I told Antony Loewenstein well over a month ago that I would review his book, “The Blogging Revolution.” I’ve put it off not because the book’s no good but because I simply hate reviewing books. It takes forever and, if you’re a freelancer, pays crap. I’ve found various ways of getting around it before, primarily by rambling on without end, as with this review of “Muslims in Spain” on my personal blog.
This time, however, I’m going to try an ongoing review. That is, I am going to expand the review as I go through the book. Each time I write, I will be registering my impressions. Some of those impressions will be qualified, even contradicted, by further reading. Others will not. Not ideal, perhaps, though in keeping with the spirit of blogging, I think. Hopefully, the discussion in the comments will also be extended due to the form. Plus, both Antony as the writer and you as readers will actually get a review out of the deal.
A couple of introductory comments. As far as I know it is the first book on the topic of repression of bloggers. That alone would make it an important book. It’s also got a very cool cover. Antony I met long before he even had the idea for this book and was interested to watch the idea, and then the reality, develop. To know more about Antony, who is an Australian writer and journalist, check out his blog, Antony Loewenstein.
I have to confess straight out to a certain trepidation about the book. Antony’s first is the controversial “My Israel Question,” which I think could be described as a book by a Jewish anti-Zionist. The gravity that things like this book can sometimes produce however, attracts, in addition to critical thinkers, those with a rather problematic relationship to Jews. I’m talking less about anti-Semites than about disengenous anti-Israelis whose racism is couched in an objection to racism, much as some European politicians condone intolerance out of a worshipful relationship to tolerance.
I’m telling you this not to slap Antony upside the head, but so that you can tack your own sails against the direction of my wind if you feel it necessary.
OK, back to the book in question. To write it Antony researched a great deal. He was a blogger to begin with so already had a relationship with the technology, the communication strategy and some of the players. To write it, he visited Iran, Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Cuba and China. This is also, chapterwise, how he organized the book.
The thing that irritates me about the introduction, something which I have already seen in everything from blog posts to radio reports on the “progressive” side of the spectrum, is this notion that repression of bloggers in countries like Cuba has the following qualities.
- The United States (gasp!) is responsible for it
- It’s not so bad as The Man would have us believe
- The people in repressive countries are not bad
That the U.S. has an effect on the world is beyond question, but one thing I never see is an expose on how the vast power of the country is responsible for, say, South African music, or love. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. If the U.S. is responsible for everything, then it’s responsible for everything. And that includes French cinema and dim sum.
To the second and third points, I’m sure there are some people who believe that because Iran’s governing cadre is mostly creepy tyrants, for example, so are its people. But I don’t think there are many. It does make sense to ask the question, however, how much do the people in a given country believe in the philosophy of information their governments express? I think it’s vital to any exploration of repression.
Now, one of the main focii in the introduction is on the role of Western (really, American) companies in providing both the technology of repression as well as the strategy for it. From Google to Microsoft, Cisco to Smart Computing to Facebook, American Internet and social media companies have enthusiastically and repeatedly effected the repression of citizens in other countries and their own. What pisses me off about this even more than normal is that the ideal of America, the ideal whose practice made these innovative companies possible, has been whored off so enthusiastically by these companies NOT to make a fortune, but to make a little bit more money to add to the already-existing fortunes. For the life of me I have never understood this. Wouldn’t the PR benefit of acting decently more than make up for the loss of possible future customers in places like China.
Antony is right to point out that this is an integral element in the repression of bloggers and other practioners of social media. I look forward to more coverage of this as the book goes on. (With Tom Lantos having died, I doubt seriously there is another American politician with the moral uprightness and love of conflict who will hold these companies to task.)