But it’s been a big couple of weeks for the rest of the world, too. Ariel Sharon had a stroke, throwing into question future prospects for Mideast peace. Hamas, a group founded as a terrorist organization, was taken by surprise when they won the Palestinian elections. No one’s sure quite how to react to that. And Google made a controversial decision to officially open operations in China, complying with the Chinese government’s desire to censor search results.
Both Hamas’s entry into legitimate politics and Google’s entry into China ring some similar-sounding tones for me. Both were unexpected paradigm-breaking head-scratchers. Terrorists don’t win elections, especially in nations teetering on the brink of peace. And it’s long been assumed that the freer flow of information into communist countries would tear apart the red fabric of socialism instead of serving socialist demands. But beneath each of these news articles lies an additional layer of complexity.
Hamas’s roots are in the Islamic Brotherhood, an Egyptian organization that also claims Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the architect of the 9/11 attacks, as an earlier associate. Part of Hamas’s 1987 charter is the destruction of the Israeli state. This hardly makes them a likely partner in the peace process. But they also come into power with anything but a single-issue platform. Hamas has spent the past several decades sponsoring suicide bombers and founding soup kitchens, charitiable hospitals, and schools. Their intention in fronting so many candidates in the recent election was to clean up corruption in the PLO-founded PA, or Palestinian Authority. The PA, dominated by Fatah, an allegedly corrupt political party, has been neglecting basic social infrastructure services like trash collection and traffic lights. But Hamas hardly expected to hold a sudden majority in government, and is now scrambling to figure out what to do with it. As a policy, I don’t advocate handing broad governmental power to terrorist organizations. But I do see the merits of bringing the disenfranchised into mainstream dialogue and addressing their real concerns. And as Moises Naim, editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy Magazine, said, “There is nothing more educational and transformational than running a government in a poor country.” Perhaps the shock of Hamas’s newfound political legitimacy is the biggest step that no one would have expected toward peace?
Speaking of new steps, Google, everyone’s favorite (advertising company, search engine, media company, and maybe future operating system vendor?) has once again stepped boldly where no (advertising company, search engine, media company, and maybe future operating system vendor?) has gone before: China. Google’s U.S. site, www.google.com, has been sporadically available to Chinese residents in the past. But the Chinese government worries that the free flow of information to 20% of the world’s population might result in, um, bad things. So Google has been blocked to Chinese internet browsers until now. But in exchange for reaching that same 20% of the world’s population, Google has agreed to filter out results containing such consipatorial keywords as fear, sex, democracy, and joke. Google submitted a well-reasoned explanation for their move to the U.S. Congressional Human Right Caucus, saying that they want all people to have unfettered access to information, and calling on the U.S. Government to address censorship as a barrier to trade in future intergovernmental communication with China. So maybe information will make the world free, even if it means short-term compromises.
Well, folks, I’m searched-out. It’s 11 p.m., and I need to get to sleep. Any comments or thoughts?