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Was It Worth It?

What better way to “break the fast” of Blank Day than to discuss the idea of Blank Day and whether it makes any sense? My friend Yahia, whose Antiblog is in the blogosphère francophone, wrote me an e-mail this morning to ask:

    You closed the comments in your blog, just like everybody I guess.
    The thing is that I don’t know in what way this is being useful for supporting the non-banning of blogs in Tunis?
    I really don’t see any, if it isn’t freezing communication for one day…

Here is my repsonse:

    You’re right, not all the Tunisian bloggers agree it is useful either.
    I saw on felsfa’s blog that he wasn’t going to participate in this, even though he is one of the banned bloggers, because he feels that he got roped into the ban by other bloggers who quoted selectively from his posts for purposes of their own. Then he did participate, so I’m confused.
    I see it as a way to get people talking about the issue, and the fact that you wrote to me means it is working. Obviously it will have no immediate effect, but by blocking communication for one day, it may cause those who participate to reflect on what censorship means.
    I don’t know how useful it is. I consider it an experiment!

Interestingly, among the four banned blogs I know about, there is no unanimity about this project. Mouwaten Tounsi (Tunisian Citizen) was banned before the others, on November 15. He is one of the promoters of Blank Day and participated. On Samsoum’s blog there is no sign that he is even aware of the ban or the protest against it. He hasn’t participated, but then, he hasn’t posted anything since December 14, when he flew back to Tunisia for the holidays. felsfa expressed his unhappiness that he was dragged into this controversy against his will, but then he decided to participate, without explaining why he had changed his mind.

The fourth banned blog, Sami III, offers the most information about why Blank Day might be controversial even among the bloggers themselves. He announces that he will participate “so I can speak about what I want, not about what you want!” He is addressing certain Tunisian political opposition figures who live overseas—apparently in Switzerland, Egypt and Libya—whose websites got him in trouble by misrepresenting what he had said, using his words out of context for their own purposes. To these people he has a message in huge red letters (which I will spare my readers):

    I’m asking you not to modify my words and extract the “bits” that are useful to you! In my blog, I speak only about my life and what surrounds me, and since I am not active politically, I never speak about politics! !!!No politics here!!!
    So for those readers who want to follow political developments, my political ideas, or other subjects of that sort, is there a big red “X” in the corner of your web browser? Press it without hesitation, you have the wrong address!
    P.S. This note isn’t directed primarily to Tunisan readers. It’s meant for those who come from very specific places, following very specific links towards very specific posts.

A bit of intrigue! In the comments, Mouwaten Tounsi responds:

    I agree with everything you said. When my blog was censored, I received e-mails of support from certain political figures. I responded out of politeness, nothing more. On the other hand, I don’t agree on one point: when you say that to participate in [Tunisian] politics one must be in Tunisia. I don’t think that’s very well thought out.

To which Sami III answers:

    As far as the practice of politics is concerned, I think I expressed myself poorly. Any citizen can express himself and practice his rights from any part of the planet whatsoever. What I wanted to say is that politicians, political figures and officials need to get close to the citizens, exchange ideas, present workable programs…all this can only be effective in direct contact with people, not from a distance and moreover, not through walls of censorship. That’s impossible and has neither sense nor purpose.

So there you have it, democratic debate in the Tunisian blogosphere. Too bad these same individuals are prevented from practicing these qualities in the public realm (if they so choose!). Now that Blank Day is over, I’ve reopened comments on this blog. The floor is open to you, dear readers. What purpose did this serve? Was it useful or not? Are their better ways to express our opposition to censorship? Ici on parle aussi bien français qu’anglais. Faîtes comme chez vous, chers lecteurs francophones!


Comment from B2
Time: December 26, 2006, 06:44

Usefull Or Not, je crois que ce Blank Day n’est pas passé inaperçu.
Vu que la plupart de nos blogs, sont visités de part le monde entier, au moins le nombre de gens qui sont au courant de la censure pratiquée en Tunisie a augmenté.
Et puis, ça a aussi permis aux gens de gouter au gout amer de la censure .. Moi je l’avoue, ne pas avoir à bloguer, ne pas pouvoir lire les commentaires de mes visiteurs, et surtout ne pas commenter chez les autres, m’a donnée une envie horrible une fois passé : celle d’écrire, et de ne rien faire d’autres que d’écrire :)

Voilà, j’hésitais depuis longtemps d’écrire en français ici, jusqu’à ce que tu nous y invites l’ami :)

Thanx !

Comment from Ibn Kafka
Time: December 26, 2006, 21:31

It’s difficult to give our Tunisian brethren pertinent advice as the political conditions they live in are so different from ours – of course, I do not imply that Moroccco is an Athenian democracy, but simply that Tunisia really is a totalitarian state, whereas Morocco is merely authoritarian (and less so than it ever was).

I suppose however that the Blank Day provided them with more publicity than simply continuing with business as usual…

Comment from Bill Day
Time: December 27, 2006, 02:09

I thought it was useful, because I did not know that the Tunisian government was blocking bloggers until I was asked to participate in “Blank Day,” although I was generally aware that the Tunisian regime is very repressive. By helping to educate other people, particularly other bloggers, “Blank Day” was a step in the direction of encouraging free expression and making censorship on the ‘Net unacceptable.

Comment from Tunisian and proud of it
Time: December 27, 2006, 10:05

@Ibn Kafka: Instead of criticizing Tunisia which I am 100% sure you never have put your foot on its soil, look inside your own house and check if there’s something wrong. Boasting that Morocco is “merely authoritarian (and less so than it ever was), did you post something lately on Nichane’s censorship?? My goodness how can a joke be a threat ? and please tell me what do you know about Tunisia, the mere biased bits and pieces you read from Reporters Without Borders who just stopped criticizing you beacuse they were given the red carpet in Morocco??Any feed back on Ali Lmrabet??? How come two years ago your representative in the US is begging Human rights Watch to give a blind eye to this story??
FYI, Tunisia is a country with a deep rooted history of sacrifice and dignity and we don’t sacrifice this dignity and pride to gain the benediction of Israelis and Americans!!

Comment from eatbees
Time: December 27, 2006, 12:59

@Tunisian & proud — If you’ve read Ibn Kafka’s blog, you would know that he’s not an apologist for the Moroccan state. In what sense is it “boasting” to call Morocco “merely authoritarian”? Saying that Morocco is more politically open than Tunisa at the present time, isn’t the same thing as saying “it’s all good in Morocco.” If you’ve read Ibn Kafka’s blog (which you can find in my blogroll), you would know that he has a long history of criticizing censorship and abuses of power in Morocco, whether these abuses are directed at Lmrabet or at Islamic political movements. He doesn’t need me to defend him, his words speak for themselves. I just want to point out that his use of the word “totalitarian” isn’t the attack you understand it to be. Rather, it is his way of saying “respect to our Tunisan brothers—they have it harder than us.” I think you’ve taken his remarks wrong, and would be better off holding your fire in the future until you know what you’re shooting at.

Comment from eatbees
Time: December 27, 2006, 13:15

As it happens, Ibn Kafka has a new post in French about the legal ins and outs of the Nichane case. I haven’t read in detail yet, but it shows in no uncertain terms why the banning of Nichane is in contradiction with Morocco’s own laws, and so an abuse of State power. (Thanks for the shout-out, by the way, that was very kind.) At the end of the post is this link to a petition in support of Nichane—please go there and sign it if you’re into symbolic gestures!

Comment from Wydadi
Time: December 29, 2006, 13:07

@Tunisian and proud of it:

I am glad you care about Ali Lemrabet cause he used to nickname Benali “bac-4″and let me tell you that being censored in his own land doesn’t impede someone from criticising censorship in someone else’s land and especially in yours.

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