Friday, October 05, 2007

Who gets to decide who gets to speak?

First, thanks to all of you who chimed in on my recent post at my blog, wherein I exercised my freedom of choice. In the post, I said I chose to waste many unrecoverable minutes of my life actually listening to the drooling ranting of the “president” of Iran. We had a great dialogue: it was fun (I don’t get out much, so bear with me…).

Anyway, today, I recalled that conversation as I read this essay by someone who works for something called the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, who says this:

In Burma, an ominous silence has fallen. The ruling military junta has been answering the peaceful protests of dissident monks with beatings, arrests and untold killings. Even United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Louise Arbour, too often reticent about criticizing tyrannies, issued a statement Monday deploring the repression and asserting that in the current crackdown, Burma’s protesters “have become invisible.”

But not all Burmese have been stifled. At the United Nations’ headquarters in New York, all 192 members have just enjoyed their allotted 15 minutes of fame on the General Assembly stage. So it was that on Monday, while troops in Burma were reportedly hunting down dissidents, Burma’s minister for foreign affairs, U Nyan Win, a mouthpiece for the junta, mounted the steps to the main stage. There, before the great golden backdrop, facing the grand annual meeting of the world’s sovereign states, he delivered a speech in which the core message was that normalcy had now returned in Myanmar.

There is plenty to question in that perverse sentiment. But one question to which the free nations of the world - including our own - seem to devote far too little thought is: Why did the U.N. allow Nyan Win that world platform in the first place?

Then the author goes on to list a number of horrible people who, in her opinion, should also be denied the world stage provided by the United Nations. And she concludes with this:

Surely it is not too much to ask that the United Nations, which runs chiefly on the tax money and credibility of the free world, find a way to deprive the worst regimes of those annual 15 minutes of glory on its lofty stage.

Okay. So she and her friends at this particular right-wing think tank are offended by what they hear every year when the General Assembly convenes. And yes, much of what is said there is offensive to thinking people, such as what the representative from Burma said the other day.


Surely it’s not too much to then ask this question: Who gets to decide who gets to speak? Who gets to be the final arbiter of what is right to say, and what cannot be said? The staff of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies? Or how about Code Pink? The National Education Association? Fox News? The judges from American Idol? Who exactly gets to pick what we all get to hear? And on what criteria will they base this decision?

Here’s an example. Suppose we have a world leader who, in the opinion of a significant number of his own people, and based on significant evidence, came to power (and subsequently held onto it) based on two fraudulent (stolen) elections. This leader has repeatedly announced that he has no intention of obeying or enforcing laws that were legally passed into being. The members of this leader’s ruling junta routinely behave as if they are above the laws laid out in this particular country’s constitution. They have used torture and kidnapping as part of their defense policy. This leader and his cohorts support detaining citizens - both foreign and domestic - without charge, access to counsel, or trial by jury. This leader has presided over the invasion of two sovereign countries, in both cases without receiving the (legal) consent of the country’s legislative branch via a formal, constitutionally-mandated declaration of war. This leader is thus responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people. Meanwhile, this leader has engaged in extra-legal electronic spying and data mining on his own citizens, and he has openly encouraged citizens to spy on one another. He has allowed agents of federal law enforcement agencies to spy on citizens while they are attending their houses of worship. He has blatantly attempted to stifle dissent. Members of his administration have been paid to disseminate false information and to report it as “news.” This leader has ignored or rejected legitimate scientific data, including medical information, and replaced it with junk science and outright lies, thus placing the health and lives of his citizens at risk. He has also ignored the overwhelming suffering endured by thousands of his people following natural disasters.

Would such a leader as this have the right to speak?

Hmmm? Just askin'...

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