Sunday, October 17

Sunday Rant: on dissidents, criminals and Nobel awards

The Real News published this story on Saturday about Canadian activist Alex Hundert’s ongoing battle for the right to speak in the wake of the G20 debacle in June. Hundert has been an activist, and a voluble one, for many years. Watch the video to get a bigger picture of who he is and what he stands for.

He was arrested back in June in anticipation of the G20 in Toronto, preemptively targeted as one of many activist leaders in a blatant attempt to shut down protests. This, of course, didn’t work. Activists are an anarchistic lot, and while leaders do exist, their role is less to organize than to galvanize, and the dissent goes on with or without them.

This isn't just a Canadian trend. The current criminalization of dissent applies in the US too, where activists have been being rounded up, just like in Canada, while engaging in such subversive acts as questioning policy on LBGT rights, DADT repeal, the use of torture, and America’s ongoing (never-ending) war efforts. Just as it’s happening in Europe and Russia and Israel, all supposedly democratic, developed bastions of human rights.

One of the conditions of Hundert’s original $100,000 bail was to not participate in protests, so he didn’t, in spite of being a fairly obviously infringement of his right to free speech. Then he participated in a panel discussion in a lecture hall, at a university, as an invited speaker, inside, without signs, with an “I want to be here” audience.

Naturally, he was arrested for breach of bail conditions. Apparently a panel discussion is now the equivalent of a protest.

Hundert was just released, after another four weeks in custody, with an additional, coerced condition on his bail, one that makes not participating in protests seem mild in comparison. The new condition precludes him from any public discussion of his political views. A complete public gag order. He might as well be in jail, which is where he was going to stay rather than acquiesce, but they literally threatened him with solitary confinement for the duration if he didn't sign off on the condition.

Offended yet?

Meanwhile, another much more popular story this last week was the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Liu Xiaobo of China, another dissident and activist, a proponent of peaceful, non-violent dissent, a participant in the Tiananmen Square protests and a co-author of the Charter 08 document in support of democracy and civil rights in China. For writing and signing that document he was arrested, convicted of subversion of the government, and sentenced to eleven years in prison.

Except for the Chinese government, the award is applauded. The Chinese Government’s reaction (calling the award antithetical to the mandate of the Nobel Peace Prize and reaffirming their stance that Liu is a criminal) was universally frowned upon as the pathetic attempt at spin and propaganda that it is.

On October 8th, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper congratulated Liu and joined the chorus of world leaders asking China to review Liu’s imprisonment. This was the same day that Hundert was found to be in breach of his ‘no-demonstration’ bail condition.

I guess the lesson here is that dissent in China is noble, but in Canada, the US or the rest of the “developed world”, it’s just criminal.

The hypocrisy is fucking nauseating.

This seems to clearly fall into the “we’re going to look back on this and feel pretty stupid” category. I’ve talked about this before, about our social myopia when it comes to doing the most convenient thing now while ignoring the consequences (and the irony).

So, while the world applauds Mr. Liu’s Nobel (appropriately), and he enjoys it from his cell, the Canadian dissident Alex Hundert will be appealing the coerced condition of his bail denying him free speech. He’ll do it in a month, the earliest opportunity that the law allows.

Until then he'll essentially be under house arrest, his dissident thoughts locked and ankle-braceleted inside his head, away from the flaccid, apathetic ears and minds of the Canadian public. Just as Mr. Liu is closeted away, all reference to his award banned and scoured from the Chinese internet.

But that’s the way we like it, right? If only those trouble makers would stay quiet, we seem to believe, it’d be so much easier to go about doing the bigger-better-faster-more thing, accumulating our toys and our debt, making the fat politicians and greedy capitalists happy and rich. That’s the way we do it in the developed world, right? Like in China.

You want a quote? Here’s one:

How fortunate for governments that the people they administer don't think. - Adolf Hitler

Maybe it’s time we did more thinking.

(P.S. Micheal Bérubé shut down American Airspace this week. This makes me very sad for he is a great thinker and his blog was a wonderful experience. His last post is here.)