Commentary Magazine


Topic: Internet users

Chinese Anti-American Propaganda Song Played at State Dinner

So that lavish state dinner President Obama hosted for Chinese President Hu Jintao last week? Turns out it was an even worse decision than previously thought. Not only did Obama honor a regime of human-rights abusers, but it turns out they weren’t even appreciative. According to the Epoch Times, a pianist at the event played a well-known Chinese propaganda song that’s about defeating the U.S. in a war. And it sounds like the Chinese government may have known the song would be played beforehand.

Lang Lang the pianist says he chose it. Chairman Hu Jintao recognized it as soon as he heard it. Patriotic Chinese Internet users were delighted as soon as they saw the videos online. Early morning TV viewers in China knew it would be played an hour or two beforehand. At the White House State dinner on Jan. 19, about six minutes into his set, Lang Lang began tapping out a famous anti-American propaganda melody from the Korean War: the theme song to the movie “Battle on Shangganling Mountain.”

The Epoch Times provided some of the song’s lyrics, which literally translate into: “When friends are here, there is fine wine /But if the jackal comes /What greets it is the hunting rifle.” The “jackal” line refers to the U.S.

The song apparently thrilled hardliners in China, who saw it as a major humiliation of America:

“In the eyes of all Chinese, this will not be seen as anything other than a big insult to the U.S.,” says Yang Jingduan, a Chinese psychiatrist now living in Philadelphia who had in China been a doctor in the Chinese military. “It’s like insulting you in your face and you don’t know it, it’s humiliating.”

The whole concept of the Chinese playing an anti-American song during a state dinner in their honor is too petty and childish to even be insulting. The embarrassing part is that Obama-administration officials didn’t bother to find out the background of the songs on the agenda before they were played. In comparison, the Chinese delegation reportedly knew about the song in advance, and may have been the ones who tipped off news outlets in China beforehand:

Cheng said that “The White House had to report in advance to the Chinese delegation and so the Chinese delegation would have certainly known Lang Lang’s program.”

Cheng believes, however, that the Chinese delegation would see no reason to suggest a change in the program. “The program is not against the interests of China. In fact, it is the opposite.”

Awful. This is worse than Obama’s bow to the Japanese emperor in 2009. The White House better have a serious explanation for why this song was allowed to be played at its own party. And it should also serve as a lesson to Obama for why we don’t throw state dinners in honor of openly anti-American governments.

So that lavish state dinner President Obama hosted for Chinese President Hu Jintao last week? Turns out it was an even worse decision than previously thought. Not only did Obama honor a regime of human-rights abusers, but it turns out they weren’t even appreciative. According to the Epoch Times, a pianist at the event played a well-known Chinese propaganda song that’s about defeating the U.S. in a war. And it sounds like the Chinese government may have known the song would be played beforehand.

Lang Lang the pianist says he chose it. Chairman Hu Jintao recognized it as soon as he heard it. Patriotic Chinese Internet users were delighted as soon as they saw the videos online. Early morning TV viewers in China knew it would be played an hour or two beforehand. At the White House State dinner on Jan. 19, about six minutes into his set, Lang Lang began tapping out a famous anti-American propaganda melody from the Korean War: the theme song to the movie “Battle on Shangganling Mountain.”

The Epoch Times provided some of the song’s lyrics, which literally translate into: “When friends are here, there is fine wine /But if the jackal comes /What greets it is the hunting rifle.” The “jackal” line refers to the U.S.

The song apparently thrilled hardliners in China, who saw it as a major humiliation of America:

“In the eyes of all Chinese, this will not be seen as anything other than a big insult to the U.S.,” says Yang Jingduan, a Chinese psychiatrist now living in Philadelphia who had in China been a doctor in the Chinese military. “It’s like insulting you in your face and you don’t know it, it’s humiliating.”

The whole concept of the Chinese playing an anti-American song during a state dinner in their honor is too petty and childish to even be insulting. The embarrassing part is that Obama-administration officials didn’t bother to find out the background of the songs on the agenda before they were played. In comparison, the Chinese delegation reportedly knew about the song in advance, and may have been the ones who tipped off news outlets in China beforehand:

Cheng said that “The White House had to report in advance to the Chinese delegation and so the Chinese delegation would have certainly known Lang Lang’s program.”

Cheng believes, however, that the Chinese delegation would see no reason to suggest a change in the program. “The program is not against the interests of China. In fact, it is the opposite.”

Awful. This is worse than Obama’s bow to the Japanese emperor in 2009. The White House better have a serious explanation for why this song was allowed to be played at its own party. And it should also serve as a lesson to Obama for why we don’t throw state dinners in honor of openly anti-American governments.

Read Less

No Ideological Segregation on the Web

It’s fashionable these days for many in the political class to complain about the Internet for, among other reasons, allowing people to ideologically self-segregate. But like much of conventional wisdom, this widespread view appears to be wrong. At least according to David Brooks, who cites new research by Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse M. Shapiro, both of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. According to Brooks:

[T]he core finding is that most Internet users do not stay within their communities. Most people spend a lot of time on a few giant sites with politically integrated audiences, like Yahoo News. But even when they leave these integrated sites, they often go into areas where most visitors are not like themselves. People who spend a lot of time on Glenn Beck’s Web site are more likely to visit The New York Times’s Web site than average Internet users. People who spend time on the most liberal sites are more likely to go to foxnews.com than average Internet users. Even white supremacists and neo-Nazis travel far and wide across the Web.

Brooks’s conclusion?

This study suggests that Internet users are a bunch of ideological Jack Kerouacs. They’re not burrowing down into comforting nests. They’re cruising far and wide looking for adventure, information, combat and arousal. This does not mean they are not polarized. Looking at a site says nothing about how you process it or the character of attention you bring to it. It could be people spend a lot of time at their home sites and then go off on forays looking for things to hate. But it probably does mean they are not insecure and they are not sheltered.

If this study is correct, the Internet will not produce a cocooned public square, but a free-wheeling multilayered Mad Max public square. The study also suggests that if there is increased polarization (and there is), it’s probably not the Internet that’s causing it.

For the gatekeepers of the Old Media, whose influence and dominance have so rapidly diminished since the advent of the Internet, this finding will be most unwelcome. For the rest of us, it’s more evidence that the Internet is one of the wonders of the modern world and a huge gift to the public, and to politics itself.

It’s fashionable these days for many in the political class to complain about the Internet for, among other reasons, allowing people to ideologically self-segregate. But like much of conventional wisdom, this widespread view appears to be wrong. At least according to David Brooks, who cites new research by Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse M. Shapiro, both of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. According to Brooks:

[T]he core finding is that most Internet users do not stay within their communities. Most people spend a lot of time on a few giant sites with politically integrated audiences, like Yahoo News. But even when they leave these integrated sites, they often go into areas where most visitors are not like themselves. People who spend a lot of time on Glenn Beck’s Web site are more likely to visit The New York Times’s Web site than average Internet users. People who spend time on the most liberal sites are more likely to go to foxnews.com than average Internet users. Even white supremacists and neo-Nazis travel far and wide across the Web.

Brooks’s conclusion?

This study suggests that Internet users are a bunch of ideological Jack Kerouacs. They’re not burrowing down into comforting nests. They’re cruising far and wide looking for adventure, information, combat and arousal. This does not mean they are not polarized. Looking at a site says nothing about how you process it or the character of attention you bring to it. It could be people spend a lot of time at their home sites and then go off on forays looking for things to hate. But it probably does mean they are not insecure and they are not sheltered.

If this study is correct, the Internet will not produce a cocooned public square, but a free-wheeling multilayered Mad Max public square. The study also suggests that if there is increased polarization (and there is), it’s probably not the Internet that’s causing it.

For the gatekeepers of the Old Media, whose influence and dominance have so rapidly diminished since the advent of the Internet, this finding will be most unwelcome. For the rest of us, it’s more evidence that the Internet is one of the wonders of the modern world and a huge gift to the public, and to politics itself.

Read Less

Time to Short Tom Friedman

Tuesday, January 12 was a hard day for Thomas Friedman. Or at least it turned into one. That morning, the New York Times ran Friedman’s latest—and possibly last—900 word panegyric to the unstoppable wonder of China’s economy. His column had, as it occasionally does, a personal edge. He was essentially writing to the American investor James Chanos. Friedman had read that Chanos thinks the Chinese bubble is about to burst and is looking to short China’s economy for profit.

And undo all Friedman’s cheerleading??? No sir. Friedman explained to Chanos, and to us, that while China has some things to deal with, “(the most dangerous being pollution)… it also has a political class focused on addressing its real problems, as well as a mountain of savings with which to do so (unlike us).”

You know, it’s not the cleanest place in the world, but its wise leaders will put a few billions toward a country-wide clean-up crew (hey, maybe they can put some of those good-for-nothing Charter 8 signatories and Uighers to work!) before their world domination gets properly started. Friedman’s parting shot was all class, maturity, and circumspection: “Shorting China today? Well, good luck with that, Mr. Chanos. Let us know how it works out for you.”

I’d imagine it’s working out rather well. For on the same morning, a shortsighted, ignorant little entity of no importance called Google announced that it too was shorting China, and ceasing to do business there so long as they had to comply with Beijing’s strict censorship requirements. This puts Chanos in fairly good company.

But did Google miss the Friedman memo? China is rich and focused, “unlike us.” Moreover, as Friedman never fails to mention, “China also now has 400 million Internet users, and 200 million of them have broadband,” —unlike us, of course. Invest away. Shockingly, Google had an issue with China that went beyond the country’s investment mechanics. As the company’s statement read, “we have discovered that the accounts of dozens of U.S.-, China- and Europe-based Gmail users who are advocates of human rights in China appear to have been routinely accessed by third parties.” Human rights? What does that mean? Any regular reader of Friedman knows that China’s is a “reasonably enlightened” dictatorship. How else could they achieve what Friedman calls their “Green Leap Forward,” “the most important thing to happen” in the first decade of this century? Google, it turns out, made a principled decision.

After this news broke, I wondered how Friedman would respond. Courtesy of yesterday’s New York Times, here comes his Yellow Leap Backward: “Your honor, I’d like to now revise and amend my remarks. There is one short position, one big short, that does intrigue me in China. I am not sure who makes a market in this area, but here goes: If China forces out Google, I’d like to short the Chinese Communist Party.”

You see, he’s still bullish on China, just bearish on the Chinese Communist Party. Makes perfect sense. Kind of like cheering the rise of eggs and the simultaneous demise of chickens. If it’s a confusing proposition, never fear. There is no wrong-headed opinion that Thomas Friedman cannot reduce to a childishly digestible formulation.

There are actually two Chinese economies today. There is the Communist Party and its affiliates; let’s call them Command China. These are the very traditional state-owned enterprises.

Alongside them, there is a second China, largely concentrated in coastal cities like Shanghai and Hong Kong. This is a highly entrepreneurial sector that has developed sophisticated techniques to generate and participate in diverse, high-value flows of business knowledge. I call that Network China.

It’s rare to see one wrestle so transparently with cognitive dissonance. Friedman asserted one thing about China. That thing was proved wrong in real time. To handle the contradiction, he splits China into two parts. What he said still applies to one China, not the other. Then he quotes some Non-Fiction Best-Sellerese from a recent book by John Hagel:

“Finding ways to connect with people and institutions possessing new knowledge becomes increasingly important,” says Hagel. “Since there are far more smart people outside any one organization than inside.” And in today’s flat world, you can now access them all.

Can you really? Here’s a challenge for Tom Friedman: There is a very smart person, a scholar even, named Liu Xiiaobo. Can Friedman reach out across “today’s flat world” and get in touch with him? You see, Liu was just sentenced to eleven years for “inciting subversion of state power” by the Chinese government. If Friedman gets hold of him, he should ask Liu which China he’s in. Maybe it’s called Autocratic China or, if we’re being adult about it, just China.

Let’s make it easier on Friedman. Finding one Chinese political prisoner in a sea of them is a bit daunting. How about he reaches out to one of the 20 million inhabitants of the Xinjiang region, where the Chinese government has blacked out all online access for an area three times the size of Texas. What is that China called? Is it safe to short?

Well, good luck with that, Mr. Friedman. Let us know how it works out for you.

Tuesday, January 12 was a hard day for Thomas Friedman. Or at least it turned into one. That morning, the New York Times ran Friedman’s latest—and possibly last—900 word panegyric to the unstoppable wonder of China’s economy. His column had, as it occasionally does, a personal edge. He was essentially writing to the American investor James Chanos. Friedman had read that Chanos thinks the Chinese bubble is about to burst and is looking to short China’s economy for profit.

And undo all Friedman’s cheerleading??? No sir. Friedman explained to Chanos, and to us, that while China has some things to deal with, “(the most dangerous being pollution)… it also has a political class focused on addressing its real problems, as well as a mountain of savings with which to do so (unlike us).”

You know, it’s not the cleanest place in the world, but its wise leaders will put a few billions toward a country-wide clean-up crew (hey, maybe they can put some of those good-for-nothing Charter 8 signatories and Uighers to work!) before their world domination gets properly started. Friedman’s parting shot was all class, maturity, and circumspection: “Shorting China today? Well, good luck with that, Mr. Chanos. Let us know how it works out for you.”

I’d imagine it’s working out rather well. For on the same morning, a shortsighted, ignorant little entity of no importance called Google announced that it too was shorting China, and ceasing to do business there so long as they had to comply with Beijing’s strict censorship requirements. This puts Chanos in fairly good company.

But did Google miss the Friedman memo? China is rich and focused, “unlike us.” Moreover, as Friedman never fails to mention, “China also now has 400 million Internet users, and 200 million of them have broadband,” —unlike us, of course. Invest away. Shockingly, Google had an issue with China that went beyond the country’s investment mechanics. As the company’s statement read, “we have discovered that the accounts of dozens of U.S.-, China- and Europe-based Gmail users who are advocates of human rights in China appear to have been routinely accessed by third parties.” Human rights? What does that mean? Any regular reader of Friedman knows that China’s is a “reasonably enlightened” dictatorship. How else could they achieve what Friedman calls their “Green Leap Forward,” “the most important thing to happen” in the first decade of this century? Google, it turns out, made a principled decision.

After this news broke, I wondered how Friedman would respond. Courtesy of yesterday’s New York Times, here comes his Yellow Leap Backward: “Your honor, I’d like to now revise and amend my remarks. There is one short position, one big short, that does intrigue me in China. I am not sure who makes a market in this area, but here goes: If China forces out Google, I’d like to short the Chinese Communist Party.”

You see, he’s still bullish on China, just bearish on the Chinese Communist Party. Makes perfect sense. Kind of like cheering the rise of eggs and the simultaneous demise of chickens. If it’s a confusing proposition, never fear. There is no wrong-headed opinion that Thomas Friedman cannot reduce to a childishly digestible formulation.

There are actually two Chinese economies today. There is the Communist Party and its affiliates; let’s call them Command China. These are the very traditional state-owned enterprises.

Alongside them, there is a second China, largely concentrated in coastal cities like Shanghai and Hong Kong. This is a highly entrepreneurial sector that has developed sophisticated techniques to generate and participate in diverse, high-value flows of business knowledge. I call that Network China.

It’s rare to see one wrestle so transparently with cognitive dissonance. Friedman asserted one thing about China. That thing was proved wrong in real time. To handle the contradiction, he splits China into two parts. What he said still applies to one China, not the other. Then he quotes some Non-Fiction Best-Sellerese from a recent book by John Hagel:

“Finding ways to connect with people and institutions possessing new knowledge becomes increasingly important,” says Hagel. “Since there are far more smart people outside any one organization than inside.” And in today’s flat world, you can now access them all.

Can you really? Here’s a challenge for Tom Friedman: There is a very smart person, a scholar even, named Liu Xiiaobo. Can Friedman reach out across “today’s flat world” and get in touch with him? You see, Liu was just sentenced to eleven years for “inciting subversion of state power” by the Chinese government. If Friedman gets hold of him, he should ask Liu which China he’s in. Maybe it’s called Autocratic China or, if we’re being adult about it, just China.

Let’s make it easier on Friedman. Finding one Chinese political prisoner in a sea of them is a bit daunting. How about he reaches out to one of the 20 million inhabitants of the Xinjiang region, where the Chinese government has blacked out all online access for an area three times the size of Texas. What is that China called? Is it safe to short?

Well, good luck with that, Mr. Friedman. Let us know how it works out for you.

Read Less

Going Google

Beijing is ready to say good-bye to Google. Wang Chen, China’s State Council Information Office minister, has responded to Google’s principled threat to pull out of China:

Our country is at a crucial stage of reform and development, and this is a period of marked social conflicts … Properly guiding Internet opinion is a major measure for protecting Internet information security. Internet media must always make nurturing positive, progressive mainstream opinion an important duty. Currently, the Internet gives space for spreading rumours and issuing false information and other actions that diminish confidence, and this is causing serious damage to society and the public interest.

Let’s put this retrograde autocratic boilerplate up against this week’s column by China fetishist Thomas Friedman. The multi-Pulitzer Man sounded, characteristically, indistinguishable from a China lobbyist:

All the long-term investments that China has made over the last two decades are just blossoming and could really propel the Chinese economy into the 21st-century knowledge age, starting with its massive investment in infrastructure. Ten years ago, China had a lot bridges and roads to nowhere. Well, many of them are now connected. It is also on a crash program of building subways in major cities and high-speed trains to interconnect them. China also now has 400 million Internet users, and 200 million of them have broadband. Check into a motel in any major city and you’ll have broadband access. America has about 80 million broadband users.

Poor, declining America. The writing is on the wall, isn’t it? A once-great nation is now muddling along with its quaint democratic government, passé freedoms, sub-bullet-speed trains and — the kiss of death for any great civilization — bad motel Internet.

That’s an interesting metric by which to assess superpower status. Friedman might want to put a little more weight on the fact that those 80 million Americans can perform what would constitute a Chinese Miracle: entering “Tiananmen massacre” into a search engine and getting a result. But no. Apparently “the 21st-century knowledge age” is best suited to states that systematically ban knowledge. The important thing is Jetsons-like rail travel. Here’s Friedman’s sci-fi-Wi-Fi obsession on particularly nasty display in a column from last week:

Being in China right now I am more convinced than ever that when historians look back at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, they will say that the most important thing to happen was not the Great Recession, but China’s Green Leap Forward. The Beijing leadership clearly understands that the E.T. — Energy Technology — revolution is both a necessity and an opportunity, and they do not intend to miss it.

We, by contrast, intend to fix Afghanistan. Have a nice day.

There’s the backward U.S. for you, focusing on terrorism and freedom when the future belongs to trains and laptops.

But what does Friedman do now? Upon his return to the impossibly slow U.S., how does he explain Google’s decision that human rights trump a share of the Chinese market? How does he discuss this without citing an old-fashioned American emphasis on liberty and justice? Whose side will Friedman and other China obsessives take? If other Internet and tech giants (grudgingly) follow, where does that leave his beloved regime?

The truth is that Wang Chen’s statement tells you everything you need to know about China’s supposedly inevitable rise. Beijing doesn’t enjoy enough legitimacy to allow its citizens to hear dissenting opinions. Without the free flow of ideas, China’s citizens will, in turn, remain insufficient to the task of true innovation. Instead, government-backed quasi-corporations will continue to tinker with gadgets from the disco era — bullet trains and solar power. The world’s Tom Friedmans will continue to swoon. Important technological innovation will come, inevitably, in a form few if any have predicted — let alone ranted about for years in the New York Times. And when it comes, it will come from a part of the world where disagreement and tension give birth to genius, not information blockades.

Even as the Obama administration abandons the long-standing American policy of supporting human rights and democracy abroad, other parties take up the torch to heartening effect. That, after all, is what it means to be a superpower: to embrace and offer compelling ideas that resonate in unexpected corners and live in unforeseen contingents. Ideas that, to some extent, do the work of advancing your interests for you. We saw this unfold with Iran’s pro-American democrats, and now we see it in the American corporate sector. Such displays of integrity can’t but shame cynics on their speed trains to magical futures.

Beijing is ready to say good-bye to Google. Wang Chen, China’s State Council Information Office minister, has responded to Google’s principled threat to pull out of China:

Our country is at a crucial stage of reform and development, and this is a period of marked social conflicts … Properly guiding Internet opinion is a major measure for protecting Internet information security. Internet media must always make nurturing positive, progressive mainstream opinion an important duty. Currently, the Internet gives space for spreading rumours and issuing false information and other actions that diminish confidence, and this is causing serious damage to society and the public interest.

Let’s put this retrograde autocratic boilerplate up against this week’s column by China fetishist Thomas Friedman. The multi-Pulitzer Man sounded, characteristically, indistinguishable from a China lobbyist:

All the long-term investments that China has made over the last two decades are just blossoming and could really propel the Chinese economy into the 21st-century knowledge age, starting with its massive investment in infrastructure. Ten years ago, China had a lot bridges and roads to nowhere. Well, many of them are now connected. It is also on a crash program of building subways in major cities and high-speed trains to interconnect them. China also now has 400 million Internet users, and 200 million of them have broadband. Check into a motel in any major city and you’ll have broadband access. America has about 80 million broadband users.

Poor, declining America. The writing is on the wall, isn’t it? A once-great nation is now muddling along with its quaint democratic government, passé freedoms, sub-bullet-speed trains and — the kiss of death for any great civilization — bad motel Internet.

That’s an interesting metric by which to assess superpower status. Friedman might want to put a little more weight on the fact that those 80 million Americans can perform what would constitute a Chinese Miracle: entering “Tiananmen massacre” into a search engine and getting a result. But no. Apparently “the 21st-century knowledge age” is best suited to states that systematically ban knowledge. The important thing is Jetsons-like rail travel. Here’s Friedman’s sci-fi-Wi-Fi obsession on particularly nasty display in a column from last week:

Being in China right now I am more convinced than ever that when historians look back at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, they will say that the most important thing to happen was not the Great Recession, but China’s Green Leap Forward. The Beijing leadership clearly understands that the E.T. — Energy Technology — revolution is both a necessity and an opportunity, and they do not intend to miss it.

We, by contrast, intend to fix Afghanistan. Have a nice day.

There’s the backward U.S. for you, focusing on terrorism and freedom when the future belongs to trains and laptops.

But what does Friedman do now? Upon his return to the impossibly slow U.S., how does he explain Google’s decision that human rights trump a share of the Chinese market? How does he discuss this without citing an old-fashioned American emphasis on liberty and justice? Whose side will Friedman and other China obsessives take? If other Internet and tech giants (grudgingly) follow, where does that leave his beloved regime?

The truth is that Wang Chen’s statement tells you everything you need to know about China’s supposedly inevitable rise. Beijing doesn’t enjoy enough legitimacy to allow its citizens to hear dissenting opinions. Without the free flow of ideas, China’s citizens will, in turn, remain insufficient to the task of true innovation. Instead, government-backed quasi-corporations will continue to tinker with gadgets from the disco era — bullet trains and solar power. The world’s Tom Friedmans will continue to swoon. Important technological innovation will come, inevitably, in a form few if any have predicted — let alone ranted about for years in the New York Times. And when it comes, it will come from a part of the world where disagreement and tension give birth to genius, not information blockades.

Even as the Obama administration abandons the long-standing American policy of supporting human rights and democracy abroad, other parties take up the torch to heartening effect. That, after all, is what it means to be a superpower: to embrace and offer compelling ideas that resonate in unexpected corners and live in unforeseen contingents. Ideas that, to some extent, do the work of advancing your interests for you. We saw this unfold with Iran’s pro-American democrats, and now we see it in the American corporate sector. Such displays of integrity can’t but shame cynics on their speed trains to magical futures.

Read Less

Khalid Meshal’s Doublespeak

Imagine if Barack Obama had been able to control completely the public’s awareness of his relationship with Rev. Jeremiah Wright. In all likelihood, he would have emphasized this connection to a small segment of the African-American community, and otherwise denounced Wright forcefully when addressing the broader American public. Of course, this was hardly a realistic option: in the United States, such bold attempts at duplicitous crowd-pleasing are quickly exposed, and accusations of hypocrisy often become overwhelming. For Obama, an attempt to reconcile his connection to Wright with his campaign’s unifying claims thus became a necessity.

Yet the rules are substantially different in Palestinian politics, where audience-dependent double-speak—in which mutually exclusive positions are routinely aired to separate constituencies—is a long-cherished art form. Indeed, Yasser Arafat refined this strategy down to a science, saying entirely different things to his Arabic- and English-language audiences. For example, not long after vowing to pursue “coexistence” on the White House lawn during the 1993 signing of the Oslo Accords, Arafat promised a Johannesburg mosque audience, “The jihad will continue!” Through this strategy, Arafat kept western diplomatic and financial support flowing, even while satisfying his Palestinian base and preparing for future war with Israel via the Second Intifada.

Naturally, the double-speak strategy that Arafat employed requires access to both Arabic- and English-speaking audiences, as well as proficiency in English. But for Hamas politburo chief Khalid Meshal, these qualifications are deeply problematic. After all, Meshal generally confines himself to his Damascus headquarters and, if his recent interview with Sky News (a must-watch) is any indicator, his command of English is quite rudimentary.

Well, Meshal has apparently located an alternate strategy for producing effective double-speak: issuing conciliatory statements towards Israel that are withheld from his Palestinian base through Hamas’ press censorship. Indeed, in an interview with the pro-Fatah al-Ayyam, Meshal declared Hamas’ support for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza—in theory, a major concession considering the Hamas Charter’s call for raising “the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine.” Yet Hamas’ political base will never hear of Meshal’s statement, as Hamas has banned al-Ayyam in Gaza for the past fifty days. Even Gaza’s Internet users will be left in the dark: the online edition of al-Ayyam says nothing of Meshal’s openness to a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders, and only carries his statements regarding Palestinian prisoners and failed ceasefire negotiations. As a result, Meshal’s supposed concession carries no political price, and therefore no political significance.

For the time being, there is good news: with the exception of the ever-optimistic Ha’aretz, Meshal’s statements have gone entirely unnoticed in the western press. Let’s hope that this is because the top media outlets have learned from previous experiences with Arafat, and not because they’re stuck in Gaza.

Imagine if Barack Obama had been able to control completely the public’s awareness of his relationship with Rev. Jeremiah Wright. In all likelihood, he would have emphasized this connection to a small segment of the African-American community, and otherwise denounced Wright forcefully when addressing the broader American public. Of course, this was hardly a realistic option: in the United States, such bold attempts at duplicitous crowd-pleasing are quickly exposed, and accusations of hypocrisy often become overwhelming. For Obama, an attempt to reconcile his connection to Wright with his campaign’s unifying claims thus became a necessity.

Yet the rules are substantially different in Palestinian politics, where audience-dependent double-speak—in which mutually exclusive positions are routinely aired to separate constituencies—is a long-cherished art form. Indeed, Yasser Arafat refined this strategy down to a science, saying entirely different things to his Arabic- and English-language audiences. For example, not long after vowing to pursue “coexistence” on the White House lawn during the 1993 signing of the Oslo Accords, Arafat promised a Johannesburg mosque audience, “The jihad will continue!” Through this strategy, Arafat kept western diplomatic and financial support flowing, even while satisfying his Palestinian base and preparing for future war with Israel via the Second Intifada.

Naturally, the double-speak strategy that Arafat employed requires access to both Arabic- and English-speaking audiences, as well as proficiency in English. But for Hamas politburo chief Khalid Meshal, these qualifications are deeply problematic. After all, Meshal generally confines himself to his Damascus headquarters and, if his recent interview with Sky News (a must-watch) is any indicator, his command of English is quite rudimentary.

Well, Meshal has apparently located an alternate strategy for producing effective double-speak: issuing conciliatory statements towards Israel that are withheld from his Palestinian base through Hamas’ press censorship. Indeed, in an interview with the pro-Fatah al-Ayyam, Meshal declared Hamas’ support for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza—in theory, a major concession considering the Hamas Charter’s call for raising “the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine.” Yet Hamas’ political base will never hear of Meshal’s statement, as Hamas has banned al-Ayyam in Gaza for the past fifty days. Even Gaza’s Internet users will be left in the dark: the online edition of al-Ayyam says nothing of Meshal’s openness to a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders, and only carries his statements regarding Palestinian prisoners and failed ceasefire negotiations. As a result, Meshal’s supposed concession carries no political price, and therefore no political significance.

For the time being, there is good news: with the exception of the ever-optimistic Ha’aretz, Meshal’s statements have gone entirely unnoticed in the western press. Let’s hope that this is because the top media outlets have learned from previous experiences with Arafat, and not because they’re stuck in Gaza.

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Palestinian Poetry

For those wondering whether the UN is going to continue to serve as a global platform for anti-Semitism—webcast around the world, free for all Internet users, and archived so that it may be accessed for a long, long time—the mystery is over. The UN Human Rights Council today broadcast uninterrupted hate speech—in the name of “human rights.” Palestinian UN representative Muhammad Abu-Koash had this to say on December 12, 2007 in the middle of the Council’s current session:

The Israeli creeping geography has been countered . . . as the victims of Aryan purity have been transformed into the proponents of Jewish purity . . . .

I will revert to poetry to deliver the message clearly to the Ambassador of Israel

Mr. Jail Man, do you not understand

Scars of concentration camps mark your hand . . .

Draw your lesson from France and Deutschland . . .

Washington, Mandela and Arafat stand so grand

Though called terrorists by occupiers in command

Mr. Jail man, you do not want to understand

You gave occupation new attire with Semitic brand. . .

{T]hose who suffered in Europe, those who came from concentration camps, those who came from the ghettos, they should not act as our masters. They should know the meaning of suffering.”

The hatred marking the delivery of the Palestinian “peace-partner’s” speech is hard to miss. So is the goal of branding Israelis as Nazi equivalents—and it doesn’t have much to do with “peace.”

For those wondering whether the UN is going to continue to serve as a global platform for anti-Semitism—webcast around the world, free for all Internet users, and archived so that it may be accessed for a long, long time—the mystery is over. The UN Human Rights Council today broadcast uninterrupted hate speech—in the name of “human rights.” Palestinian UN representative Muhammad Abu-Koash had this to say on December 12, 2007 in the middle of the Council’s current session:

The Israeli creeping geography has been countered . . . as the victims of Aryan purity have been transformed into the proponents of Jewish purity . . . .

I will revert to poetry to deliver the message clearly to the Ambassador of Israel

Mr. Jail Man, do you not understand

Scars of concentration camps mark your hand . . .

Draw your lesson from France and Deutschland . . .

Washington, Mandela and Arafat stand so grand

Though called terrorists by occupiers in command

Mr. Jail man, you do not want to understand

You gave occupation new attire with Semitic brand. . .

{T]hose who suffered in Europe, those who came from concentration camps, those who came from the ghettos, they should not act as our masters. They should know the meaning of suffering.”

The hatred marking the delivery of the Palestinian “peace-partner’s” speech is hard to miss. So is the goal of branding Israelis as Nazi equivalents—and it doesn’t have much to do with “peace.”

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Burma’s Blackout

The New York Times is reporting that the military junta in Burma has shut down the country’s Internet. After nearly a month of protests—avidly covered and documented by native Burmese on the web—the regime cracked down hard on the Buddhist monks and their supporters. Many deaths already have been recorded, and some reports suggest an extremely bloody end to Burma’s push for democratic reform.

During the run-up to this massacre, Burmese bloggers provided photographs, commentary, and even YouTube clips from inside the maelstrom. Stirring photographs of monks clad in orange, and riveting hand-held footage of soldiers firing on protesters, gave the events a harrowing immediacy for Internet-users. The Internet blackout terminated this discourse, blocking the atrocities to come from cyberspace and the outside world.

Censoring the Internet has become a major component of totalitarian control, not just in Burma, but in despotic regimes the world over. The Chinese government devotes significant resources to purging their data flow of dissident material. (At the School of Informatics at Indiana University’s homepage, you can play with a brilliant search tool that compares typical Google searches with Google.cn.)

Read More

The New York Times is reporting that the military junta in Burma has shut down the country’s Internet. After nearly a month of protests—avidly covered and documented by native Burmese on the web—the regime cracked down hard on the Buddhist monks and their supporters. Many deaths already have been recorded, and some reports suggest an extremely bloody end to Burma’s push for democratic reform.

During the run-up to this massacre, Burmese bloggers provided photographs, commentary, and even YouTube clips from inside the maelstrom. Stirring photographs of monks clad in orange, and riveting hand-held footage of soldiers firing on protesters, gave the events a harrowing immediacy for Internet-users. The Internet blackout terminated this discourse, blocking the atrocities to come from cyberspace and the outside world.

Censoring the Internet has become a major component of totalitarian control, not just in Burma, but in despotic regimes the world over. The Chinese government devotes significant resources to purging their data flow of dissident material. (At the School of Informatics at Indiana University’s homepage, you can play with a brilliant search tool that compares typical Google searches with Google.cn.)

Some American businesses, like Google and Yahoo, have been scrutinized recently for placating Beijing by slipping things down the memory hole. A Google image search for Tiananmen Square in the United States results in the iconic photograph of a man standing before a column of tanks, while the same search in China yields smiling faces and touristy long shots of the square. In other regions of the world, as well, the Internet is a battleground emblematic of larger political struggles. Bloggers in Egypt and Iran have been targeted by their governments, while, since the liberation of Iraq, the Internet has exploded in that country as a viable and democratic source of news.

The freedom and availability of the Internet has become a leading index of political freedom. It would have been much more difficult for the thugs in Burma to hide their slaughter if they hadn’t been able to purge unflattering coverage from the world’s desktops. The protection and spread of Internet freedom—and the censure or punishment of American businesses that cooperate in Internet censorship—should feature seriously in any presidential candidate’s foreign policy platform. It is a simple, cost-effective, and bloodless way to let democracy seep into the oppressed regions of the world.

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