Saheli*: Musings and Observations
Thursday, February 17, 2005
 
The Town Square in Syria & Lebanon

Bush is telling Syria to quit Lebanon. What seems key to me is that the Lebanese opposition is also telling Syria to quit Lebanon. Quite loudly. From a Reuter's article by Nadim Ladki:
"The day will come when we will get brooms and sweep away this dirt, the criminal authority, the terrorist authority," Druze leader Walid Jumblatt told
reporters at Hariri's house. "This day will come soon and all of the Lebanese people will rise and send them to hell." . . . Lebanese newspapers said Wednesday's scenes of grief and anger among more than 150,000 mourners in the streets of Beirut amounted to a national referendum against Syria's military and political influence over its smaller neighbor.
Let's assume Bush is serious about his endorsement of Natan Sharansky's Town Square Test ("Can a person walk into the middle of the town square and express his or her views without fear of arrest, imprisonment, or physical harm?"--Condi Rice's summary at her confirmation hearings). Then news of such vigils, protests, and press conferences is important data. Really, Syria should leave Lebanon, regardless of whether or not it turns out to be responsible for Hariri's assasination. (Remember, there's no proven connection yet except proximity.) But the fact that the Lebanese can make their own loud and willful case for that should give anyone else pause before stepping in.

Tangentially: I'm not completely sure what I think of the Town Square Test. I think it's a good opening metric for most societies--especially most old world countries where a) democracy is fairly new and b) there are probably plenty of Town Squares. But it's possible to envision a society which has free speech but is still oppressive. There are other ways to oppress people besides making them shut up. It's just that not letting them talk is so very awful that it's a clear and immediately repulsive kind of oppression.

Also, a subtle, clever way to get around the Town Square test is to get rid of the Town Square. If there is no central, visible way to get out there and shout--if no one can hear you anyway--then why not let everyone have that freedom? But these are much more subtle issues than those facing most of the world. We Americans might want to ponder them a little more.
 


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Saheli Datta started this when she was a journalism student at Columbia in New York. Now she lives in the Bay Area. *Old people call me R. New people, call me Saheli. Thanks! My homepage. Specifically, my links. Email me: Saheli [AT] Gmail [dot] Com

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