Thursday, May 11, 2006

Freedom of Speech Starts With Freeing the Speaker 

Have you heard of Alaa Ahmed Seif al-Islam? I hope so, but if not this would be a good time to learn who he is.

Alaa is a pro-democracy Egyptian blogger whose worldview -- or perhaps merely his having the temerity to publicly express it -- has seriously annoyed Egyptian authorities. As a result, Alaa has been detained for exercising a right of free expression many of us take for granted, but which was his to use only at his own peril.

Please take a moment to read a little more about Alaa and his situation at Lisa's blog, On The Face, and at Yael's site, Step by Step. And if you have your own blog or website, adding a link to the Free Alaa! blog using the word Egypt in the linking text will help let anyone searching for important information about Egypt find out about Alaa first. Egyptian blogger Sandmonkey also has information on how to write letters or emails to US, Canadian, or Egyptian authorities on Alaa's behalf.

Don't miss this opportunity to make a difference by having your voice heard in support of freedom of expression -- and Alaa's physical freedom as well.

When I first read about Alaa's situation, and the appeals to publicize his case and write letters and emails on his behalf, I was interested but skeptical about whether I as an Israeli could help. I held back for a few days out of the belief that if a slew of emails were to deluge the Egyptian regime indicating that Israelis demand a certain blogger be released from detention, it could hurt more than help.

Obviously I think I was wrong.

When the world speaks up on behalf of freedom, freedom in this very region, how can Israeli voices not be heard in that choir? No one is demanding freedom for Alaa because they value some specific opinion they wish Alaa to be free to express. We want Alaa to be free to express whatever he believes, whether we agree or disagree.

Why is it so important to free a blogger? Consider how the Soviet Union kept millions of unhappy people under control: by making sure that no one spoke up, giving courage to others to give voice to their displeasure too. In that way, each person went about publicly denying what they might otherwise feel, and reinforcing the need for everyone else to do the same, or risk standing out as a lone and vulnerable voice. Can you imagine what a free blogging service could have done in the Soviet Union? All of those potential voices would realize they are not alone, and could share their opinions and even start to organize. This is very frightening to totalitarian-minded states in which subjugation of public opinion to the policies of the regime must be universally enforced. Egypt needs bloggers and is now starting to get them, but those bloggers need our support -- starting with Alaa.

Until Alaa's ideas and everyone else's opinions can be freely exchanged without fear, how will paradigms change in this world without resort to force as the Egyptian authorities appear to prefer.

I want Alaa free. Egypt must know the whole world demands his freedom. Be a part of that.

Free Alaa! in Egypt.

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