Last week the United States-led coalition shut down a Shiite newspaper in Iraq, citing news stories which the military considered “false” and “militant.” Hours afterwards, the Coalition Provisional Authority signed a $5.6 million contract with a British ad agency for a mass-market campaign to sell Iraqis the concept of democracy. These two stories beg the question: why not practice democracy rather than propagate it?Authoritarian contempt for popular opinion is an eternal struggle. In the United States, huge propaganda campaigns are sought by political parties and the common government to ensure public compliancy. The media is controlled by about four colossal corporations, who are each closely connected with most major politicians in Washington, D.C. Thus, when the conservative monopoly Clear Channel censures Howard Stern for censuring George Bush it should come as no surprise. It is perhaps more appropriate to think of Fox News and Clear Channel as extensions of the Republican Party rather than independent businesses. The politics and money crisis in Washington is one of the stagnant issues of the guilty majority. No legislation can be approved, let alone created, unless money fuels its authorship. And few politicians are ready to alienate their finances and possibly their careers by castigating the intermediary between themselves and the public.
American history shows how dissenters are classically discredited through massive campaigns of disinformation, silencing or through police action. Disinformation is usually the sensationalism of some dishonest gossip as was the case in 2000 when Al Gore reportedly claimed to have “invented the Internet” and been the model for the movie “Love Story.” The stories flooded the media and were heard by almost every voter even though Gore never claimed to have invented anything and was indeed the basis for the main character in “Love Story,” at least according to its author, if not Rush Limbaugh. Silencing is remarkably common in America. There is no room for renunciation or provocation in the world of Disney, GE, News Corps, or Viacom and if one cannot communicate through these mediums then they are relegated to a street corner with a bullhorn or a college newspaper editorial. Massive protests follow Bush everywhere he goes around the world; are they ever reported by the media? Police action is more complicated but very real. In the sixties and seventies for example, influential dissenters like John Lennon, Martin Luther King, Jr. and the current presidential candidate John Kerry lived under FBI surveillance. Huge federal files now exist on these men, their actions, and their words. In these cases, the government was searching for an excuse to legally censor by imprisonment or deportation.
There are few restraints so objectionable and unpardonable as censorship. A person who is unfree to think, and consequently to communicate those thoughts, is not a free human being. They are rather a slave to another’s remonstrations. Marx wrote of censorship, “the law which punishes tendency, punishes me not only for what I do, but for what I think, apart from my actions.” The government who punishes actionless words has indeed overtook its influence.
Those who censor do so to veil a truth. Those who cannot validate themselves with the truth must resort to censorship to hide the truth, it most often being the affirmation of their misconduct. If the Iraqi newspaper was printing objectively-derived false stories, then why not oppose that fiction with an honest and intellectual countermeasure?
It is not the words of the Shiite newspaper which I defend, but the right of the author to be heard. A democratic climate cannot exist alongside a culture of censorship. If one is free to think, so long they think what they are fed, then their bondage is secured and the illusion of their freedom infallible. Only popular upheaval can unhinge that thraldom which often leads to violent unrest between those with power and those demanding it. The current unrest in Iraq is horrific enough. The fragile coalition cannot risk inciting massive protestation, unless it were willing to truly render its power to the people of that country and not those atop the capitalistic contrived power structure.
Censors fallaciously believe that they limit the dissemination of information, when in truth they only compel those who are silent to begin speaking; or as Voltaire once wrote, they “give credibility to the opinions they attack.” Under censorship, the press and the people are deprived of the right to criticize, an art which then becomes the occupation of the government towards those it means to govern. If freedom is our goal in Iraq and around the world then we cannot support acts of tyranny or oppression, lest we will them upon ourselves.
Bill Casto is a senior and studying literature with a minor in history.