A short leash on freedom



Tom Nardi

In his remarkably insubstantial State of the Union Address last week, George Bush reminded us that we’re fighting evil men who hate freedom, and that it is our burden to persevere.

“[F]or the security of America and the peace of the world, we are spreading the hope of freedom,” Bush said.

Noble, I thought. But maybe we should check our track record at home and abroad.

Since Bush started giving us a lecture in post-9/11 thinking, let us examine our first post-9/11 liberation – Afghanistan, the forgotten redheaded stepchild of freedom’s march. There, a young journalism student has been sentenced to death for reading.

Sayed Pervez Kambakhsh was charged with blasphemy after downloading an article that claimed that “Muslim fundamentalists who claimed the Koran justified the oppression of women had misrepresented the views of the prophet Mohamed,” according to the Independent.

His family said that Kambaksh, 23, was denied legal representation. But even allowing for kangaroo courts, the death sentence was upheld by Afghanistan’s Senate.

Ever since the invasion of Iraq, Afghanistan has been the victim of Americans’ short attention span.

Whatever you thought of Rudy Giuliani’s abortive presidential campaign, at least he planned on paying attention to Afghanistan. But above the violence and the resurgent Taliban, we should ask ourselves, “Is the Hamid Karzai government even one worth supporting?”

The U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, which the United States supposedly subscribes to, guarantees freedom of thought (Article XVIII) and freedom of opinion and expression (Article XIX) for every human being. Prosecuting a student for pursuing his education is a flagrant violation of human rights and a horrible broach of individual liberty. One would hope the American government would call out the Afghani government on this matter and apply pressure to Karzai to grant clemency.

But that’s where the story gets complicated. Kambaksh’s brother, Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi, is one of the foremost journalists exposing government corruption in Afghanistan. Both Reporters without Borders and the Institute for War & Peace Reporting assert that the death sentence is retaliation against anti-government articles.

In fact, a senior prosecutor in Mazar-i-Sharif has allegedly warned journalists that they too would be prosecuted if they protested the decision against Kambaksh.

The Bushes have been vocal in denouncing anti-democratic countries and condemning human rights violations – so long as there are no political repercussions.

Laura Bush called for the military junta in Burma to step aside, yet ignored human rights violations in Saudi Arabia.

We need their oil, after all. George Bush continuously rattles the saber against Iran but shied away from criticism of Hosni Mubarak on his recent Middle East sojourn. Bush ignores the rising autocracy in Russia because he’s seen into Puti-Put’s soul. We refuse to boycott the Beijing Olympics and instead focus on how this is China’s “coming out” party.

Maybe some of this issue has to do with America’s own tortured relationship with freedom. Recently, New York Times reporter James Risen was subpoenaed to reveal one of his sources for his 2006 book on the CIA, “State of War.”

If you recognize Risen’s name, it’s because he’s one of the reporters that broke the CIA warrantless wiretapping story back in 2006 – a story for which he won a Pulitzer.

I’m suspicious of the concern over government leaks here for a few reasons. First of all, Risen wrote on a failed CIA mission to infiltrate Iran’s nuclear program in the early Clinton administration.

Clearly, that was a dead issue. Second, Scooter Libby’s still not in prison. Are leaks only good when the president approves of placing a covert agent’s life in danger? If so, how isn’t that like the Soviet Union?

Closer to the world of Villanova, the People’s Plaza was recently constructed on Independence Mall. It is the “official place for people to protest” in Philadelphia, according to the AP. Funny – I thought we had a right to peaceful assembly enshrouded in some document somewhere. Isn’t the whole point of a protest to be disruptive? Then again, our nation has a peculiar fascination with erecting free speech “zones.”

Here’s the thing. Freedom’s a nice buzz word to throw into a speech, but it means a lot. Freedom is absolute. Freedom isn’t putting a journalist to death. Freedom isn’t pressing a journalist to reveal his source.Freedom isn’t fencing of an area where it is “acceptable” to speak.

If we want to promote freedom at home and abroad, that’s a laudable goal and one I support. But let’s not reign it in and admire it for being cute.


Tom Nardi is a senior political science major from Philadelphia, Pa. He can be reached at [email protected].