Archive for August 5th, 2011

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7500 Extremist websites in Russia? Part of the “War on terrorism”?

August 5, 2011

Well, carrying on along the theme of political fringes/radical politics which has somehow managed to take over the majority of recent posts (yes dear readers I am aware of it, unfortunately it has just been rather topical lately), it seems that Russia is claiming to have 7500 active extremist websites.  At least that is the statistic given by Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev as recorded by the Ria Novosti media organsiation.

To be honest I am not sure if that is fairly accurate, an exaggeration or an understatement.  There will certainly be a number of nationalist websites that are radical in nature.  Russia has had an issue with nationalism/fascism for quite some time culminating in gangs of 20 or more being jailed for mass murders over a period of years or alternatively judges presiding over nationalist cases being murdered.

The are of course websites that will be associated with Chechnya and surrounding ‘stans with a radical position, that depending upon how you want to frame it, is based either upon self-determination and independence or a regional jihad by the predominantly Muslim population.

Needless to say, it suits the international, not to mention Russian leadership, to frame the Chechen (and surrounding neighbourhood) within the “war on terror” rather than democratic principles of self-determination or independence.  That is not to say that position is wrong, but if it is, then Russia would not be the only leadership on the planet using the “war on terror” to stifle democracy and self-determination.  – We will come back to that.

Coincidently, Russia has now been deemed a high risk location for terrorist activity in the Maplecroft Terrorism Risk Index for 2011.  Lest the US readership worry they are still the most likely “western nation” to suffer a terrorist incident, that honour goes to the UK which is now the highest ranked western nation in terms of a likely terrorist incident, a ranking one has to suspect, is largely down to the return to such activity by the Real IRA rather than any Islamic connotations.

It seems that just like the Dayton and Bonn Agreements relating to Serbia and Kosovo etc (also now returning to violence), the Irish deal can remain a duct tape solution for only so long before the original cause of self determination and independence/unity returns to the fore.

So, returning to the point, what if anything, will Russia do about these 7500 extremist websites?  One can only expect they will be taken off-line one way or another.  In fact the Russian Interior Minster is quoted as saying “We have already amended the federal law on the media, now in certain circumstances websites will be treated as mass media.”

Now those who put national security before freedom of speech and freedom of expression will quite rightly, from that perspective, say there is no place for incitement of extremists.  Others who place those democratic freedoms above the notion that curtailing free speech is necessary for national security will roundly condemn any such action.

Would the forcible closure of what are deemed extremist websites further rubbish Russia with RWB in their report, or any other Human Rights groups whose reports are deemed influential enough for sovereign governments to use them to bash other sovereign governments in the public arena?

Would that be compatible with the international community’s position that is seemingly accepting Chechen (and neighbours) actions as part of the “war on terror” rather than a self determining action for independence?  After all, there very little international voice supporting Chechen self determination.

The question that logically follows is what, exactly, is the definition of extremist?  Is it applied in the broadest possible sense, such as a person/entity in favour of very strong, sometimes violent methods, regarded as unreasonable by most other people, or is there a more stringent definition?

In a nation with the reputation of Russia when it comes to media freedom and selective application and interpretation of laws what will be further lost in freedom of speech through force or self censorship?

One only needs to look at how incredibly weak the US 4th Estate turned out to be during the run up to and aftermath of the Iraq debacle to see how failure to ask pointed questions at pivotal times allows acts to occur without proper public scrutiny.  The fact it took the UK press, in fact the BBC, to go head to head with the then government over WMD, regime change, sexing up the case for war etc, as historically demonstrated, shows the importance of the 4th Estate.  The BBC’s position now seems to be somewhat vindicated as public inquiry after public inquiry shows their claims to be closer to the truth than that of the then leadership of the UK.

What would have happened if the British 4th Estate had been as subservient as that of the US press who did and still seem to accept “national security/war on terror” as a closure to any issue when stated by the “administration”?

Is the “war on terror” reason to surrender long fought for freedoms in the name of security?  The answer, I think, is in this statement:  “Those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither liberty nor security” Benjamin Franklin. Unfortunately, such a profound statement seems to have been forgotten by society, particularly the society which Mr Franklin helped form.

That is not to say government should not have secrets or have no responsibility to protect its citizens.  What is interesting to the public is not always in the public interest to broadcast.  It is a question of proportionality, circumspection and  reasonableness.  In short, it is a question of judgment.

Sadly that judgment now seems to start from the position of do the public need to know rather than is there any reason that they shouldn’t in the political arena.  As I have said before, the West is becoming more like the FSU/WP was 50 years ago and the FSU/WP is becoming more like the West was 50 years ago.  A complete polar reversal seems to be underway and the question is only how far will it be allowed to go by the societies it affects?

Undoubtedly there will be political/social scientists, or at least one hopes there is, looking at the effect of the “war on terror” verses the loss of civil liberty, for it is certainly fertile ground for academic deliberation.

So here is a starter question for them.  What is extremism by definition in the context of the “war on terror”,  what is the causal effect on the 4th Estate and personal/civil freedoms such as freedom of speech, expression and association, and what is the extent of mission/definition creep to which government structure and agency employ it to an unacceptably coercive level in the mastery and dominion debate?

For you and I, well we will be content with simply guessing how many extremist websites Russia will close down and how many are actually containing what we, as reasonable people, would consider extreme, thus justifiably curtailed.  Alternatively we can guess how many are closed down simply because they do not fit the current authorities political perspective and are actually nothing more than “opposition” Internet outlets culled under the guise of the “war on terror”.

To be fair to Russia, it just happens to be topical in that they made this public statement.  You dear readers, can delete “Russia” and insert the name of a nation of your choice and still have the same debate.

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