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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Arab dictators censor Internet, but so does the West

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Arab dictators censor Internet, but so does the West
By Ray Hanania

The worst part about living in a Western country like America is the hypocrisy and double standards that exist.

It’s true, that tyrants in the Middle East are blaming their troubles and the protests on the rise of the Arab media but more on the rise of free speech on the Internet through social media like Facebook Twitter and other online sources.

So those dictators have been cracking down on the Arab media – shutting down Arab media bureaus in their countries and disconnecting their satellite transmissions. And, they have been cracking down on the Internet.

Of course, American lawmakers have been pointing to that censorship as evidence of the lack of freedoms and civil rights, and the oppression citizens in countries like Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria and Bahrain must experience.

But the truth is that the United States has its own system of censorship, to squash the voices of free speech when they reflect views that are unpopular among the American elite.

Just this week, Facebook, the world’s leading social media network launched in the United States, shut down a Page called 3rd Palestinian Intifada because, it is alleged, it advocates violence. It’s true some of the people who post on the site advocate violence, but so do people on other pro-Israel sites that Facebook has not shut down or censored.

The Huffington Post, which was just purchased by AOL for $300 million, also censors its writers, too, rejecting columns that cross a line of acceptance when it involves criticism of topics they reject.

And, Google News even has its level of censorship, rejecting many online Arab news sites because the content is harsher and overly critical of Israel, more so than they are willing to accept.

What’s the difference? Well, the difference is in how the censorship takes place. In the Arab World it is blatant and directed by the government. In the United States, censorship is part of a mindset of the increasing anti-Arab and anti-Muslim hatred and bigotry.

One is blatant and one is subtle.

What’s the lesson?

It’s a lesson I am afraid the dictators and the Arab World will not learn. Their blatant acts of censorship have brought them so much conflict that several governments have been toppled. Some faster than others, of course, because the speed upon which an Arab regime is thrown out of office is directly proportional to the alliance that government might have with the United States.

Another instance of hypocrisy and double standards.

The solution is that Arab countries could allow more public expression and still manage to maintain their control of their countries. Instead of fearing Democracy, the Arab governments should embrace it. And by embracing public discourse and free speech, even when it includes criticism of their governments, they will be strengthening themselves.

They don’t see this of course because Arab tyrants are always tough but they are thin-skinned. Critics are arrested, detained, jailed and even murdered as punishment for criticizing an Arab government. Just look at the recent incident involving the brutality against Iman al-Abaidi in Tripoli, Libya who charged that she was gang-raped by several of tyrant Moammar Qadhafi. The woman was attacked by mindless religious-garbed women who pummeled her and pushed her down to shut up, and then she was escorted out by male bullies who threw her in a car and drove her away.

If she is still alive, it would be a miracle, but hopefully those images will help to strengthen the resolve to bring down the religious fanatics and Qadhafi’s dictatorship.

Governments that tolerate free speech have a success rate in this world that is unparalleled. And using the United States as an example, instead of overtly censoring Americans of Arab and Muslim heritage, these Arab tyrants could easily follow the American lead, censoring in subtle and more effective ways.

America is a nation of double standards and a system based on hypocrisies. Arabs and Muslims experience that everyday.

The answer, though, is not to waste our time trying to change that, because it won’t. But rather, the answer is to create our own resources and social networks, be more tolerant that the oppressors in America, and tolerate divergent views.

Arabs and Muslims are often intolerant of divergent views and that intolerance makes it easy for their governments to impose harsh restrictions. We’re used to intolerance as a culture. And that weakens our moral argument when we try to expose hypocrisies and double standards in the United States.

The answer to the suppression of free speech is not violence. It is not pointing fingers of blame. The answer is to react in a strategic and smart way. If 350,000 supporters of Palestinian rights can come together on a Facebook Page where censorship of Arabs and Muslims is routine, they should be able to come together on another social network where the power of their voices will be augmented, not suppressed.

In today’s world, the Internet gives us the power to free ourselves. We don’t need Facebook, the Huffington Post or even Google to give us permission to express our views.

All we need to do is give ourselves permission to think out of the box and take the principle of our protests and anger and find new forums where the hosts will be more understanding and advocates of free speech for Arabs and Muslims in America.

It’s simple. But we can’t see this simple answer when we are overwhelmed by emotion.

Pause. Count to 10. And then react in a smart way. It works.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist and media strategist. He can be reached at

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