Riding The Tsunami of Rage to an Information Highway?

March 14th, 2011
Published in Family Security Matters March 14, 2011

There are common elements involved in how totalitarian regimes succeed in maintaining control over their people.

For example, such regimes prohibit or severely restrict the existence of opposition parties. Therefore, in places like the late Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, it was no wonder sham elections often won him a popular vote of 99%.

But most critical to any tyrant’s authority is restricting the people’s ability to communicate freely and to control the flow of information they receive. Imposing such conditions creates an uninformed public less likely to interact amongst themselves and against their government. These governments fear truth–selecting what information is and is not released for public consumption.

It is interesting to note, as communication technologies have evolved, the extremes to which such governments have gone during the 20th and 21st centuries to inhibit the building of any kind of “information highway” that might lead to the masses becoming better informed.

When paper copiers first were introduced during the Cold war, the Soviet Union would station guards at the machines to ensure nothing critical of the government was copied for distribution to the public.

With the advent of the fax machine, the Syrian government initially outlawed ownership, fearing such an enhanced ability to communicate would be a first step in organized resistance.

In China, efforts have been made to restrict access to information on the Internet. Today, it employs more than 50,000 cyber-police to enforce censorship. Its greater concern about truth creating an informed public than about an outside threat to its existence is evidenced by an annual budget for internal state security that exceeds that for the military.

North Korea takes the prize in its efforts to limit communications by, and information flow to, its people. While radios and televisions are in short supply, those available are fixed only to receive government controlled stations. Modifying either to receive other stations is a crime punishable by death. Few residents have access to telephones. Additionally, communications are inhibited by restrictions placed on the distance people can travel from their villages–a limitation that for many years even made bicycle ownership illegal.

In the “tsunami of rage” still sweeping the Middle East, we have seen efforts by regimes fearing anti-government activities to cut off all communications via cell phones and social networks.

But where evolving technologies have made it more difficult for governments to control communication and information flow, generating an informed public, authoritarian leaders reveal another common element upon which they rely to maintain control–brutal repression.

It is where the public is better informed and educated, thus enjoying a greater appreciation for the absence of human rights, that such repression seems to be severest. In Iran–a country boasting one of the largest percentages of educated citizens in the Muslim world–awareness of what they have been denied is well recognized. Unable to control the awareness, Tehran has resorted to brutality to suppress any opposition. This has been done by bringing leaders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) into the country’s business sector. As such, the IRGC understands its continuing prosperity is linked to the survival of the clerics and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Therefore, no limits exist on the IRGC’s brutality in ensuring this theocratic domino does not fall.

As the wave of rage plays out in a list of Arab countries that continues to grow, another element emerges as to how tyrants have effectively ruled for many years by feeding their people a steady diet of misguided blame for their lack of prosperity.

Tyrants of the Middle East continuously stoke the fires of victimization–i.e., telling their people    the woes they are experiencing are caused not by a leadership whose appetite for riches grows at the expense of the public treasury but by non-existent sinister designs of an Israeli and Western conspiracy against Islam. Such leaders trumpet this victim mentality although most problems in the region contributing to the Arab world’s misery are self-inflicted. Historically, more Muslims have been killed by fellow Muslims than by non-Muslims. That trend continues today. As this article is written, Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi continues to murder his countrymen. His brutality in doing so is reflected in reports wounded Libyan patients have been shot–in their hospital beds–their bodies then hauled away to a crematorium to destroy evidence of the atrocity.

Gaddafi is but one of a long line of tyrants who, while claiming victimization of Muslims by the West, has unabashedly victimized his own people. For evidence of other Muslim tyrants responsible for the suffering of their fellow Muslims we need only look to Darfur, the Iran-Iraq war, Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, the massacres in Algeria, the slaughter of thousands of his own people by late Syrian leader Hafez al-Assad in the Hama massacre, the use of gas against Yemen by Egypt in the 1960s, the Taliban control of Afghanistan, the deaths of thousands of Iranian children “volunteers” encouraged by Tehran to clear minefields during the war with Iraq, etc.   The list–and the suffering–are endless. The word “massacre” attaches itself to many of these acts by Muslim leaders, yet their people fail to focus on their leaders as the real source of their victimization due to an information vacuum in which propaganda takes the place of truth.

The latest outrageous example of this is Gaddafi’s claim that the cause for civil unrest in his country is that al-Qaeda had drugged young Libyans by placing hallucinogens in their coffee. But, as ridiculous as his tale is, a large segment of an uninformed Libyan public probably accepts it as truth. After all, if 16% of an educated American population believes (as reflected by a 2006 poll) that 9/11 was a US government conspiracy, we can well understand an uneducated Libyan population buying off on Gaddafi’s pill conspiracy.

If events of the last several weeks in the Middle East shed light on anything, it should be the fallacy of the party line long- touted by Arab leaders that peace in the region will only come upon resolution of the Palestinian issue. There should be little doubt that unrest in this region would remain even if Israel failed to exist and a Palestinian state was established. For, as the wave of rage in the region has hit country after country, never once has there been a cry for the plight of the Palestinian people. This is because the wave is driven, not by the Palestinian issue, but by a young, unemployed Muslim citizenry who has been denied too much–i.e., their own human dignity–for too long by generations of corrupt leaders unconcerned about the needs of their people.

It will be interesting to see too whether Muslims caught up in the violence in the region come to understand as their Muslim leaders have focused on killing them, non-Muslims have been working to save their lives. US military aircraft were employed to ferry Egyptian workers in Libya out of the country to safety. US Disaster Assistance Response Teams have been deployed. A $47 million donation has been made by the US government to humanitarian organizations operating in Egypt, Tunisia and parts of Libya to support a large-scale relief effort and establish transient camps to provide food and water.

The Muslim world has been a seat of violence and instability for more than a millennium. For a relatively brief period, it served as a seat of enlightenment giving rise to tolerance and creative thought–the latter reflected by establishment of the world’s first library. What we do not yet know is what will be left when the tsunami of rage recedes from the region. It would be a transition of enormous proportion if authoritarian leaders who have ruled by limiting public access to the information highway, by misguiding their citizens as to the real cause of their victimization and by brutal repression were all swept away–replaced by enlightened leaders promoting the tolerance and creative thought for which the Muslim world was once known. Non-Muslims can only hope and pray for such a result–for any other outcome will leave a much more dangerous region of the world than existed before the tsunami of rage struck.

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