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Waging War on Open Societies (in the Name of Openness!)

Sina Odugbemi's picture

In my nearly two-decades of living in the West, I have always been fascinated by the operatic displays of rage directed by some activists and campaigners at open societies and democracies. They do this in a world where sundry totalitarian and authoritarian regimes are getting stronger, stamping on ordinary citizens with gigantic boots, and shutting down nascent public spheres with total ruthlessness. Some of these regimes are now major players on the world stage, and the brave souls who fight for openness, transparency and citizen voice in these societies get very little support. They are mostly on their own.

Yet who are we supposed to see as a hero right now? Answer: a computer hacker whose philosophy ranges from naive libertarianism to anarchism. And what are the self-evident truths that we are supposed to line up behind?

  1. That all governments are inherently evil, even in democracies and open societies.  
  2. That governments are, therefore, not entitled to protected deliberative spaces, no right to any secrecy whatsoever. We must fight for total transparency of all processes and procedures of government. The theory is apparently known as 'radical transparency'.  
  3. As a result, we now apparently have the fundamental right to read diplomatic cables, 250,000 pages of them.  
  4. Meanwhile, the great hero who brings us these stolen secrets is entitled to every secrecy, immunity and protection from the consequences of his recklessness. Anybody who questions this state of affairs is not a lover of freedom, transparency or free and independent journalism.


Yet what enables this circus? Answer: open societies, democracies. As a perceptive essay in the Economist points out, our supposed hero 'takes advantage of the protections of liberal democracies, but refuses to submit himself to them.' He has 'created a legal structure that allows him to answer only to his own conscience'. He wants to be un accountable but grandly claims surpassing moral authority.

While all this is going on, in the real frontlines of the fight for freedom of expression and open and transparent societies, brave souls are being beaten, detained and even killed with impunity. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 42 journalists have been killed in 2010, 145 are in prison worldwide, and 843 have been killed since 1992. This is not to mention countless political detainees whose only crime is pushing for more open societies. Their names are not on the front pages of the newspapers of the world. They suffer and die all alone, unknown and unmourned.


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Photo Credit: Flickr user jaytkendall


Submitted by Esther on
As China and Russia become more dominant on the world stage, your statements are quite prescient. And those "on the frontlines" deserve more attention than the self-serving Julian Assange.

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