This post is not well-documented for I don’t have the time to search for links to support my claims, hence I realize my argument is weak nevertheless I don’t think it’s baseless.
A lot has been said and done, both by Syrian netizens and by western human rights organizations, about the vicious no good evil Syrian regime censorship of websites in Syria. It’s the favorite topic for almost all of the human rights websites and organizations, alternative and mainstream ones, to pin point the illegal censorship policies of certain regimes mostly Syria and Iran.
Whenever a website is found blocked in Syria, these organizations hurry and publish their appealing reports to the western world condemning the act that devalues one of the most important human right to the western world, freedom of speech. A right I think it’s also important to us here in this region, but in a whole different context.
Whenever a prominent blogger or a Syrian/Iranian activist is arrested, or rather, whenever the Syrian regime commits the crime of censorship, reports in the western world never stop from flowing.
But what is not known to many people who follow and salute these human rights organization is that many Syrians are arrested and recently prevented from leaving the country for no explained reasons (which is now considered the threat to Syrians activists than imprisonment) and contrary to a stupid report published here calling US and European officials to put pressure on Syria concerning its human rights record. Only the prominent political prisoners get attention from these organizations and from the mainstream and alternative western media. Of course the case is relatively the same with Syrian human rights organizations, not every Syrian political prisoner or detainee get the same attention from local human rights organizations and many prisoners remain unknown.
My point is that the term “human rights” is never about people’s rights really. It’s one of the major political terms used heavily in political contexts to support or condemn certain people or regimes according to the organization’s agenda or its source of funding agenda. If an authorial regime arrests people who resist its authority, authorial human rights organization support authorial political prisoners and ignore “marginal” ones. If Syria censored websites, all western human rights organizations heavily condemn the illegal act, but these very organizations stay still, and thus become cooperatives, when censorship is practiced “legally” by American websites and corporations like Google, which prevents Syrian users from downloading most of its products like Google Talk, Chrome, Gears, Video chat and from uploading a video to Google Videos.
I cannot upgrade and renew my wordpress account from Syria, because wordpress deals with Paypal and Syria and Lebanon are not listed in its countries’ list to allow me to pay. I have to rely on my friends on other parts of the world to do so. And the only reason I reserved a domain on wordpress is because the domain blogspot is blocked in Syria and I fear wordpress domain might be blocked in the future as well.
So what did Amnesty or Human Rights Watch or Reporters Without Borders have to say about these websites who censor, as the Syrian regime, Syrian users from using their services?
Yes, these three websites have not published not one single report condemning Google or Linkedin or Paypal about their decisions to prevent Syrian users from using their services, but they did however, publish heavily on Syria’s act of censorship. These so called prominent human rights organizations do not condemn the act of censorship itself but rather the doer of that act, and this condemnation always goes hand in hand with the American foreign policy, sorry no, intervention, hmm not really, “imperialistic occupation” in the region, as Azmi Bshara rightly once called it.
From how I see it, human rights organizations are like the United Nations, their job is not to defend people’s rights but rather to show the world who’s in power at the moment. We can see that from Human Rights Watch reports on both of the Zionist war crimes on Lebanon in 2006 and on Gaza 2008-09. HRW reports on July war were clearly biased to Israel because the whole world was siding with it, whereas with Gaza, the story was slightly different; HRW can no longer ignore the heavy amount of documentations and visual proofs circulated widely around the world by the Gazans and activists condemning Israel of committing war crimes in sieged Gaza. HRW is not objective and certainly not condemning Israel as much is depicting a historical moment the world is processing right now against Israel as a war-crimes state.
Western human rights organizations are only tools used by authorial western countries to put political pressure on Syrian and Iranian regimes exactly because of their support to Hezbolla and Hamas, the one thing that pleases me about these regimes.
Syrian regime censor websites and arrest people to secure its domination over the country, some American websites prevent us from using their websites because we support Hamas and Hezbolla. President Assad did not claim not once that Syria is a democratic country, but these websites, coming from proud democratic and civilized nation that is, are punishing us Syrians for our democratic choice; supporting resistance. So please, don’t ever talk to me about democracy, human rights and freedom of speech before, and as a starter, put Bush and his soldiers on trial and fucking kill him in front of his people (who elected him) on Christmas as you killed Saddam in front of his people (who did not elect him) on Eid.
20 thoughts on “"Human Rights" and Syrian and American Censorship of websites in Syria”
I know your heart is in the right place, but you’re putting the blame on the wrong people. Let me start by saying that I too think the sanctions are ridiculous and should be removed immediately.
That said, the web sites such as Google which apply the sanctions face legal penalties if they don’t follow orders. I know you want to believe that Google is inherently evil, but they’re not. And LinkedIn, which is legally required to apply sanctions with their software, corrected their error immediately and opened up Syrian LinkedIn accounts (yes, I truly believe it was an error, and having spent all of my day yesterday fighting for it, I’m going to stick by that).
And again, I think you’re barking up the wrong tree when it comes to anti-censorship organizations. Yeah, I think Amnesty and HRW should be speaking out against the lack of human rights under the Bush regime, and I’m with you on Bush being tried and hanged. But the anti-censorship organizations, many of which I firmly believe in, aren’t the problem.
The way I see it, free speech is the most vital of all rights. Without free speech, there is no social change, and no other “human rights.” So going about it, however they must, anti-censorship organizations pushing for Syria to lift its censorship of web sites is, in my opinion, done with the right intentions. Could they do more? Absolutely.
Jillian, It’s not enough to say that these sanctions are ridiculous, we should address the political context in which these sanctions emerged, and they are only another tool to pressure Syria onto becoming a “friendly Arab nation” and cooperate with the US as Egypt and KSA and Jordan are.
You have the right to believe whatever you want to with regards to Google and Linkedin, I don’t believe Linkedin reconsidered its decision because they were against the sanctions, but because now they’re embarrassed due to the many reports published on their decision to prevent Syrian users to use its network service.
HRW and Amnesty should do many thing, but they’re not, and there are obvious reason for that.
What you have provided is good faith in these websites and organizations, sadly, their actions speak louder than your good intentions.
I think Syrian regime censorship is a Syrian business, we are its people and we are the ones to push the Syrian regime to change. The best thing these American human rights organizations to do is to watch its country and its abuse of human rights and freedom of speech, I am sure the world then will live in peace.
Yeah, I think Amnesty and HRW should be speaking out against the lack of human rights under the Bush regime,
Huh Amnesty definitely has. They also called for countries to not sell arms to Israel a couple of months ago.
Right, the whole world is a conspiracy. Look, I agree with a lot of what you’re saying, but I guess I don’t believe that constant negativity does any good.
You’re arguing 10 different threads in one post, and there are certainly battles in there worth fighting. But nothing is worth fighting unless it can be done in a focused and organized manner.
Incidentally, I can’t seem to find one organization in the US that is fighting against the sanctions on Syria specifically (and yet there are god-knows-how-many fighting Cuban sanctions). Guess it’s time to start one.
My intention from writing this post is not to start a battle or to be negative, I am simply providing my reading on these interactive issues, and I am sorry to say it’s not quite nice.
I think America needs a lot of change from within as Syria does, Syrians know their country needs a lot of change, but I am not sure if Americans feel the same way towards their country.
And how would you know?
Honestly, I find it frustrating that you assume that so many Syrians are actively trying to change their country but Americans aren’t. I agree that perhaps Americans don’t quite understand the nuances of actual change, but I would firmly state the a large swath of the U.S. population feels that way toward their country.
It’s not really right for you to assume otherwise, just as it’s not right for me to make such assumptions about Syria.
I am sorry I made you frustrated, Jillian.
Let me clarify – and feel free to not publish this one.
You know I love you – but when you say stuff like this, it reads to me as no different from when an American makes generalizations about Muslims or Arabs. I know America ain’t right, but the assumption that I am somehow unique? Frustrating.
the difference between American generalizations about Muslims and Arabs and between Arab “generalization” about Americans is that this region will never forget that the war on Iraq was supported by American people, that the US sanctions on Iraq that resulted killing one million Iraqi child was supported by its people. Arabs hurt no one but themselves, but Americans committed massacres in Iraq and caused the current civil war we witness today. America is responsible of turning Iraq into a nightmare to its people. I cannot forget and forgive that. This is history, not generalizations. I have faith in some Americans like Marcy and you and others, but I don’t think I met much. I might be wrong, but that’s what history taught us.
The problem with most Americans is not that they are evil or vengeful. In my opinion, the problem is that they are ignorant. The way to fix this is not by blaming or assuming they can do no right, but by working within to educate.
That’s why, when a company liked LinkedIn “turns around,” even for the wrong reasons, they should be encouraged to a degree.
I think you got me wrong, I don’t believe anyone is evil, even Israelis.
What you’re saying is that American people should know what’s happening in their country for them to change, that’s pretty much what I meant when I said not many people are willing to change American from within, because they don’t think it needs change in the first place.
There is a “space” in America to change but we need to work on people first, whereas in Syria, there are people dying to change, but there aren’t any space for them to move.
I’m giggling now realizing at the fact that we’re having this as a public conversation.
Anyway – I know you and I both have strong visions of a “right” world, or we would be so passionate. You say Syrians have a desire to change, and I don’t disagree, but what makes you so sure it’s in a manner that would satisfy your views? (mind you, I’m not saying it’s not, either)
There are a lot of Americans itching for change too, in the “wrong” (in my opinion) direction. If we’re talking change for the sake of change, well…
And as for the space for Syrians to move…free speech is the first step. I still believe that. If only Americans would use what they have.
and I think I agree with you about encouraging Linkedin, but also I think it’s important in our encouragement rhetoric to remain critical of its previous decision.
Really, really great post ya razan, honestly the best post I have read anywhere in a long, long time. Especially like ur ending!!!
Ya merci :)
Good question, I think Syrian people will disagree on social change, but they won’t when it comes to politics and economy and freedom of press.
I believe the first step in a just economical system, a person doesn’t care about his “speech” if he/she cannot live in dignity.
I’m glad to read this interaction between you and Jillian, and thank you Jillian for clearing things up. I have been frustrated with the way most people think in your area (I mean the new generations, the Syrian bloggers), It is all in their hands but they do not know it. There is a wealth of open source, and if one closes the door there are tons others opens hundreds of doors. I did not want to comment before scared to be accused an American emigrant and he is bias to his Americanism. But the latest “Linked” debacle does clearly show that you guys are buying into the authoritarian regimes propagandas. I want to give you this link, interview with Paul Jones, http://wunc.org/tsot/archive/sot0420abc09.mp3/view
to prove to you that technology can not be authoritarian, the democracy is built in the new technology system. This new software and companies do not differentiate between this and that, they are eager to have everyone participation, they know extra participation give wealth to the industry.I would like you to listen to this inventor who changed the landscape of the industry and I’m sure you will enjoy all the information he present, it is a wealth of information and over whelming. Enjoy it
He is the inventor of Ibibilio, music streaming and open web, his name Paul Jones, professor at Chapel Hill University. He is the director of Ibibilio.org, Here is more info about him: http://ibiblio.org/pjones/
You can also read his latest posts on http://ibiblio.org/pjones/blog/
While you there take my present the old song: Chantily Lace
I think you’ve caught onto an important power dynamic Razan, but I don’t think it can be captured purely in terms of censorship. Human rights organizations are partially blind to the effects that sanctions by Western countries have on the freedoms of people around the world. At best, they condemn sanctions which lead to hunger or otherwise affect the ability of humans around the world to survive, but sometimes they limit their discourse to humanitarian issues rather than rights issues. They are blind to the kind of discrimination inherent in making it illegal for Syrians, North Koreans, Cubans, Iranians, or Sudanese to access certain websites or use certain online services. The kind of sanctions we’re talking about put in place a legally sanctioned regime of discrimination which really is indiscriminate and collective punishment and should be recognized as that. So I think in this case it’s a weird kind of censorship, but the language of censorship cannot quite capture the the degree or nature of the injustice that is being done by these laws.
When Google bars Syrian, Cuban or North Korean users from using its services, it is not done in any political context but citing the legal export restrictions as imposed by the US government. Well, definitely the political agenda of Western governments are at play here, but corporations like Google, LinkedIn or Paypal are not targeted by Western human rights organizations like HRW, Amnesty or RSF because corporations are just abiding by the legal restrictions imposed on them.
And this brings us to the fact that these NGOs don’t deal the human rights question from a political perspective but from a legal point of view. The Western political agenda primarily dictates their actions through legal mechanisms and then as you mention funding guidelines etc.
The sad truth is, when they are talking about human rights violations they are only focused on deviations from the standards as set by the international human rights machinery: UN, UDHR, EU, Geneva, Brussels… blah this or blah that… I assume that you would like to see the human rights debate rooted on the question of freedom, liberty and human sovereignty. But, bad news is we can not expect that from these NGOs or the advocacy industry since their domain is just legalistic mumbo-jumbo, focused on the legalistic norm, largely driven on hunger for publicity. It would have been excellent if they were political as you noted, but no, they are simple apolitical pawns in the hands of an imperial beast.
An article about the subject was published in the Guardian this morning:
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