Years ago in Germany, a national zeal and his vehement desire gripped the nation. Chancellor and failed artist Adolph Hitler rose to power, on the wings of a promise to bring Germany back from an age of decadence and blatant moral bankruptcy, and restore it to its former glory. It was under his regime that Germany would see tightening business regulations that targeted a select group of people, along with the elimination of Germany’s free press. Of course, we all know the rest. Germany descended into darkness, with the genocide of millions of Jewish people. Now, I’m not saying that that’s what’s happening here, but what I’m about to talk about should give cause to the American citizen to be cautious in their further dealings in our country. While history may not necessarily be doomed to repeat itself, historical patterns quite often do, and it takes a certain amount of vigilance to ensure that the atrocities of the past do not find their way into our present.
On September 11, 2001 the nation was sent into a turmoil that it hadn’t known since World War II. A terrorist organization known as Al Qaeda took responsibility for two planes crashing into the World Trade Center, bringing down the twin towers, and leaving a scar in a country that will likely last for generations. In the aftermath, we saw an increasing national fervor. And in that newfound nationalistic fervor, we began to mark dark skin and foreign sounding languages other than Spanish as being the mark of terrorism. As a nation, we saw a rise in the reporting of hate crimes against Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims. And sadly, the overwhelming justification for such things in the minds of many Americans was simply “I don’t feel comfortable with a terrorist in my backyard.” This reminded me of the anti-Japanese sentiment in the United States during World War II. During that time Americans of Japanese descent were forced into internment camps without any sort of trial to ascertain whether or not they were part of the US-born ad hoc spy network for the Japanese government. Shops were vandalized, people raped and killed, and thousands upon thousands of Japanese American citizens held in internment camps without being afforded the basic rights that are supposed to be extended to all citizens of the United States of America. Our new target was now of darker complexion, and out of American ignorance, many times people began to confuse the turbans worn by adherence to the Sikh faith, with the kind of headdress that Osama bin Laden was seen wearing in the media.
Fast forward to 2012, and things aren’t all that much better. Congress recently passed an act that would allow extrajudicial detainment of individuals “suspected of terrorist activity” who are American citizens both at home, as well as abroad. This practice of foreign nationals being detained for suspicion of terrorist activity is often referred to as rendition, and now the concept of rendition has been extended to US-born citizens. If you stop to think about it for a second, the prospect of this being a possibility flies in the face of everything that the Constitution was drafted to prevent. If we’re not careful, our paranoia could run so rampant that we could literally see liberty die within our lifetimes.
The other thing I’d like to talk about today, is the prospect of the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect Intellectual Property Act passing into law. I grew up on the tail end of an age before the Internet. And as a child, I had many ideas about what the Internet should be. The chief among these ideas was that it would be a new way of gaining access to information that would otherwise be very difficult to obtain. For me, I saw the prospect of the Internet making education not only more accessible, but cheaper due to the ability to reduce printing costs across the board. With information available online, education would both cross geographical boundaries that it could not before, as well is diminish a piece of the economic barrier that kept so many people away from academic enrichment. Apart from that, I also saw the Internet as a means of connecting to other people I would not otherwise have had the opportunity to connect with. And with these new laws, the Internet may fail on both fronts.
There have been movements to create what one could call open source textbooks to make education more accessible. With the passage of the aforementioned laws, we could see such websites shut down by big textbook companies such as Pearson and Prentice-Hall, all because somebody who says something similar on such open source textbook projects could be seen as violating copyright laws. Search engines could be shut down merely for providing links to websites that may or may not be providing access to copyrighted materials. A world where results from a search engine and access to information can be dictated by US corporations in the United States government. We have to remember that the interests of the former is maintaining control over the release of its intellectual property, namely information that should remain free to begin with if our goal is truly to create one of the most educated societies on the planet. And the problem with the latter remains that the vast majority of the people in charge of our government have no idea how to deal with a medium like the Internet. Imagine a world where social networking sites like facebook becoming virtual copyright law police states, for fear of litigation.
What I fear, is that with the current trend in legislation, this country may simply have a democracy in name only. I fear that we will become a nation ruled by paranoia and national fervor, rather than the light of reason and in the spirit of democracy. The Internet was supposed to be the great democratizer of information, but if we begin to place restrictions upon it, it will simply become another division between social and economic classes. And if we allow the government to continue to enact laws that circumvent the brilliance of the Constitution out of some desperate need to give the American public some newfound sense of security, then we are truly lost. And if I may borrow some words from the Star Wars prequel trilogy, I fear that I may one day say, “so this is how democracy dies, with thunderous applause.”