Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Peace on Earth

After Thanksgiving, Christmas seems to be the day of the year when Americans are most likely to give thanks for their many freedoms, particularly those guaranteed by the BIll of Rights, which begins

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Of course, many Europeans enjoy similar freedoms. Canada used to. But much of the world does not.

This morning’s paper contained an AP story about how supporters of Chinese human rights are fighting a proposed Beijing clampdown on text messaging:

Beijing police will work with government agencies and telecommunications companies to investigate and punish those using text messages to “spread rumours” or “endanger public security,” the city government said in a notice posted on its website late last month.

Chinese authorities commonly use vague charges such as those to detain dissidents or others it views as a threat to the ruling Communist party.

Although the notice did not detail specific punishments, a story in the city's Communist party mouthpiece newspaper, the Beijing Daily, earlier this year said people who spread rumours or other false information are subject to detention for up to 10 days and a fine of up to $70.

China has more than 500 million cellphone users and text messaging has become an increasingly effective way to spread word of meetings or demonstrations.

I doubt that American or European teenagers could comprehend the idea of being arrested for sending an SMS — except of course those in “New Europe” whose parents grew up behind the Iron Curtain. Much as I’d dislike being detained for 10 days, it’s certainly better than being clubbed to death for opposing the government’s policies.

In my opinion, such repression in China, Russia and elsewhere gives lie to the claim by Lee Kuan Yew (parroted by other totalitarians) that political and economic freedom can be separated. The first half of the 21st Century will see many experiments that will show which view is correct.