Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Afghanistan Government Threatens Free Press: Maybe For Good Reason

"Afghan Press Says Gag is Unconstitutional: They Could be Right"
(August 19, 2009)
I'm not sure quite what to think about some of today's news from Afghanistan:
"...'If anybody broadcasts or gives news about any movements or activities of terrorists, domestic media offices will be closed and foreigners will be kicked out of the country,' according to a statement from foreign ministry spokesman Ahmed Zahir.

"This week, the Taliban said it plans to disrupt the elections with continued attacks and threatened to kill Afghans who vote.

"The government request came as it was announced that seven Afghan election workers had been killed by roadside bombs as they traveled the country...."

'Freedom of the Press,' 'The People Have the Right to Know,' Culture and Motive

I doubt that even the Obama administration now, or the JFK administration, back in the days of Camelot, could have gotten away with a move like that. Not without creating more disruption than what we'd see from Taliban attacks.

In Afghanistan, things are probably different.

America has a history of tolerating - even celebrating - freedom: Freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom to all wear T-shirts and jeans. There have been exceptions, of course: the conformist fifties and McCarthyism (not quite the same thing); and the situation America has been in ever since the campus radicals got tenure.

But, by and large, America does tolerate freedom of expression. Provided that one doesn't use explosives, swords, or firearms in the process.
What's Afghanistan's Government Doing?
For me, a great deal hinges on the matter of motive: Why is Afghanistan's government threatening to shut down broadcasters and deport foreigners if they hear something about a terrorist attack?

It's possible that Afghanistan is following Iran's lead, and silencing anyone who doesn't do what the leaders want. Possible, but not necessarily true. The warning is tied to a specific event.

It's also possible that Afghanistan's government knows that there's an election coming up; that the Taliban has threatened to disrupt it; and doesn't particularly want to help the Taliban by letting the whole country know, when and if a bomb goes off or a terrorist moves into town.

On March 11, 2004, the Madrid train bombings killed people and most likely affected Spain's election results.

I can see why Afghanistan's government might not want the Taliban doing the same this year.

'Britain is not Spain'

I think it was the British prime minister who, not long after the Madrid train bombings, made a statement about Britain and terrorist threats.

He said something like 'Britain is not Spain'1 I like to confirm quotes like that and (if possible) link to a widely-accepted reliable source online. I can't, this time.2

I think it's equally valid to say that Afghanistan is not America.

The British politico was saying, in part, that the culture - and politics - of the United Kingdom were not the same as those of Spain. I think he's right.

I also think that it's a mistake to assume that all countries are like America: or Germany; India; Japan; you get the idea.

Although it's possible that the Obama administration could pull off a threat like Afghanistan's, I think that - generally speaking - the sort of criticism that would come from gagging the press like that in America might be worse than any likely combination of terrorist attacks.

But, Afghanistan is not America. I'm willing to wait and see what happens next, before forming an opinion.

Happily, since I'm not running things, I can afford to do that. As I've written before: "It's different, when you're in charge."

Related posts: In the news: Background:
1 Eurocentrism? Isn't Spain part of Europe, and Britain a set of islands off the coast of Europe? Never mind: facts aren't all that important in some philosophies. I'll admit to a having a bias. I was doing time at a university when political correctness was in flower: Not an experience I'd willingly repeat.

2There are plenty of paraphrases and uncited quotes of the phrase, but the dominant culture in America and elsewhere hasn't recorded it.

I suppose "Britain is not Spain" isn't quite the sort of thing that the more (sophisticated?) people don't quite approve of the reality implied by the phrase.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.