So yesterday Obama announced that he had signed an executive order targeting people and entities who use technology to help authoritarian governments crack-down on dissidents.
Obama stated in his speech on Monday at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington that:
“Technologies should be in place to empower citizens, not to oppress them,”
Ultimately these new penalties are aimed at pressuring authoritarian entities that use information technology to commit human-rights abuse. But the US in its statement specifically signaled out and targeted Iran and Syria for condemnation. The U.S. treasury department has already slapped sanctions on six Iranian and Syrian companies & government branches along with the head of Syria’s intelligence directorate. The sanctions implemented will freeze any of the assets they hold in US jurisdiction whilst also simultaneously banning any US citizen from doing business with them.
Now I am not one to criticize any steps made to help inhibit any authoritarian regimes crackdown on its people. After all, it is true what Obama has said, technology should be used to benefit the human race rather than crush it. But where my contention lies is in the selectivity of this policy. As is made clear, the policy is aimed at Iran and Syria, two regimes that aren’t or have never been in the good graces of the West. With the daily protests and rising death toll in Syria its emphasis in the statement makes sense topically as well as politically since the UN is at loss at how to best ‘discipline’ the regime’s wanton violence. But some may frown at the inclusion of Iran. If we are looking at the crackdown on dissidents, unlike places like Syria it is not going through an abnormal uproar of dissent. So why was it included? Two words… Nuclear Weapons. These sanctions fit nicely into the US’s Iran agenda and hence their integral inclusion in the statement is explained.
Now don’t get me wrong, that isn’t to say there isn’t any dissent or human rights abuses taking place in Iran. On the contrary, its record on human rights is as bleak as any paranoid authoritarian’s regime. My point isn’t that Iran shouldn’t be included on the list, just that it should have been joined by the likes of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Jordan etc. Its inclusion and especially Bahrain’s exclusion is comical. Bahrain has been spotlighted in the news lately due to the ongoing heavy-handed crackdown on protesters as the F1 race is held on its shores. The silence on Bahrain doesn’t surprise me, though. It fits nicely into the current US stance on it, i.e. Turn a blind eye.
But another interesting thing to note is the statements focus on ‘technology’. One might wonder why stop at technology that facilitates the authoritarian governments to locate these dissenters, why not also ban the weaponry these regimes use to crack down on these dissenters? After all, knowing who your dissenters are isn’t the same as having the means to punish them. So what’s the hold up? The US is the hold up. It is the biggest arms trader in the world. Awkward to say the least. Don’t want to be seen to be shooting oneself in the foot. It seems the US’s moral compass on those who aide authoritarian regimes is lost when it comes to weaponry. Technology? No No, Dear God No. Guns & Bombs you say? How many you want?
To view this hypocrisy one simply needs to look at any of the many events that have transpired in the Middle East’s revolutionary up-heavel. An example of this would be that during the crackdown on Egypt’s pro-democracy movement the protesters in Tahrir square were being told that the US stood by them (Regardless of how timid and late this stance was) in their battle for democracy… whilst they had tear gas canisters being fired at them daily with the words ‘Made in the USA’ proudly embezzled on the side. Hypocrisy, you’re doing it right USA.
The point I’d like to stress is the fact that this policy isn’t and shouldn’t be viewed as one void of US interests. Iran and Syria have abused their positions of power and have wronged their people and therefore should be punished no question about it. I applaud the step towards holding to account those who help authoritarian regimes wrong their people, but what I don’t applaud is an inherent selectivity and bias in these steps. It’s poignant that Obama made this speech in front of the Holocaust memorial. After all, it wasn’t technology that simply led to the devastating events of the holocaust, but weaponry.
People are not blind to hypocrisy and those who make grand overtures of being the ‘world’s police force’ should remember that. As the protests in the Middle East have shown us, eloquence of words and speeches from above do not make-up for the hollowness of in-action below.
Simply stated it should be: Accountability of all, in the interest of everyone instead of the few.