Two week ago, a Palestinian blogger was arrested in the West Bank for satirizing Islam. Current Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have stressed borders, refugees, recognition, settlements, terror and land--but largely neglected the issue of individual freedom. The mission of CyberDissidents.org is to promote freedom of expression in authoritarian Middle Eastern countries--not to address war and peace. But having met last month privately with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in Ramallah and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, I feel compelled to offer a few brief thoughts on the conflict.
In the long run, treaties with those who deny their citizens fundamental freedoms are unsustainable. The great dissident Vaclav Havel said it best: “Without free, self-respecting, and autonomous citizens there can be no free and independent nations. Without internal peace, that is, peace among citizens and between the citizens and the state, there can be no guarantee of external peace.” In other words, a nation that terrorizes its bloggers will likely not treat its neighbors much better.The incident he is referring to is covered quite well by another article on Cyberdissidents, which I'm also posting in full, below. The BBC has so far filed a single story on the wrongful imprisonment, torture and potential murder of a man who did nothing more than express his beliefs, by a government financed lavishly by the European Union and the United States. What kind of a society is Western aid money creating in "Palestine"? Maybe it's time to ask this question.
Gaza is controlled by a theocratic, totalitarian government that routinely threatens genocide. Hamas ruthlessly persecutes women, minorities, gays, Christians, atheists and dissidents. The terrorist organization won an election but is acting as a tyrant. Talk of peace with such a group is nonsensical. Despite overseeing economic growth in the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority also remains autocratic and repressive, as was demonstrated two weeks ago with the arrest of atheist blogger Waleed Al Husseini.
Peace in the Middle East will only be as strong as the freedom each individual feels to dissent, critique, argue and protest. No matter how hard we try, external peace cannot be fully realized without internal freedom.
I'm sure Abbas and Fayyad will get right on that. This episode reminds me of something I wrote a couple of months back:Palestinian blogger Waleed Al-Husseini was arrested in the West Bank city of Qalqilya by security forces on October 31st. His “crime” was expressing atheistic beliefs online. Al-Husseini created several Facebook pages in which he wrote in the name of Allah, presented satirical poems in Quranic style and refuted religious arguments.
According to local reports, Al-Husseini has been tortured and Palestinian authorities may refer him to a martial court. He could face execution or a thirty year prison sentence for expressing his alternative religious beliefs on his blog and Facebook.
Facebook groups and online petitions have already been created in support of Al-Husseini and are demanding his immediate release.
Liberal Moroccan blogger, Kacem Al Ghazali, who himself is facing an assault for atheism, has published an appeal on his website calling on activists to support the detained Palestinian blogger.
Walid was not arrested by Hamas forces, but by the Fatah-led administration of Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank. This is not the first time such action has been taken. During the recent Ramadan holiday, Palestinians were arrested by PA security forces for not observing the fast in public.
CyberDissidents urges the Palestinian Authority to release Waleed Al-Husseini immediately and respect the freedom of worship of all Palestinians.
Let's remember that this basket case of a state-building process, which exposes the deep contradictions and weaknesses of Palestinian polity and society, is proceeding under an Israeli security blanket and unprecedented financial support by the US and EU. Even under optimal conditions then, is anything short of creating an authoritarian-style Arab state conceivable in the timeline offered by ongoing peace efforts? Are the Palestinians self-organizing towards this outcome out of short term instability or long term socio-political necessity? In other words, hanging in the balance, will Palestinians choose to emulate the pluralistic democracy to their west, or the stifling autocracies to their north, east and south? Perhaps even more glumly, which of these two outcomes is more likely to make and enforce a peace with Israel?We're beginning to get some answers to these questions, and they're ugly.