Thursday, January 05, 2012

Barry Rubin: Goodbye Democracy: My Political Analysis is Banned by a European Government Computer Program As "Hate Speech"

The following by Barry Rubin is reposted with permission:

By Barry Rubin

I have just been informed that my PJ article, "Egypt: As Grim Islamists March Toward Power, The Naïve Dance in Tahrir Square" has been barred on sites used by officials of a European government--hint, they speak English there and it is the birthplace of modern democracy and free speech--on the grounds that this article is "hate speech."

What this means is that if you work for any institution that is part of this government--including the Foreign or Defense ministries--you cannot read this PJ Media column on your computer that's part of such a server.

The message reads: Access denied -- reason given : hate speech.

My reader asks sarcastically if complaining about this action would constitute a "thought crime" on his part.

Update: A reliable reader reports the same thing happened on a business computer in the United States where the sheriff is apparently something called DansGuardian.

This is the first time ever that one of my articles has been so flagged. But it brings out an important point: A computer program that picks out "key words" can accuse you of a crime and block your free speech. If I had to guess at the phrase it would be my reference (that's a guess) to "Muslim [space inserted to avoid censorship] riots" in France several years ago. But they were riots by Muslims and that is not only factually correct but necessary for making an important point.

Apparently, this system has done the same thing to articles by other people before though I don't know the details.

So there are three problems here:

--Free speech is now conditional on someone's judgment of your viewpoint. This also has a chilling effect since the reader might say, "I'm not the kind of person who wants to see hate speech!" or frightened, "What if my employer sees that I'm viewing such material? I might be fired or not promoted!"

--That judge isn't even a human being but a computer program that makes arbitrary selections out of context. Would the phrases "Christian riot," "Hindu riot," "Jewish riot," "Caucasian riot," etc., trigger an accusation of hate speech? Who decides? Where is this information available to the public?

--As far as I can see, all of the intimidation and censorship are in one direction. It's like in Lebanon where all these moderate politicians, judges, and journalists were attacked and assassinated while not a single supporter of Hizballah or Syrian-Iranian client was hit.

I've spoken at universities where people were practically trembling and the meeting was made pretty secret. My invitation to give a purely academic lecture at a state university in the United States that regularly features radical Islamists was barred by the department on flimsy grounds. I've had one noted university publisher change its mind on a book project because a board member objected to having an Israeli write about Arab politics and by another university publisher at the last minute--in violation of its own rules--for purely political reasons.

And that's nothing compared to what other people have suffered including less of employment, attacks by demonstrators, banning from social media, being on the continual receiving end of "hate mail," and so on.

Yet virtually nothing like this ever happens to those "on the other side." On the contrary, they are given every possible advantage and benefit despite the low quality of their work (ridiculously politicized and unproven theses; blatant classroom bias) and at times their inability to meet the rules (academic promotion without an impressive publications' record, for example).

Isn't this disparity significant? Are we dealing now with the sincere desire to make everyone love each other or a political tactic to benefit one side, movement, ideology, and to ensure the defeat of another one?

Are the messages of Hamas, Hizballah, the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaida, and the Taliban, groups that explicitly and deliberately call for genocide, ever blocked as "hate speech?" I've never heard of that happening.

I cannot even figure out who I am supposedly telling people to "hate" in this article. Is it "hate speech" to argue anything other than that the Muslim Brotherhood is a moderate pro-democratic group?

Well, Western democracies have finally accepted censorship based on the clever lie that they are only protecting people from racism and those who want to incite violence and murder. The door that this is opened has now made possible what liberals and democrats have warned against for more than a century--even though people claiming such positions are responsible for this--giving authorities to block and ban political views that they don't like.

It's proper to defend the rights of those who are being provocative in some way. But we have gone far beyond that: the censorship of straight political analysis that conflicts with the "official line" and that's a line determined by a software program.

A lawyer points out that employers have a right to stop their workers from using official computers to play games or engage in personal activities. But blocking non-relevant sites is quite different from accusing people of crimes, censoring speech, having an official governmental standard of impermissible phrases, and blocking people from reading material that is relevant for their work.

Note: You can see that I have left in phrases like "Jewish riot" and "Christian riot" while altering the phrase "Muslim [Hi! Isn't the weather beautiful today?] riot." So let's see if this article gets censored. Do let me know.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). His latest book is Israel: An Introduction, to be published by Yale University Press in January 2012. You can read more of Barry Rubin's posts at Rubin Reportsand now on his new blog, Rubin Reports, on Pajamas Media

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