Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Hillary and the Dilemma of Freedom | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Hillary Clinton rebuked the Chinese over the restrictions that they imposed on the Google search engine, and at the same time announced the US administration’s determination to defend the freedom of expression in cyberspace, opening up a large domain for internet users around the world. Hillary believes that the internet represents “a new nervous system for our planet” and she called on Google not bow to political pressure.

However at the same time, US Congress is calling for the adoption of a decision to ban Arabic satellite channels that incite terrorism and this is something that may expose the owners or shareholders of satellite providers to sanctions. How can one understand the freedom that the US Secretary of State is defending when looking at the ban that the US Congress is calling for, and aren’t both of these [apparatus], the internet and satellite channels, a means of expression that is ensured by freedom?

Let us take for example, the US justification for freedom of expression, where Clinton considered the broadcasting of images of the murdered Iranian protester Neda Agha Soltani as being equivalent to “a digital indictment of the [Iranian] government’s brutality.” Whilst one of Clinton’s top aides, Jared Cohen, who is a member of the US State Department’s Policy Planning Staff, told Asharq Al-Awsat that “with regards to Iran, communicating with parties via the internet or [communicating with] students via twitter, [and] not closing the site for maintenance; all of this is communicating with the relevant parties in order to give the Iranians the opportunity to connect with the world, and give them the right to preserve their civil rights, and this comes within the framework of our foreign policy.” These are nice words, and acceptable, but what about the suffering of the Palestinian people at the hands of the Israelis, images of which fill the television screens and internet?

How can we distinguish between freedom and terror, or incitement and a legitimate right? Defense of one’s homeland is a legitimate right by any definition, but today we are facing a confusing classification [of definition], and so defending one’s homeland has been transformed into terrorism. The issue has become unsettled, such as in the case of Hamas; for in the West there are those who view Hamas as a terrorist movement, and consider our criticism of the movement as support for this [view]. Whereas we believe that Hamas, especially in its conflict with Israel, is a movement that is reckless, opportunistic, and politically ignorant, and is the cause behind the loss of many Palestinian and Arab rights, however despite this we do not regard this movement as a terrorist organization. We agree in our criticism of Hamas, but we do not agree on the characterization of Hamas.

Let us take another example, the Yemeni government has complained to everybody about the presence of satellite channels that call for the division of Yemen, or support the Huthis, or promote Al Qaeda. The dilemma is that some of these channels and websites are located in Europe, and Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan have complained about their existence since the nineties and until today, and this is with regards to [media] that promote Al Qaeda or extremist ideology. However it was always said that these instigators were not doing anything against the laws guaranteeing the freedom of expression.

Therefore we say that this is a real dilemma for the US administration that on one hand is defending the freedom of expression on the internet, but on the other hand is demanding that the Arabs shut down and ban satellite channels that incite terrorism. Where does freedom begin, and where does it end, with regards to satellite channels and the internet? What is freedom, and how does one define incitement at a time of unprecedented digital and media interconnection and interrelation?