How to make web freedom a key legal concern 
Posted: 14 May 2010 06:39 AM PDT

France’s Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has a patchy record on human rights protection, being described in the London Review of Books in 2009 as having eroded “the distinction between philanthropy and combat.”
But his latest piece in the International Herald Tribune is a strong case for internet freedom and democracy and should be saluted:

In 2015, 3.5 billion people — half of mankind — will have access to the Internet. There has never been such a revolution in freedom of communication and freedom of expression. But how will this new medium be used? What obstacles will the enemies of the Internet come up with?
Extremist, racist and defamatory Web sites and blogs disseminate odious opinions in real time. They have made the Internet a weapon of war and hate. Web sites are attacked. Violent movements spread propaganda and false information. It is very hard for democracies to control them. I do not subscribe to the naïve belief that a new technology, however efficient and powerful, is bound to advance liberty on all fronts.
Yet, the distortions are the exception rather than the rule. The Internet is above all the most fantastic means of breaking down the walls that close us off from one another. For the oppressed peoples of the world, the Internet provides power beyond their wildest hopes. It is increasingly difficult to hide a public protest, an act of repression or a violation of human rights. In authoritarian and repressive countries, mobile telephones and the Internet have given citizens a critical means of expression, despite all the restrictions.
However, the number of countries that censor the Internet and monitor Web users is increasing at an alarming rate. The Internet can be a formidable intelligence-gathering tool for spotting potential dissidents. Some regimes are already acquiring increasingly sophisticated surveillance technology.
If all of those who are attached to human rights and democracy refused to compromise their principles and used the Internet to defend freedom of expression, this kind of repression would be much more difficult. I am not talking about absolute freedom, which opens the door to all sorts of abuses. Nobody is promoting that. I’m talking about real freedom, based on the principle of respecting human dignity and rights.
Multilateral institutions like the Council of Europe, and nongovernmental organizations like Reporters Without Borders, along with thousands of individuals around the world, have made a strong commitment to these issues.
No fewer than 180 countries meeting for the World Summit on the Information Society have acknowledged that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights applies fully to the Internet, especially Article 19, which establishes freedom of expression and opinion. And yet, some 50 countries fail to live up to their commitments.
We should create an international instrument for monitoring such commitments and for calling governments to task when they fail to live up to them. We should provide support to cyber-dissidents — the same support as other victims of political repression. We should also discuss the wisdom of adopting a code of conduct regarding the export of technologies for censoring the Internet and tracking Web users.
These issues, along with others, like the protection of personal data, should be addressed within a framework that brings together government, civil society and international experts.
Another project is close to my heart. It will be a long and difficult task to implement it, but it is critical. It is to give the Internet a legal status that reflects its universality. One that recognizes it as an international space, so that it will be more difficult for repressive governments to use the sovereignty argument against fundamental freedoms.
The battle of ideas has started between the advocates of a universal and open Internet — based on freedom of expression, tolerance and respect for privacy — against those who want to transform the Internet into a multitude of closed-off spaces that serve the purposes of repressive regimes, propaganda and fanaticism.
Freedom of expression, said Voltaire, “is the foundation of all other freedoms.” Without it, there are no “free nations.” This universal spirit of the Enlightenment should run through the new media. The defense of fundamental freedoms and human rights must be the priority for governance of the Internet. It is everyone’s business.

Why Tamils must push their claims internationally 
Posted: 14 May 2010 06:19 AM PDT

The government of Sri Lanka will continue to try and crush the Tamil Diaspora’s calls for freedom and independence and inevitably fail miserably in its task. By framing these activities as part of the “war on terror” is about as convincing as thinking Colombo cares deeply about the country’s minorities:

Sri Lankan authorities have commenced a new “operation” to counter international LTTE propaganda and other related activities with Tiger proxies now aiming on forming a transnational government for Tamil Eelam, the military said.
Military Spokesperson Major General Prasad Samarasingha told Daily Mirror online that while the war in Sri Lanka has been won, Tiger operations still continue internationally and the government is now taking steps to address that issue as well.
“We have won the war in Sri Lanka but internationally the second phase of the war has started. Not only the forces, but the whole nation, including the people living overseas must get together and stop this international LTTE propaganda and activities. We will have to conduct a separate operation on that which the government has already started,” Major General Samarasingha said.

Overland branded biased by Jewish academics 
Posted: 14 May 2010 05:19 AM PDT

My following article appears in today’s edition of Crikey:

Overland is a quarterly publication published in Melbourne since 1954 and aims to give, in the words of  editor Jeff Sparrow, “space for radicals and liberals”.
Over the past few years a handful of articles have appeared written by Jews (including me, principally on peak oil) that aimed to challenge the established view on Israel/Palestine. They were respectful of critics and urged a fresh way of seeing a conflict that continues to bleed lives and rationality in the diaspora.
In early May, six Jewish academics from some of Australia’s major universities wrote a letter to Overland and its board arguing that “biased and prejudiced coverage” could bring the journal into “serious disrepute”.
The letter stated that the Jewish Overland writers are “fundamentalists who advocate the elimination of Israel and its replacement by an Arab State of Greater Palestine” and these “marginal views … demonise Israel and infantilise the Palestinians”.
They demanded to know why “these vexatious voices who contribute only fanatical polemics and represent nobody in either the Jewish community or the Left” should be given any space in the magazine. It was urged that only individuals who “support two states” be allowed to appear.
Overland responded with a lengthy defence of its position and rejected the implied allegations of anti-Semitism:
“Almost by definition, our small magazine provides space for views that do not receive a hearing elsewhere … The notion that publishing minority views constitutes ‘censorship’ is truly bizarre.”
The magazine forensically examined the publishing record of the complainants and found regular columns in The Australian to espouse their views (some damning critics of Israel as “anti-Semites”).
Monash University’s Philip Mendes and Sydney University’s Nick Dyrenfurth have made particularly regular appearances in Murdoch’s broadsheet writing about the Middle East (despite neither of them having any academic credentials in the field.)
The journal highlighted the hypocrisy of the academic’s position:
“… we might equally ask Dyrenfurth and Mendes whether, with their avowed commitment to representation, they organise similar open letters to the Australian’s editorial board, urging that Murdoch provide space for, say, environmental activists alongside his regular quota of climate change denying columnists. After all, to borrow a phrase, those who want action on global warming ‘represent the majority of the population’ — but, oddly, they seem to have been deliberately excluded from the pages of the Australian!”
“The whole episode is sadly typical of how debates about Israel/Palestine are conducted. Mendes and co. urge the OL Society not to permit Overland to ‘highlight the views’ of anti-Zionists like Ned Curthoys, Antony Loewenstein and Michael Brull who, we are told, are irrelevant, marginal figures and as such not worth worrying about.
“Yet in their writings for the mass-circulation Australian, Dyrenfurth and Mendes attack these ‘irrelevant’ and ‘marginal’ views, over and over and over again. Indeed, they single out John Docker, Ned Curthoys, John Pilger and a variety of other named individuals for public abuse — and neither they nor the Australian offer these people any opportunity to reply.”
Significantly, the small, liberal Australian Jewish Democratic Society has supported the Overland response, the only Jewish organisation to do so. Predictably, the Australian Jewish News this week distorted the Overland response and the positions of the original Jewish writers for the magazine, including Michael Brull.
Crikey asked some of the six academics to comment but two ignored the request and one declined the offer.
Overland editor and Crikey contributor Jeff Sparrow told Crikey that he was unaware of any serious pressure being placed on the magazine’s funding bodies, namely the Australia Council or the journal’s patron, Barry Jones. He believed that a public response was warranted because the implied allegation of the original letter suggested that the magazine was anti-Semitic in publishing such views.
Sparrow revealed to Crikey that a further, short letter was sent by the academics late last week expressing disquiet with Overland’s response and demanding action on the journal’s alleged “ethnic stereotyping” of Jews and Israel, a charge Sparrow vehemently rejected.
The magazine is “explicitly political and not balanced on issues”, Sparrow told me. “Since 9/11, Middle East politics is now central to Australian life, accentuated after the Gaza war and we have a responsibility to take a position on Israel as Australia is so uncritical of that country’s policiWees. If there’s anything we should apologise for it’s that we should broaden the perspectives on the Middle East and include Palestinians, Muslims and Israeli Arabs.”
Sparrow believes that the failure of the same voices writing in the mainstream about Israel/Palestine warrants a search for fresher perspectives. “The same voices are clearly not bringing peace in the region,” he said.
It is telling that six privileged academics are complaining about “bias” at Overland at a time when heated discussion is raging in the US.
As illegal settlements continue to expand in the West Bank, the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation recently announced the following guidelines:
The JCF does not fund organizations that through their mission, activities or partnerships:
1. endorse or promote anti-Semitism, other forms of bigotry, violence or other extremist views;
2. actively seek to proselytize Jews away from Judaism; or
3. advocate for, or endorse, undermining the legitimacy of Israel as a secure independent, democratic Jewish state, including through participation in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, in whole or in part.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry is considering blocking American and British lecture tours due to heckling by pro-Palestinian activists.
Just last week more than  4000 European Jews, including prominent individuals, called for an end to the “morally and politically wrong” colonies in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, while Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz calls rabbis who support UN Gaza conflict investigator Richard Goldstone “rabbis for Hamas”.
Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist and author of My Israel Question and The Blogging Revolution.

The one-minute explanation for the “war on terror” 
Posted: 13 May 2010 07:00 PM PDT

Lessons on terrorism that every American should know:

See: www.antonyloewenstein.com

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