12 Dec WikiLeaks – Freedom of Speech or Irresponsibility?
As I travelled from New Zealand to Australia, I was keen to find out what is newsworthy. My re-entry into the media world was met with a barrage of speculation and hyperbole about Julian Assange, the Australian Journalist and founder of WikiLeaks. Very little news has reached me on my world trip so this has me intrigued, particularly as it pertains to freedom of speech and indeed truth. Two subjects I am passionate about. Moreover, for me, the awakening to this knowledge on the 10th December which is anniversary of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is significant and as a blog entry, is appropriate as a back drop for discussion. The core issue is – does he have the right to release leaked material that is viewed as sensitive and breaching the perceived National Security of countries? or is this a situation of allowing the public to know the secrets revealing the true thinking or indeed face of governments? Yet fascinating to me is the fact that Julian Assange is from the media, the media is significant in influencing public opinion one way or another. He is revealing perceived truth not opinion. Intense anger has arisen out of this from governments around the world but there is also rising support in the public for freedom of speech as many would like to know what governments are really doing. This interest is becoming more urgent as people witness climate change, corruption, falling standards of living and financial crisis. There is a deeper hunger for knowledge and empowerment and this will not be diffused as people become more aware, I think change is on the horizon. Truth in government is the key focus and representation of the peoples true interests.
I read an opinion peace in The Age (Melbourne based) from an Australian Journalist who went to visit Julian Assange prior to his release of more sensitive material in the U.K. He stated that he had to meet on railway platforms, receive anonymous phone calls to gain directions and described a process designed to conceal the whereabouts of Julian Assange and ensure the WikiLeaks Headquarters was secure and safe. Apparently Julian changed mobile SIM cards frequently to ensure he is not traced or indeed assassinated. This reporter indicated that he found him a quiet man and self assured. He said he was pursuing the leaks as a means of promoting freedom of speech. A very brave move if this is his motivation and I would say he is clear about the implications when governments feel exposed. Of course at the present moment he has been arrested in the UK on suspicion of sexual assault (interesting timing) and it appears agencies are trying to get rid of him as soon as possible. Are we talking a lot of skeletons in the cupboard? or simply responsible government protecting the interests of people? or is this suppression of freedom of speech the very heart of democracy?
So I felt in this blog to have a look at some of the leaks and have a discussion around what it means for freedom, openness and national security. I will premise to say that my opinion is a first impression and I am not well informed about the governments perspectives and what the implications are from an international relations perspective, I can only work with my own knowledge base and perceptions. However, my inner feeling is that the truth will set you free and open discussion is healthy. We exist in a world where most messages are not truthful and there are many competing interests attempting to influence the public to think in certain ways. Fear is a primary tool of influence. The truth is not an area that gets much attention, although freedom of speech is receiving more critiques now, I feel that is a good development and in the interests of people. In the case of democratic governments that are elected to represent the people, the question such as how can the people be represented if government decisions and actions are not visible to the public? is important to ask. Anything can easily be covered by evoking the words ‘national security’. How do we know it is above board and honest or corrupt? This is very important that governments are accountable to the public and visible. Moreover, without perfect knowledge (economic term for fully informed) people are unaware therefore, representation is minimal. So this debate could have far wider implications for full disclosure, visible democracy and openness.
The other newspaper of choice I had a good look through was The Guardian (UK) this is an excellent paper and I will go through selected leaks that were mentioned and comment on it in the interests of freedom of speech and exploration. I am also mindful that the leaks may be opinion, truncated excerpts, disinformation, inaccurate or indeed deliberately planted to gain advantage. I am also aware that the media has truncated it for the article and may influence my reading of it. So it is not a pure transcript is my point and is not accompanied with notes on the complex geopolitics of the issues. So I will look at it with an open mind and reflect impressions. I do not feel to demonise governments but to see what we can learn. How can we improve our world. My focus will be on South Asia leaks.
I looked at the leaks pertaining to Pakistan in South Asia. The Guardian has also articles on India which I will include out of interest and to provide deeper context. I have studied South Asia so do have some background information on this area.
According to The Guardian the United States has funded Pakistan $16 billion since 2001. The intention is to assist them in fighting the Taliban who are viewed as an enemy of the United States and fundamentalist Islam. The leak indicates that Pakistan is also covertly assisting four major militant groups which include the Afghan Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba. Just out of interest the word ‘Taliban’ means ‘one who is seeking’ but the word has evolved to mean ‘someone who is seeking religious knowledge.’ Moreover, it is interesting to note that Pakistan is an Islamic country which could be viewed as already extremist by western standards. Another interesting idea is that Pakistanis speak Urdu and Afghans speak Pashto and Persian. The latter are closer ethnically to the Persians (Iranians) then to people’s in South Asia or Iraq (Arabic speakers). However, where they are similar is that Pakistanis and Afghans are mostly sunni muslims (85% of world muslims). Apparently according to the leak the US has funded their army $9 billion to fight the Taliban and al-Qaida in the tribal belt. Also in this part of the world bribes is a common practice, so perhaps when the US decided to give money, the Pakistani’s go along with that continuing a parallel agenda to further their own interests. What is interesting is that the money pumped into Pakistan may be diverted to fighting the Indians. The leak informs that Pakistan sees the Indian government as more of a threat than the Taliban (eg. Mumbai bombings Lashkar-e-Taiba). This is an area of great tension. So US funding of Pakistan may inadvertently encourage greater violence and extremism, hence destabilising South Asia.
According to the leak the issue of Kashmir is a 63 year old conflict, that if resolved, would improve the situation overall. Perhaps this is a better spending of funds strategically to mediate resolution rather than fund violent activities. I found that point interesting as I was in Kashmir with a friend who is a human rights activist earlier this year. I also could see that in India holding onto Kashmir, a predominantly Muslim country, created greater tension with Pakistan. Interestingly the Kashmiris don’t want to be part of either country, they just want to expand tourism and live a normal life where they are not under gun point or harassment. There was no mention of working on making it a buffer zone by the international community supporting it to become an independent state.
Both India and Pakistan demonise the other in rhetoric in their newspapers and general media, yet if the reality is known what they see in the other is a reflection of the reality in their own backyards. I also reflected on the Indian occupation of Kashmir (soldiers on every corner) 800,000 at present, and contrasted this with the British occupation at the turn of the 20th century. When I was there I wrote a poem on Gandhi and sent it to the press. I reflected on the similarities with the Israeli’s and Palestinians I find it hard to understand how oppression is not seen for what it is and having had the experience as victims you would think there would be empathy and awareness of the impacts. Yet what we often see is victims becoming oppressors. I guess I would rationalise that by saying that those who felt powerless are seeking power and terrified of losing power, the more you fear the more you control is the way our psychology works. We see this in many types of relationships. This is the scenario of the bully who seeks power because he/she is powerless, wanting to feel powerful to ensure safety. Also the issue of cost is there, how much does it cost to deploy soldiers on every corner of Kashmir. When I studied this region Kashmir was designated the world’s number one nuclear flashpoint. Still unresolved today due to fear and patterns of rhetoric that appear to be escalating.
Both Pakistan and India are nuclearised with a 3 minute trajectory between New Delhi and Islamabad, this is the world’s most populous area and if conflicts are not resolved it could end up in nuclear warfare. The US are aware this region is a key nuclear flashpoint. According to another article in The Guardian, India is seeking to spend up to $150 billion on its weapons systems, technology, planes, ships and submarines over the next 5 years. These military products are being supplied by the French and Russians. Interestingly the Indian government fears the Chinese which is what motivates them to arm up. With the fear of Pakistan escalating due to further Indian militarisation you can see destabilisation escalating based on fears. So what we are looking at here is external fears with the US, Pakistan, India and China. The US uses the secret service of Pakistan (ISI) to gain intelligence and alliance to counter al-Quaida and the Taliban to further US interests and the Pakistanis’ will be using US intelligence to counter India. The fear in Pakistan is of a pro-India government coming to power in Afghanistan (according to the leak), so they interfere in Afghan politics for their own national interests and regional power aspirations. Allegiances in this part of the world are bought and sold, it is not about strong fundamental philosophies and dying for a cause, although that is used to motivate people to risk their lives. Religion is very powerful in gaining power over others, yet if it was truly followed ‘thou shalt not kill’ comes to my mind. When people are poor and uneducated they can be bought and influenced much easier.
India and Pakistan have huge poverty issues, getting the basics for survival is a challenge. Another article in the Guardian speaks of the poverty focusing on the area of Gautam Naga (slum) in Bhopal India. The children have swollen bellies. I remember seeing swollen stomach’s in New Delhi and not really being able to connect with hunger, as I wasn’t hungry. Instead I juggled for the kids and saw their humanity in their smiles and those around them. I wondered if only we could see the children as children and not beggars annoying us. Such is the ignorance around poverty. There was a report on Food Insecurity in Hurban India published by MS Swaminathan Research Foundation. Apparently the Congress party promised to lift the country out of poverty when it returned to power in 2009 and is drafting a Right to Food bill. There is another right that could be added succinctly to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), although the UDHR does state the right to a standard of living and adequate health which the right to food would fall under. Apparently people are given ration cards to help those in most need but police corruption demands bribes be paid and therefore people have to get loans and the ration card apparently is used as security to get the loan. So they don’t get food. Apparently according to the article only 40% of food allocated to the poorest people reaches them, most goes to the black market (corruption). Food is expensive and there is an understanding you only eat when you can earn. Many earn $3 to $4 a day, in one case a father collects shoe soles and plastic bottle tops to feed a family. It is noted that the people in the slums feel they are not treated with respect. So values become the heart of the issue. Extraordinary issues with corruption and food security. Yet fear and lust for power is driving the Government into expenditure on military equipment to further national objectives at the expense of the very people they indicate they are representing in the world’s largest democracy. Implications are the very notion of what is or who is represented and the idea that democracy simply legitimises power rather than giving a voice to the community. I am sure militarisation will not be top of the list, a loaf of bread may rise faster.
So key issues that for me emerge out of the WikiLeaks controversy is that in reality the leaks are no different to me then articles I have seen in many newspapers. The problem with this I feel is that it has been leaked from one source country and may cause escalations in conflict and violence given the analysis or judgement of other countries is revealed. Given the current security apparatus around the world and the clandestine communities reflecting national interests, the leaks could create more destabilisation and secrecy on the one hand. On the other hand it may catalyse debate into the reality of freedom of speech and representation of governments to the people they serve. Moreover, inter government postures of strategically serving only national interests and doing so in a way that is not honest, that interferes in other countries politics, may ultimately cause destablisation not only in regions but across the world. The constant warfare that is initiated by governments and the trend that 90% of fatalities are civilians renders important debate on what is in the publics interest and the importance of resolving problems rather than negotiating, manipulating and serving corporate interests under the guise of national interests needs to be looked at. The power of national interest only comes from the mandate to govern and international recognition, so that brings in representation and the right of the people to know what is going on. For example the US involvement in Afghanistan has implications for enriching interests in Pakistan which has a flow on affect in India. The same can be said for Russia supporting India. You can see the former cold war allegiances here. This impacts the region geopolitically and if let’s say India and Pakistan have a clash and one decides nuclear is the way to go, then what? What if it is an accident? This has implications for the world. The nuclear debate is complex but it is extremely dangerous. You see other nation states deciding to nuclearise. When I studied South Asia the reason for nuclearisation was for India to become a member of the United Nations Security Council. They considered it a power chip (influence) that may help them to become a regional hegemon. Yet there will be no power if they decide to detonate both countries will destroy their own populations and contaminate the region. The nuclear gene is then out of the bottle.
It affects all of us how governments deal with conflict. I do not personally believe that militarisation makes us secure, I see the opposite happening every time governments purchase more weapons, it makes neighbours nervous and escalates the arms race which may enrich some, but diminishes security for the entire world. The issue of Iran is also another problem, often countries hide behind electricity generation using nuclear technology yet may have a parallel agenda of a weapons program. Yet even electricity generation is a problem if a reactor is targeted or if there is a malfunction, there are hundreds of years of contamination ahead and it gets into the food chain and causes cancer. I recall after Chenobyl the deformities in the local area, the contaminated water tables and the acid rain across Europe. Nuclear is a real concern and again comes from fear and the desire for power and control which is quasi empowerment.
As I’ve said in many blogs I’ve done, love is the consciousness of real change. Moreover, we have to bring more women into decision making processes to counter balance the males who tend to be raised with a warrior belief system or from military backgrounds that espouse ‘might is right’ or they are viewing objectives without deeply considering the wider implications. We need to allow for emotions to come into decision making, gut feeling, intuition and laughter. Many women tend to have psychological orientations of more communication, intuition, experience of birthing life and a desire to look at relationships and wider implications of decisions. I discovered this after I did a study of Women in Local Government. It was clear there is different thinking orientations but joined we have a more holistic vision that is more balanced. Together women and men (reversed order to challenge convention) can merge different forms of thinking/feeling to be able to solve some of the most intractable conflicts and to design an international system that is based on Peace Departments and cooperation (see US Congressman Dennis Kucinich’s work) rather than Defence Departments (focus on conflict and insecurity). We have to start to see other people as our own people, break down national walls of racism and start to share power equally in a world that is created for all and aspiring to real happiness. It is not for the few to have the perks at the expense of the millions of humans who can barely find a square meal each day. These inequalities, greed and narrow thinking is what is preventing humanity from expressing its highest potential and living life to the fullest.
So going back to the WikiLeaks controversy, if it informs people and reveals that the governance in the world is destablising, then the world has to rethink what is responsible governance and what will serve humanity to fullfill its purpose here on this planet. We are not here just to work and make money, we are here for higher reasons. So perhaps go into your own feeling and decide the world you want in the future. One based on love and truth or an illusionary world based on fear. I use that word deliberately, often peace niks are seen as the dreamers, I see a world built on money as the real illusion as it fosters greed and competition for self interest not love or cooperation for best interest. For me this is real is love and truth, everything else falls away when it is dishonest. So honesty in the media and government would be my vote. What is yours?