Syria's Assad regime is conducting a deadly and very personal counterattack on its most dangerous enemy: information.
Syria is now the most crucial battleground in the Counter-Information War waged by closed societies -- societies closed by brute force and elite whim -- against human beings who would open these societies of fear to scrutiny and accountability.
Iran's sectarian tyrants, China's communists and Russia's KGB government know Syria's war is theirs, as well. So Iran and Russia provide arms, and China offers a diplomatic shield.
"Information" is a broad term. The Counter-Information War waged by tyrants and oligarchs is directed first against information that undermines their power. No startling news in this. Twelfth-century B.C. low-tech tribal chiefs employed jailers and executioners to silence inconvenient critics. Twentieth-century totalitarian secret police continued their repugnant tradition.
The tyrants' second target distinguishes the 21st century's battle: digital connectivity.
Dictatorships need fear. Isolation, in a jail cell or police state, promotes fear. Information isolation also stymies the introduction of dangerous ideas, like freedom.
Connectivity introduces ideas. It reduces isolation, though it doesn't eliminate it. The cellphone has evolved into a communicator's Swiss army knife. As digital information, audio, video and text flow from one human palm to another. A husband on a Damascus street corner can tell his wife in London he loves her. He can also show her the secret police targeting him and provide real-time video of his murder.
Geographic distance still matters, as does the strength to thwart murderers with democratic military force. Knowledge alone won't save the husband -- that requires a platoon of soldiers, probably engaged in regime change. However, the political impact of the tragic video may bring the regime's demise a day closer.
In March 2011, Google executive Wael Ghonim delivered a speech in Cairo (recorded at TED.com) that discussed digital connectivity's role in Egypt's Arab Spring. Egyptians learned, "I am not alone; there are a lot of people who are frustrated; there are a lot of people who share the same dream." Ghonim declared fear-freed Egyptians believed in victory "because they don't play the dirty game and they have dreams of a better life, dignity for every Egyptian." He asserted, "The power of the people is much stronger than the people in power."
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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