Sunday, June 6, 2010

I have to thank my country for banning free speech

Chinese is a wonderful tongue. Linguistically it is a tonal language with very different meanings for very similar sounding words. For free speech and criticizing the power establishment, China is a less wonderful country. People wanting to express their opinions and speak up their minds have to resort to subversive linguistical tactics to work around the State's censorship.

I few days ago, I stumbled upon the following text in China Digital Times (CDT): I have to thank my country. Yesterday grass mud horses in both the north and the south held banquets. In the north, the Twitter tour arrived in Beijing and people gathered to eat dinner together and discuss. However, the pandas accused those present of "illegal gathering, eating and drinking."

Did anyone understand anything? I didn't. I needed the explanations of the excellent CDT-Translator to understand the hidden treasures of the Chinese text translated and quoted above.

So here we go again: I have to thank my country (hugely sarcastic and often used to denounce actions of the state with only minor benefits and substantial costs). Yesterday grass mud horses ("grass mud horse" sounds in Chinese nearly the same as fcuk your mother; a "grass mud horse" is someone web-savvy and critical of governments attempts at censorship) in both the north and the south held banquets. In the north, the Twitter tour arrived in Beijing and people gathered to eat dinner together and discuss. However, the pandas (Pandas are China's national treasure; "national treasure" sounds the same as DSD, the Domestic Security Department) accused those present of "illegal gathering, eating and drinking (refers to the ridiculous accusation "illegally laying flowers" that was used against people laying flowers on the doorsteps of Google after their announcing their withdrawal from China)." Got it this time? Smart wording indeed and full of subtle innuendos.

But let us look closer to home for a minute. The so called "West" praises itself as being an open society where everybody can have his or her own opinion and is allowed to express it. We (and admittedly I am from the West myself) point our fingers at China and at their restricting Google doing business, blacking out that Google faces restrictions in many other countries as well, among them countries one would consider as being free and liberal.

France is following China's example now and is taking aim at bloggers and other people publishing on the internet. After losing an election in Metz, a French Senator started a campaign to prohibit anonymous - or fake name - blogging. The principles of the French Revolution - Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité - sound nowadays like an echo from a distant past. Fraternité is in perpetual decline, not only in France, but worldwide. Egalité seems to undergo a change of concept lately, not meaning "equal" anymore, but "alike". For the sake of a however backwardly defined French Leitkultur, people are uniformed and laws will soon be passed to even regulate one's clothing. And now it's Liberté's turn to go down the drain. The Senator wants to oblige every blogger to give his or her real name, address, e-mail and phone number when posting entries. One can only hope that the French language is as adaptable as Chinese to defy any efforts towards censorship.

But two other points came to my mind when thinking about the French Senator's proposal. Firstly: when Swiss citizens cast their ballots in secrecy and anonymity, voting to ban minarets in their country - a verdict now being brought before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg - this is called democracy. The majority rules the minority. When bloggers, anonymous as it may be, criticize their governments or their politicians, this is perceived as a danger to state and society.

And secondly: after the #Flotilla disaster and the subsequent media storm, the "ban anonymous blogging" seems to make more headway. Allright, I concede, there have been statements being posted online that are borderline, even racist, calling Israel all kind of names. People are shocked and blogging gives their anger a relief. Is this new? We had outbursts before, before Flotilla, before a Turkey led operation tried to break the siege of Gaza, before nine activists on board were killed by the IDF. Did anyone then call for laws regulating blogging? As one microblogger put it: "You can call Ahmadinejad a fascist but not Netanyahu a terrorist. FREE SPEECH!"