Global Civil Society: Look Left, Look Right

We often associate activism and civil society as being largely anti-establishment, progress and liberal. This article observes how the playing field is actually more balanced and diverse, exploring the myriad conservative right wing activist groups that have surfaced to protect established systems traditions and mindsets. 

PITTSBURGH: International campaigns on social and economic issues are increasingly common. NGOs, foundations, journalists, celebrities and citizens have pressured governments to establish an International Criminal Court, institute a ban on landmines and promote environmental sustainability. They are also trying to slow global warming, broaden access to reproductive rights and promote any number of other progressive goals.

Such activism, not always successful, has become so frequent that “global civil society” is often portrayed as a bastion of leftwing politics – a realm of likeminded groups working to counter corporate power, state repression and cultural backwardness.

Yet for all the liberal groups working across borders, the voices of another civil society are also making themselves heard. Right wing civic groups are taking to the global stage, despite a reputation for kneejerk aversion to international institutions as embodiment of liberal causes. Indeed, by doing so, conservative groups can attract allies, exploit receptive venues and find additional examples supporting their ideas.

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Anti-Islam Video: Crossing the line from moral culpability to legal accountability?

I’m sure you’ve heard of the burgeoning global protests against the anti-Islam video “Innocence of Muslims”. While most can agree that the video is indeed denigrating and disrespectful, what is debatable is whether such acts (and judging from the violent responses it has generated) warrant criminal investigation and legal action? Do we take them to task in order to quell somewhat the violent reactions, or simply choose to wave it off while extolling the freedom of speech and shaking our heads at the violent protests?

Professor of Religious Studies Anthea Butler argues that yes, the masterminds behind the video deserve to be arrested given the dishonest nature of its production and the global repercussions it has costs for both western and middle-eastern worlds alike:

So why did I tweet that Bacile should be in jail? The “free speech” in Bacile’s film is not about expressing a personal opinion about Islam. It denigrates the religion by depicting the faith’s founder in several ludicrous and historically inaccurate scenes to incite and inflame viewers. Even the film’s actors say they were duped […] Bacile indirectly and inadvertently inflamed people half a world away, resulting in the deaths of U.S. Embassy personnel.

Adam Lee, a Big Think and Daylight Atheism blogger, argues how calls to arrest the film producers are ludicrous and symbolically bows down to the demands of the protesters:

With all that said, however, I have to admit that there’s no moral equivalence to be drawn here. The free expression of opinions, however reprehensible those opinions are, isn’t a crime against human rights. Violence is. The producers of the film (who are apparently trying to stay in the shadows) may well hold false or bigoted opinions about Islam. But if their intent was to enrage Muslims and provoke them into violence against innocent people, thereby demonstrating that Islam is a backward and violent religion… well, they’ve made their point.

What is your opinion on the matter? Do you agree more with Butler in that the negative impacts of such actions justify due punishment? Or with Lee in that while we denounce such videos, arresting the film-makers would be a compromise of ‘western’ values of freedom of expression and speech? 

OR, are both writers missing the point here? Was this video merely a trigger that blew wide open larger anxieties and tensions between the two ‘civilizations’ (ala Samuel Huntington)? 

21 years later…She Speaks

Excerpts of Suu Kyi’s Oslo speech

“Often during my days of house arrest it felt as though I were no longer a part of the real world. There was the house which was my world, there was the world of others who also were not free but who were together in prison as a community, and there was the world of the free. Each was a different planet pursuing its own separate course in an indifferent universe. What the Nobel Peace Prize did was to draw me once again into the world of other human beings outside the isolated area in which I lived, to restore a sense of reality to me. This did not happen instantly, of course, but as the days and months went by and news of reactions to the award came over the airwaves, I began to understand the significance of the Nobel Prize. It had made me real once again; it had drawn me back into the wider human community. And what was more important, the Nobel Prize had drawn the attention of the world to the struggle for democracy and human rights in Burma. We were not going to be forgotten.

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Internet a Human Right?

Internet Access Is Not a Human Right

FROM the streets of Tunis to Tahrir Square and beyond, protests around the world last year were built on the Internet and the many devices that interact with it. Though the demonstrations thrived because thousands of people turned out to participate, they could never have happened as they did without the ability that the Internet offers to communicate, organize and publicize everywhere, instantaneously.

It is no surprise, then, that the protests have raised questions about whether Internet access is or should be a civil or human right. The issue is particularly acute in countries whose governments clamped down on Internet access in an attempt to quell the protesters. In June, citing the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, a report by the United Nations’ special rapporteur went so far as to declare that the Internet had “become an indispensable tool for realizing a range of human rights.” Over the past few years, courts and parliaments in countries like France and Estonia have pronounced Internet access a human right.

But that argument, however well meaning, misses a larger point: technology is an enabler of rights, not a right itself. There is a high bar for something to be considered a human right. Loosely put, it must be among the things we as humans need in order to lead healthy, meaningful lives, like freedom from torture or freedom of conscience. It is a mistake to place any particular technology in this exalted category, since over time we will end up valuing the wrong things. For example, at one time if you didn’t have a horse it was hard to make a living. But the important right in that case was the right to make a living, not the right to a horse. Today, if I were granted a right to have a horse, I’m not sure where I would put it.

The best way to characterize human rights is to identify the outcomes that we are trying to ensure. These include critical freedoms like freedom of speech and freedom of access to information — and those are not necessarily bound to any particular technology at any particular time. Indeed, even the United Nations report, which was widely hailed as declaring Internet access a human right, acknowledged that the Internet was valuable as a means to an end, not as an end in itself.

What about the claim that Internet access is or should be a civil right? The same reasoning above can be applied here — Internet access is always just a tool for obtaining something else more important — though the argument that it is a civil right is, I concede, a stronger one than that it is a human right. Civil rights, after all, are different from human rights because they are conferred upon us by law, not intrinsic to us as human beings.

While the United States has never decreed that everyone has a “right” to a telephone, we have come close to this with the notion of “universal service” — the idea that telephone service (and electricity, and now broadband Internet) must be available even in the most remote regions of the country. When we accept this idea, we are edging into the idea of Internet access as a civil right, because ensuring access is a policy made by the government.

Yet all these philosophical arguments overlook a more fundamental issue: the responsibility of technology creators themselves to support human and civil rights. The Internet has introduced an enormously accessible and egalitarian platform for creating, sharing and obtaining information on a global scale. As a result, we have new ways to allow people to exercise their human and civil rights.

In this context, engineers have not only a tremendous obligation to empower users, but also an obligation to ensure the safety of users online. That means, for example, protecting users from specific harms like viruses and worms that silently invade their computers. Technologists should work toward this end.

It is engineers — and our professional associations and standards-setting bodies like the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers — that create and maintain these new capabilities. As we seek to advance the state of the art in technology and its use in society, we must be conscious of our civil responsibilities in addition to our engineering expertise.

Improving the Internet is just one means, albeit an important one, by which to improve the human condition. It must be done with an appreciation for the civil and human rights that deserve protection — without pretending that access itself is such a right.

Vinton G. Cerf of The New York Times (link here)

What analogy did the author employ to illustrate his argument? Do you agree with the author’s views that the Internet should not be considered a Human Right? 

Why do you think people are thinking about the Internet in this manner?

Chemical Castration

A South Korean law allowing the use of ‘chemical castration’ will come into effect today after it was passed in parliament a year ago.  The procedure, which involves the administration of testosterone-suppressing hormones to reduce or inhibit libido and sexual activity, is often introduced in the hope of preventing rapists and sexual offenders from repeating their crimes. Impetus for this new form of punishment came after the South Korea was beset with waves of sexual assault cases in the years leading up to 2008.

Of course, the law is not without its detractors. From the Associated Press report a year ago:

Some critics of the procedure have argued that while it may stop sex crimes, it doesn’t necessarily prevent other violent crimes. Civil liberties advocates have also called the procedure barbaric, and some papers in South Korea raised ethical concerns […]

David Benjamin, a Ph.D who is a clinical pharmacologist and forensic toxicologist at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center in Boston, said hindering physically arousal may not deter mental arousal.

“Arousal is in the brain,” he said. “It transfers to a bodily function when you become aroused, but I don’t know whether there has been enough scientific research to prove that hindering a bodily function can keep you from being aroused.”

Here’s a balanced entry discussing the benefits and disadvantages of the implementing the procedure of sexual offenders but ultimately recommending it as a better alternative than a prison sentence with little effective rehabilitation.

What are your own takes regarding the procedure? Will it be an effective solution to prevent repeated sexual offences or will it backfire? Does it violate any moral or ethical concern? 

How far for animal protest?

Image from The Telegraph

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
– Mahatma Gandhi

Animal rights have always been a concern of our dominant human species. Legislation all around the world is slowly recognizing the fact that a civilized society should perhaps treat its lesser neighbor with more dignity. However, there have of course been many groups that obviously feel society is moving way too slowly–thus the existence of activists. The world has seen some incredible animal rights activists (ranging from anti-fur demonstrations in the cold to anti-whaling ship collisions).

However, has this particular woman gone too far for the sake of sharks? Alice Newstead hung herself precariously in London with hooks on folds of skin, a drastic action in protest at the practice of finning, where sharks are captured–only to have their fins sliced off for shark’s fin–and then thrown back into the water…alive.

How would you have reacted to her protest act if you were there? Are such shock tactics really effective?

Rallying for Real Elections…

Photo from AP

Running Scared in Malaysia

by John. R. Malott (original link here)

The Malaysian government has pulled out all the stops to prevent an opposition rally this weekend. This week, army units conducted crowd control exercises with banners that said, “Disperse or we will shoot!” The police set up roadblocks and arrested Malaysians simply for wearing yellow T-shirts, the signature color of Bersih, a coalition of 62 nongovernmental organizations that demands changes in Malaysia’s electoral system. To date, the police have arrested over 250 supporters of Bersih, claiming that they are “waging war against the king.”

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