Tag Archives: dictatorships

The Middle East: Liberation or Fundamentalism?

Daniel Wilson: How to Survive a Robot Army, Doubleday 2011

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” This is an appropriate quote for what is happening in the Middle East right now. With many years of being ruled by dictators, whether benevolent or not (Singapore is described as a benevolent dictatorship) the people of these countries have had the same leader for decades.

First Tunisia, then Egypt, now Libya. We didn’t hear much about Tunisia because the media doesn’t consider them important on the world stage, but Egypt, land of the pyramids, sheiks and oil is important and we heard about that. But more importantly, social media and the internet means everyone is hearing about the protests and uprisings, including those people living under such regimes. Egypt tried to shut them up, seizing cell phone companies and shutting them down and to no avail. Al-Gadaffi has tried to shut up the media by banning them from the country but pictures taken on cell phones and other devices have been uploaded to the internet. Whereas we live in an age when Big Brother seems to watch our every move and keep us under constant surveillance (not that far a step from a dictatorship) we also have the freedom of getting information out no matter how hard tyrants and dictators try to tamp it down.

It’s interesting that even the poorest people, living in cardboard or corrugated metal shacks, will have a TV or a cellphone. Suppression of the news is getting harder and harder to do for your local despot. However, suppression of the masses still continues, often with a heavy hand, cased in metal and wielding a big metal stick, which holds ammo. It is one reason the Egyptian revolt was successful, Mubarak refrained from plowing down his citizens. That and the army didn’t stick behind him. I can’t say how Tunisia played out because we didn’t hear much about that. Al-Gaddafi on the other hand, is clearly mad and willing to go down, taking as many people with him as possible. Hooray for maniacs.

But perhaps these dynastic rulers (such as Gaddafi’s over-forty years and the possible succession by a son) have striven in some way to keep their countries from falling into religious fervor and fundamentalism as bad and as crazed as other dictators. There are many who would argue for al-Gaddafi, as those against him but the problem with one permanent ruler is that people never get to voice their opinions or see their votes really matter. And yeah, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Gaddafi may suppress his people until they are nothing but corpses and that will not liberate Libya. It all depends on who controls the army in the end. I sometimes wonder what would happen here if we had a similar dictator, and Harper has been accused of a heavy hand here, and what our forces would do. Just as the Tienanmen Square uprising in China did not succeed because the government rolled tanks over the protesters and shot them dead. Perhaps these protests will only bring about change if the governments don’t massacre their people. Perhaps those who revolt will have to gain their own weapons.

So which will it be, as rebellions, their like not seen in centuries, sweeps through the Middle East? Will the people be liberated, have safer lives and see democracy (not by any means a perfect system) in their governments? Or will the despots of decades be replaced by religious fundamentalism that will have people cower in their homes and subjugate some groups? You can bet the first group to be subjugated will be women, if that happens. And if Gaddafi stays in power, well, he hates the West, Berbers and who knows what else. But he certainly loves virginal women as that is what his bodyguards are purported to be. Supposedly martyrs to the faith in Islam will be greeted by a host of virgins in heaven (What do the women get and who wants a virgin anyways?). It looks like Gaddafi’s getting his now.

We are living through a crux of change, but then there is usually change. How the protests in the Middle East play out remains to be seen, but I’m not yet sure we’ll see a society more balanced in some of the countries. And in others the bloodshed will be high and the dictatorships will continue.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, news, people, politics, religion, security

Freedom of Speech:Shhh, They’re Listening

Freedom of Speech. It’s a big thing in democratic countries and we hold it like a torch to indicate how different we are from the regimes, the dictatorships and any place that silences writers by putting them in prisons, house arrest or just killing them. The pen is mightier than the sword and it’s been feared by conquerors for a long time. And of course, those who win are those who write the history books.

But North America: Canada and the US, we’re different. We truly have freedom of speech. A person can get on any bandwagon and scream their beliefs and they won’t be stopped. Of course they won’t. Not where the media will see it anyways.

Conquering nations, or just those in power that manage to vanquish the foe, like to show how good and just they were for doing so. This attitude extends down the line to foe being interpreted as famine, poverty, unemployment, deficits–you name it. Any trouble that a government faces becomes the foe or the need to do some PR and impress the voters with how good you are and how right and just your cause is.

So, freedom of speech. Do we really have it? No. It’s selective, even in these democratic countries.

Years ago I was in New York City, staying with a friend. Desert Storm had just happened and the troops were coming home. There were giant yellow ribbons around some buildings as well as on fences and trees. Two interesting incidences about the smothering of anti-war/Desert Storm protests became evident. In NY even the cop cars seem to be banged up and have graffiti. There’s is graffiti and slogans everywhere. When someone spray painted numerous bus stop shelters with an indelible ink on the glass with anti war statements NY made an unprecedented move.

The slogans were removed in 24 hours and if they could not be cleaned from the glass, well the glass was replaced. There was no way that the ticker tape parade was going to be affected by people protesting what they felt was wrong about US troops in other countries. A minor thing, perhaps, and could be chalked up to city maintenance but my friend said nothing like that had caused such wholesale cleansing before.

He also lived near a park (I no longer remember the name of it) known for having demonstrations of different types. The police had set tape around the perimeter, with other obstacles, effectively blocking any access to the park before or during the arrival of the troops. No demonstration in a designated area and in fact no freedom of speech. Muffling of dissenters is what happened in the great democratic nation of the US. Don’t go against the government.

Is Canada any better? No. We like to pretend we’re calmer, more polite, more peaceful but the 2010 Winter Olympics is coming to town. Our fair city of Vancouver has changed some existing bylaws. These bylaws will in effect give the city engineer the right to make up bylaws on the fly. “I don’t like the anti-Olympic sign in your window: I can make a bylaw, invade your home, remove your sign and arrest you.” In fact, that’s part of the bylaw already, giving people only 24-hour’s notice before being invaded or having signs, posters and whatnot confiscated.

Of course, the city councillors say it’s for protecting people. Because we know what nasty papercuts you get from pamphlets and anti-Olympics posters. There has already been a case of a woman being tailed and questioned outside of her classroom because she just happens to know and anti-Olympics protestor. And like she said, this has caused her to be against the Olympics, a reverse of what the Olympics gestapo are probably hoping for: shiny happy people ecstatic that their tax dollars are going to something they can’t afford and having their rights infringed upon.

Who knows, perhaps if they find this blog, I’ll be tossed in the can before the Olympics. I’d rather they just deport me to Greece for a month. It’s hard to be for the Olympics when games start taking precedent over civil liberties. Can we say Beijing? Can we say Germany, 1936. I wonder if Gregor Robertson has been brainwashed or is wholesale for clamping down on people’s rights to protest. Oh and if you happen to be in a zone that’s close to any venue or anything the Olympics committee deems important, know that you won’t be able to get in or out the same way as usual, and you might not get any mail for the three weeks because they are removing paper boxes and mailboxes. That’s one great way to curtail freedom of speech, just remove anything that has words in it.

I’m waiting for our Olympic souvenirs. You know the ones. We’ll get them a week before the opening and they’ll have a spiffy logo on them. They’ll come free of charge but we’ll all be required to wear them throughout the Olympics: our own personal gags with a free gag law attached.

http://www.cbc.ca/canada/british-columbia/story/2009/10/09/bc-anti-olympic-sign-law-bccla.html

http://www.torontosun.com/sports/vancouver2010/2009/10/07/11334116.html

http://thetyee.ca/Blogs/TheHook/Olympics2010/2009/07/21/newspapers-Olympic-bylaw/

http://www.usatoday.com/sports/olympics/vancouver/2009-09-17-protest-zones_N.htm

Leave a comment

Filed under crime, Culture, news, people, politics, security, sports

Prince Chuck Turns 60

It was in the news today. England’s Prince Charles turned 60, the oldest Prince of Wales ever. The media hyped it as “he’s been waiting his whole life to be king.” Well, la de dah. I’ve been waiting forever to be queen or a goddess and it’s not happening either.

But besides sour grapes I think the monarchy is a thing of the past. Over the millennia of culture growing and changing (and it seems, sometimes devolving) we’ve gone from loose-knit tribes through feudal states and monarchies to the current trend of dictatorships, distorted democracies and fanatical regimes. Hmmm, maybe we haven’t evolved or changed as much as we thought.

The media talked about Prince Chuck throwing himself into environmental and humanitarian affairs. That’s great. Really. And I doubt he or much of the royal family would survive long if they just sat around on their royal duffs. But you know, I too could do great works and wonders if I had the wagon loads of cash these guys have. And I would get to wear expensive jewels, attend gala affairs and be called ruler of my country when in fact I was nothing but a figurehead.

Yep, there are no teeth to the British royal family. Should they exert their might they would find it circumvented very quickly. After 1600 and Cromwell’s reign royalty roles changed. Unlike France, where they lost their heads, or Russia where the royalty went to a mass grave, the Brits managed to stay in some semblance of power.

What I’ve never been able to understand is the kowtowing that my country, Canada does to Britain. Once upon a time we were a colony. But we gained independence, didn’t we? Yet our coins are festooned with the head of Queen Elizabeth II and our constitution has her listed as the top honcho. The Governor General, a role appointed by the Prime Minister, is the Queen’s representative in Canada. Again it’s mostly a figurehead role though the Governor General is head of the Canadian armed forces. Could we see a day where the Governor General raised up in a coup, representing the queen (or king), and fought parliament for the right of sovereign soil?

I doubt it but weirder things have happened. Still, the role of Governor General, or monarch of Britain for that matter is that of cheerleader and publicist. A very rich publicist but when it comes to politics we (Britain, Canada, probably a few other countries that still have monarchs) let our elected politicians make decisions. It’s not that much better or different. We don’t pay tithes to the king or queen anymore but we pay enough in taxes that it equals a king’s ransom. But look at the countries with no figureheads; it’s not a lot different. Still, I prefer at least the belief that I chose who is ruling my country than someone who gets born to the position.

And should anyone wish to make me queen or goddess, I promise to do as much as the British royal family.

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, entertainment, family, history, life, news, people, politics