Saturday, March 17, 2007

Speak No Evil!

It has not been a good week for freedom of expression in the Middle East. Egyptian courts denied blogger Kareem Amer's appeal against his four-year sentence. Meanwhile, in Damascus, some sixty members of the Damascus declaration were manhandled and some arrested as they tried to unfurl a banner demanding an end to the state of Emergency in front of the palace of Justice. Those arrested included ex-parliamentarian Riad Seif and writer Ali Abdallah among others (see Also Fares' post here). More recently, a 72 year old man, arrested by one branch of the mukhabarat in late January died in custody. His crime was writing a poem containing a verse that was critical of the Shia. The poem was written shortly after reports were aired on al-Jazeera of Syrian refugees being killed by members of the Sadr militia. The poem came to light when the writer was making photocopies of it in a bookstore. The bookstore's owner and clerk were also arrested for good measure.

Why isn't there more public outrage about these blatant violations of the right to peacefully and freely express one's opinions? Certainly a great contributor to this inertia is fear of the long and oppressive arm of the state. But there is more to it. The following is statement by Tarek, left as a comment to one of Fares' post:

وهكذا تغيب المسؤولية تجاه أفراد المجتمع الآخرين، فعلى سبيل المثال إن السجناء السياسيين في البلدان العربية ضحوا بأنفسهم من أجل الشعب ولكن الشعب نفسه يضحي بأولئك الأفراد المناضلين الشجعان، فلم نسمع باحتجاج أو إضراب عام يقوم به عامة الناس في المجتمع من أجل السجناء السياسيين، لأن الناس يتصرفون مع قضية السجين السياسي على أساس أنها قضية فردية. إن ذلك من أخطر مظاهر عدم الشعور بالمسؤولية.

Translation: There is a lack of responsibility towards other members of society. For example, political prisoners in Arab countries sacrifice themselves for the people, but the people, in turn, sacrifice these courageous activists. We rarely hear about public demonstrations or general strikes for political prisoners because people behave with regard to the issue of political prisoners as if it was a isolated, personal matter. This is one of the most dangerous manifestations of this lack of feeling of responsibility.

I think there is certainly some truth to that. In societies where corruption is rampant and the rule of law is applied capriciously, economic survival is a constant struggle usually won by those who are willing to bribe and cheat their way to the top. This survival of the fittest mentality promotes self-preservation above any greater societal needs. Those who profit from oppressive regimes are free-wheeling businessmen with connections in the Presidential palace but also lowly, and well connected, government employees. To people who have "made it" in such societies, a person like a Kamal Labwani or a Michel Kilo must seem like unreasonable trouble makers. For them, the status quo is golden.

(Painting: Speak no evil, Jeffrey Freedner, 1995)


Anonymous said...

Dear Abu Kareen, thanks for the web that we can now read independent voices like you doing this not for living but for the love of his fellows. The recent news about widening Faisal Street and the confiscation of large part of the old city is another irrational act of a government which its hallmark is the destruction of class, properties and people lives. It started in the sixties under the name of redistribution of the wealth for the benefit of punch through the destruction of a whole class; the results are a mess with a current government trying hard to turn the sail and catch up with the old times of private sector and stock market. However, the old rooted mentality of damning the merchants
and not care for their well being make the government structure insensitive to market and its people needs and rights. A whole market is planned to be wiped out and large chunk of the old city which no one can put a value on is schedule for confiscation. People have no saying and what ever experts and organization say in this matter are worthless for the government.
Please sir, do your part in alarming the whole world on the calamity of Damascus Municipality project of removing Almanakhlia market in Damascus and the erasing of old market with 900 shops and houses in the area. No one knows the real purpose of this project except they merchants feel it is the sixties all over again. Taking people properties without compensation in the name of modernization this time around as if the government or the regime has a bright history in improving things and without learning from the past any lesson. Previous experiences for consequence governments since the sixties showed inability to make anything right because they left people out from voicing their opinions, now with the new vehicle of the web, we hope that we can force them to look into the mirror. We also witnessing the influence of some officials where other law rank officials can not open their mouth even with a catastrophe like this. Economically, the market worth is 18 billions sp of a face value not to mention the amount money they use to operate. This is will go disappears in over night due to a reckless project by the Damascus municipality. Please sir, keep this matter alive and shed more lights if you can on this matter

Fares said...

Very well Written Abu Kareem, I love your conlcusion.

It is so sad when innocent Prisoners die in Syrian prisoners. It is not a peaceful death but rather torture and death.

Keep your great voice active, we need it.

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