If you have spent much time studying human rights, you know that there wherever you find attacks on freedom of speech and freedom of conscience, you almost always find attacks on the freedom of religion.
You just cannot pry these issues apart, in real life.
Long ago — 1983, to be precise — Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu put it this way, during floor debates in Vancouver, Canada, about evangelism and free speech at a global assembly of the World Council of Churches. When describing apartheid government crackdowns on street preachers, he said words to this effect: One man’s evangelist preaching on a street corner is another man’s political activist.
With that in mind, I don’t think that there is any question about the link readers need to click, seeking this week’s think piece. Im talking about the final Washington Post column from the late (that certainly appears to be the case) Jamal Khashoggi. The headline:
“What the Arab world needs most is free expression.”
I realize that lots of different people are saying lots of different things about this man’s life, career and political associations — past and present. I know about his role, at one time, in the Muslim Brotherhood.
This piece is still must reading. Here is how it starts:
I was recently online looking at the 2018 “Freedom in the World” report published by Freedom House and came to a grave realization. There is only one country in the Arab world that has been classified as “free.” That nation is Tunisia. Jordan, Morocco and Kuwait come second, with a classification of “partly free.” The rest of the countries in the Arab world are classified as “not free.”
As a result, Arabs living in these countries are either uninformed or misinformed. They are unable to adequately address, much less publicly discuss, matters that affect the region and their day-to-day lives. A state-run narrative dominates the public psyche, and while many do not believe it, a large majority of the population falls victim to this false narrative. Sadly, this situation is unlikely to change.
When you read this piece, you will see that it is an overwhelmingly “secular” article, by which I mean it appears to be free of obvious religious content.
At the same time, how can you talk about freedom of conscience in the Arab world — especially Saudi Arabia — without running into issues of religious authority.
Khashoggi has one provocative suggestion that authorities in the United States need to discuss. We’re talking about this:
The Arab world is facing its own version of an Iron Curtain, imposed not by external actors but through domestic forces vying for power. During the Cold War, Radio Free Europe, which grew over the years into a critical institution, played an important role in fostering and sustaining the hope of freedom. Arabs need something similar. In 1967, the New York Times and The Post took joint ownership of the International Herald Tribune newspaper, which went on to become a platform for voices from around the world. …
The Arab world needs a modern version of the old transnational media so citizens can be informed about global events. More important, we need to provide a platform for Arab voices. We suffer from poverty, mismanagement and poor education. Through the creation of an independent international forum, isolated from the influence of nationalist governments spreading hate through propaganda, ordinary people in the Arab world would be able to address the structural problems their societies face.
Yes, look at the website of Radio Liberty. Note where there are dedicated radio services — like Afghanistan.
Then look at the gaps.
What do you see?