Monday, July 03, 2006

Perversion of communication

It’s said that back in 1991, Boris Yeltsin defeated the Communist hard-liners’ coup with a Macintosh computer, a laser printer and a fax machine. After arresting the crusading Mikhail Gorbachev, communist hardliners had their troops surround the “Russian White House,” where Yeltsin was holed up — but they neglected to cut off the phone lines. Yeltsin, so the story goes, used a Macintosh and fax machine — e-mail wasn’t that prevalent in 1991, especially in the then USSR — to rally the Russian people, who came out in unarmed thousands to protect the White House from the troops. One tank unit even joined the demonstration, allowing Yeltsin to make his famous speech from atop Tank No. 110. Within days, the coup d’etat was over, and within a few months, the Soviet Union was no more.

It’s my favourite story about the power of communication. And it was cited by many as an example of the “democratization of communication” — how new tools, like desktop publishing, personal computers and especially the Internet, were bringing the power of the press to everyday folks.

Since 2001, though, the world has seen the perversion of low-cost, high-power communications tools by terrorists. The latest example comes from the Brampton, Ontario courtroom where 17 men and boys are being tried for allegedly conspiring to commit terrorism in Canada. CBC News got a training video used to inspire would-be Canadian jihadists.
The video features Osama Bin Laden, who says “Therefore each individual from amongst the Muslims should come forth to kill the Jews and Americans,” says Bin Laden on the tape, “for killing them is foremost of obligations and the greatest form of worship.”


Now, the abuse of technology for spreading hate and warping young personalities — okay, I’ll say it, for evil — is nothing new. Demagogues from Robespierre to Hitler have used the tools available to spread their messages.
What’s disturbing is that the widespread availability of today’s communications tools has engendered such a huge amount of hate. The fact that it’s aimed straight at my own culture and values is disturbing, too.
Is it inescapable to feel otherwise about a group who calls your cherished ideas, like individual freedom, equality of the sexes and open expression?

Kudos to Tarek Fatah of the Muslim Canadian Congress for such strong, public and consistent arguments for rationality among Muslim Canadians! He says he felt deeply offended” by a speech made by Kuwaiti Islamisst scholar Tareq Al Suwaidian, who told a group in Toronto that “Western civilization is rotten from within and nearing collapse ... it (the West) will continue to grow until an outside force hits it and you will be surprised at how quickly it falls."

Mr. Fatah is the MCC’s Communications Director, and apparently write most of the group’s website (www.; he has appeared on CBC radio to call for an end to foreign funding of religious institutions. The MCC also argues against religious courts in Canada, terrorism, the “war on terror,” and for equal rights.
It’s so good to hear from such a courageous, committed and rational voice. Let him and the MCC hear your opinions — send them an e-mail at

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