Failed Empire

Chronicling the collapse of a failed society

Fear, Self-Censorship, and the Ongoing Struggle for Universal Human Rights

I spend a lot of time here criticizing various aspects of the United States:  our government, our corporations, our religious fundamentalists, among many other things.  To some, my various tirades against my own country of birth may seem grossly offensive.  Why, after all, should I devote so much time to attacking my native land?

The United States is, of course, far from perfect.  We have many flaws, and we inflict a lot of suffering on the world at large.  As an American citizen, I feel compelled to do my part to speak out against such imperfections, with the goal of bettering our nation.  Because the U.S. has such far-reaching effects throughout the world, improving the state of affairs here couldn’t help but simultaneously improve things for humans everywhere.

There are wonderful things about the United States, and I wish to make it clear that there are certain aspects of our nation which I passionately admire.  Our First Amendment, which guarantees us freedom of speech, represents a profound principle of basic human rights which should be respected and upheld around the world.  And although freedom of speech is far from universal even within our own nation, I absolutely love the fact that it exists at all.

Not so in many countries throughout the world, including the one I currently in which I currently find myself residing.  To avoid attracting unwanted attention, I will refrain from naming the country (although regular readers will likely know it already); I will only say that it is within that black hole of human rights which we know as the Middle East.

There is virtually no place in the Middle East that has not been impacted by the ongoing political upheavals spreading like fire throughout the region.  The place where I currently reside is no exception, but until very recently the government response had been decidedly benign.  When I witnessed recent developments in which military force was unleashed upon a peaceful and unarmed group of citizens demanding social and political change, I did what I felt I was obliged to do as a proponent of universal human rights:  I told the world what I saw.

Unfortunately, the concept that we cherish so much as Americans, that of freedom of speech, is wholly unknown here.  Ordinary people – let alone foreigners –  are not allowed to criticize the ruling class, which in the Middle East is closely intertwined with religious belief.  Critiquing religion, of course, is utterly unthinkable.  So when I chose yesterday to exercise what I view as my fundamental right to freedom of speech, I opened myself up to very real and very unwelcome consequences.

Someone – or some entity – has been actively trying to ascertain my identity since yesterday’s post.  It appears that they have been successful in gleaning a rather discomforting number of details about my location and means of occupation.  Needless to say, the thought that someone has taken the initiative to try to identify me is deeply troubling.  What do they wish to do with that information?  What possible actions might be taken against me for simply reporting the events I saw and heard?

Today I experienced for the first time what millions – perhaps even billions – around the world experience as reality every single day.  Facing the prospect of possible punishment, I chose, as millions do, the path of self-censorship.  I removed the post in question, and now there is one less voice sharing with the world the human rights violations which are taking place here.

And this is precisely how autocratic rulers maintain their power:  with fear.  If the people are afraid to share with the world the abuses they suffer, then the ruling class can continue oppressing the masses indefinitely.   As proponents of social justice and the recognition of basic, universal human rights, it is imperative that we not forget the countless millions struggling under the weight of repressive regimes, because the oppression can only continue as long as the rest of the world pretends not to see it.  But we see it.  We know.  And we must not let it continue any longer.


2 responses to “Fear, Self-Censorship, and the Ongoing Struggle for Universal Human Rights

  1. ickenittle May 18, 2011 at 6:53 pm

    Fear seems to surround us – and it is hard to tell what is real or imagined, but whatever you feel in your gut is usually the right thing to do.

    • Andrew B. May 21, 2011 at 12:35 am

      In a place like the Middle East, fear is generally well justified. In the U.S. it’s becoming increasingly more so, as the advent of the Patriot Act and our recent spate of taser deaths readily attest.

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