONE NATION dream begins to be realized. Yes, it's a conspiracy. There will seem to be WORLD PEACE, new WORLD ORDER sets in. It's the beginning of THE END. Let's be "harmless as doves but wise as serpents."
this is the inevitable, but we who love Allah will be gifted with a discerning mind to know who belongs to our kind and those who want to destroy us.

Anonymous said...

Hi PC,
"That only happens in socialist countries like yours."
If so, then who defines Clinton's "good"?
" [...] we have a responsibility to see them used for good"

IMHO it does happen all over the place.

programmer craig said...

If so, then who defines Clinton's "good"?

Adam, I think most people understand what's right and what's wrong and what's good and what's bad. We don't need to put the "morality" label on that if it makes you uncomfortable, but I think some of that is inherent in human nature where only people with severe mental problems aren't able to process the difference between things that help others and things that harm others. We can call that "empathy", how about that? And then there's a cultural layer where there may be some differences from one place to another between what's considered the right way for people to behave towards one another vs the wrong way.

In any case, in countries where like mine where the government is accountable to the people, the government follows our lead or the government leaves office. In socialist countries like yours, the government tells the people how things are going to be because you guys have set up a system where the government sees itself as a benevolent caretaker, and sees the people as helpless fools who can't look after themselves without supervision.

Anonymous said...

PC, I was referring to the wiretap laws that are spawning all over the place, with the UK leading the pack. Even if the intentions are good, such powerful tools, in the hands of any authority, WILL be abused.

So while the latest trend is to help oppressed people with online privacy, our own ("in the Western world") online privacy IS getting circumvented.

NOMAD said...

since the success of ME and Maghreb unrests via facebooks and Twitters, all the governments (included the western's) are thinking of restricting Internet access, like China already does.

Anyway if the normal sites aren't accessible anymore, may-be the dating sites would be still open, Some Lybians already use it:

Hope that this crisis will not end badly

Maya M said...

I find it interesting to compare your post to Charles Steele's "A match made in Hell" (
"What do Facebook, Goldman Sachs, and Russia's Digital Sky Technologies have in common? Facebook is selling shares to Goldman and DST. Simultaneously Goldman is developing a structured investment vehicle... Facebook will have possibly thousands of high-end investors, but with the SIV it will be considered just one investor -- Goldman Sachs.
I've been anti-Facebook for a long time. It's difficult to find another activity that is so vacuous and pervasive as Facebooking; television watching is the only thing I can think of. But television watching, mind-numbing as it is, at least does not require you to give up your privacy. But now users will be surrendering their privacy to secret unnamed investors. Do you really want to give all this info to... umm, Putin? The Chinese? The Saudis? Who knows who? There'll be no way to find out."

Anonymous said...

Hey Maya, I never thought I would write this: I agree with you 100% on all points. :)

FB is
1. a time thief.
2. making you stupid [fills brain with crud].
3. potentially dangerous.

programmer craig said...

What the hell is going on with google these days? I just had a 4000 word essay get eaten when I tried to post it, and this is the third time that's happened to me this week.


Maya M said...

When I am to post something longer, I first select all of the text and press Ctrl-C.
So, if it gets eaten, I can paste it e.g. to Word, save it and repost it later.
Experience teaches :-(.