Monday, June 22, 2009

Berlin Wall, The Chinese firewall and Iran's high tech Wall

"Man is born free and he is in chains everywhere", attributed to Rousseau, is truer in the modern world than it was in the days of 1700's. The Berlin Wall was unique, not in concept, but in brazenness. Soviet Russia had indeed put many restrictions on its citizenry from interacting with the wider world, emigration, visas, travel, radio, TV, news papers, were all heavily curtailed and censored. For the first time a country erected walls, not to keep out invaders but to keep its citizenry inside. Houses have walls. Prisons have walls. The crucial difference is that in homes walls prevent outsiders bearing ill will from entering in wheras prison walls prevent those inside from escaping. East Germany was a prison.

Emboldened by what they read of Gorbachev, students in their naivete beseeched a visiting Gorbochev to impress upon Chinese government to democratise. Gorbachev, no Reagan, just passed by. 2009 marks the 20th anniversary of Tianenmen. It is ironical that this year the autobiography of Zhao Ziyang was smuggled to the west and published. That a country's Premier was deposed and placed in house arrest in 1989 tells us something of the age we live in. Zhao then, in typical fashion common to deposed leaders in Communist countries, composed his biography in great secrecy. The biography exposed the myths around Deng Xio Ping and portrayed how the men at the helm decided to unleash a massacre. I need to record an anomaly here. I had many Chinese colleagues, who, without exception were still patriotic towards China to the extent that they dismissed any pro-democracy voice as "pro-America", also they considered the policies of censorship etc as "not a big deal".

Today Wall Street Journal published a report about Iran and China using technology in denying freedoms to their citizenry. China is now stipulating PC makers to install monitoring software in PC's sold in China. Dell, HP and the rest are demurring and working through advocacy groups to pressurise Chinese government to give up this heinous demand. Chinese refer to their government's rules on internet access as "the great chinese firewall".Let it be noted that Obama administration's stated policy on human rights in China, is that it does not matter. Earlier administrations while doing so atleast did not have the gumption to say so.

Iran is now in the news. Twitter and facebook are seen as tools that have enabled a population to circumvent government clampdown. WSJ today laid bare how Iran, while railing against corrupt Western imperialism, uses technology from a consortium of Nokia and Siemens to monitor everything on their network. The technology used is pervasive to reach into every "data packet" that is transmitted, each packet is parsed for images and keywords that are analysed for inimical content and then blocked or is used to track down the user for punishments.

Whether its Chechnya or Iran or Sri Lanka or China, the shameful strategy, of denying access to world press and suppressing any information, is adopted without exception.

It would not be out of place to reminisce the failed uprising in Prague in 1968. Why do I get the feeling that Oscar Wilde is smiling in his grave?

Obama, the pontificator, decried US involvement in Iran in Cairo speech. Today an Iranian protester, on CNN, pleaded for US to get involved. Damned if you do and damned if you do not.

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