Bruce Sterling Loves Dissidents. Me, too – I want more of them.

The World’s Top Dissidents
by Bruce Sterling

*Some are born dissidents, while others have dissidence thrust upon them.

*That’s quite a motley crew. Maybe they should start a labor union, or a Facebook group, or something.

*Unlike my melancholy reaction to hackers, watching dissidents always cheers me the heck up. I can’t help but like ‘em. They really perk me up. They’re all over the place. Every nook and cranny. It’s like some kind of Hannah Arendt “banality of goodness.” It’s easy to romanticize dissidents. Until, you, uh, marry one.

*Gosh they are so cute, though. Wow. Especially when they’ve got blogs

(via Beyond The Beyond.)

Well, I can certainly relate to him pashing on Yoani Sánchez, the Cuban dissident and blogger behind Generación Y, which picture (above) appears in his entry. But, girl-watching aside, the article that caught Sterling’s eye raises some issues worth considering.

The Foreign Policy article that Sterling links to is on “The World’s Top Dissidents: Aung San Suu Kyi, the Dalai Lama, and more”:

Democracy. Women’s rights. Freedom of the press. The rule of law. From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, China to Peru, dissidents are working tirelessly for the liberties so many take for granted. Their fight isn’t an easy one — dissidents often pay a price for their work in the form of surveillance, kidnappings, beatings, assassinations, arrests, and torture. FP’s May/June issue featured the story of one such dissident,the jailed Russian billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky. But it is only the lucky few whose cases echo around the world — Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi, for example, or Tibet’s Dalai Lama. Meanwhile, innumerable people are caught up in the same battle. Here are just a few.

(via Foreign Policy.)

It’s a useful article for providing a snapshot into activism and political freedoms around the world, and it might be hard to quibble with its list of “top dissidents,” but I still wonder at the selection criteria. There are no dissidents from any western, European, developed nation – other than Russia, which I’m not sure counts as western, European or developed at this point. Well, okay developed. And I suppose China also counts as developed now. But still it seems very much a case of “round up the usual suspects.”

Half of the countries from which the dissidents are drawn are Muslim.

Sub-Saharan Africa is represented by Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Eritrea, Somalia, Zimbabwe – for the most part countries with problematic relations with the United States. Are there no dissidents of note in Nigeria (the fifth-largest exporter of oil to the United States), Kenya or South Africa?

Human Rights Watch cites “large-scale violence, endemic corruption, a lack of accountability for abuses, and other pressing human rights problems in Nigeria.” But despite these problems, Nigeria apparently has no dissidents important enough to make Foreign Policy‘s list. Perhaps they’ve all been killed.

And for that matter, what about dissidents in England, France, Germany, Italy or the United States? I guess according to Foreign Policy, there couldn’t really be any dissidents, by definition, in these countries because “dissidents are working tirelessly for the liberties so many take for granted.” The implication being we can take these liberties for granted because we possess them.

Women’s rights? Apparently a settled issue – for us. Violence against women and unequal pay have nothing to do with rights after all. And we’re going to ban Muslim headscarves to make sure even Muslim women have their rights in our society, whether they like it or not. Surveillance? Again, not around here. Those warrantless, illegal wire-taps don’t really count – they were in a good cause. And despite what you may have read, the Guantanamo detentions were completely in accord with the rule of law – at least the laws we care about. Democracy – we’re fine thanks. (Just ignore that glitch in Florida a couple years back, or the reports of voters in the UK arrested for protesting their inability to vote in the recent election.)

Of course, Foreign Policy says upfront that they are only covering “the lucky few whose cases echo around the world” and not the others “caught up in the same battle” whose voices don’t get heard. But what kind of journalism is that? The voices of dissidents do not “echo around the world” through some natural acoustic property of the globe – they do so to a large extent because the media choose to pick up those voices and amplify them. So we should ask, why these voices instead of some others? Why not other voices as well?


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