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China, Syria, Censorship

While Palestinian-Israeli peace talks and Iran's nuclear program won the spotlight at the Arab League Summit, held in Libya over the weekend, Arab leaders endorsed a low profile -- yet dangerous -- document.

Proposed by Syrian President Bashar Assad to presumably "manage Arab differences," the first article of the document stipulated that Arab regimes "should not launch any kind of media campaigns, against each other, for [such campaigns] obstruct the management of differences, efforts aimed at compromise, and reinstatement of normalcy [in bilateral relations]."

The Syrian Assad regime, it seems, perceives media as a tool at the disposal of the state, rather than the "fourth estate" whose job is to participate in the checks and balances inside individual states, or across countries.

Syria's proposal of this gentlemen's agreement to censor free press comes at the time the world witnesses a surge in police state behavior.

China, the planet's most prosperous authoritarian regime, has been trying to bully the giant search engine Google.

However, as the world focuses on Google's freedom fight against China's censorship, the Syrian Initiative wins the unanimous approval of 22 Arab states, and receives minimal media coverage. After all, Damascus has blocked Syrian access to Facebook, YouTube, most search engines, and a dozen other social and political URLs, long before Beijing decided to move against Google.

Police states, like China and Syria, are more sensitive to freedom of the press than many in the West might think. The free world, for its part, should not remain silent against Chinese and Syrian violations of such basic human rights.

A common wisdom has emerged in the West, especially among liberal and left wing circles, that the world should leave regimes and their peoples alone.

Just like many Westerners sympathized with the native Navi tribe living in a tree in the hit sci-fi movie Avatar, against the White Man's military-industrial resource-hungry complex, these same Westerners sometimes argue that the West should stay out of the business of countries like China and Syria.

Such argument is wrong.

There is no nation on earth that enjoys living inside a tree, or prefers state censorship over freedom. All nations seek modern technology and freedom. While communicating with trees, like in Avatar, might be a domestic tradition that should be respected, cultural heritage should never be understood as the antithesis of innovation, human rights, or freedom.

Police states like China and Syria have tried to hide behind cultural sensitivities and label basic human rights as Western innovations unfit for their populations. This is deception.

Meanwhile globalization has been both positive and negative when it comes to police states.
On the one hand, autocratic regimes are finding it extremely harder to control the flow of the news and online social networking into their once tightly iron-curtained countries.

On the other hand, Chinese and Syrian efforts of censorship have expanded. While Beijing is fighting the world famous Google, Syria took its efforts to like-minded regional leaders, at the Arab Summit, and got the nod for it.

The good news is that the more China tries to censor Google, the more its authoritarian behavior is highlighted in world headlines.

The bad news is that, unlike China or even Iran, countries like Syria are tightening their grip and getting away with it, or rather receiving world praise for a presumed effort to achieve peace with Israel, a speculation that has been in the news for the past half century, but has never been realized.

The Syrian censorship document received little to no media attention in the Arab Middle East, where a new satellite channel opens every week, or in the West.

Arab satellite channels, such as Qatari Al-Jazeera that claims to be a champion of human rights and scrutinizes every American behavior to propagandize against it, did not make a big deal out of the Syrian censorship document.

To understand why the always-agitated Al-Jazeera remained silent on the Syrian Arab censorship document, one should always remember the Syrian perception of how regimes "should not launch any kind of media campaigns against each other."

The Syrian understanding of media outlets, whether satellite TVs, radios or newspapers, as regime-owned tools perfectly fits Al-Jazeera, which is owned by Qatar's despot. And since Assad and the Qatari autocrat have been allies for some years, Al-Jazeera found nothing wrong with turning a blind eye toward a Syrian initiative that aims at censoring all Arab media.

Perhaps Al-Jazeera was busy videoing how American troops were presumably killing innocent Muslims in Afghanistan, agitating its millions of viewers against some Danish cartoons, or crying foul against veil laws imposed on French women.

China, Syria and Al-Jazeera understand media as a propaganda tool owned by police states, nothing else. For that, they should be shunned, whether they are good economic partners, like China, potential peace signatories, like Syria, or owners of massive deposits of natural gas, like Qatar.

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