The best and worst thing about the internet is perhaps that anyone and everyone now has a platform to say whatever they desire. There is no selection process, no criteria, no qualifications required for one to have a page in the Internet Book of All Things Ever.
This means that a significant section of the population, be they the most marginalised, the most unsung, the most unheard, have been given, if not lent, a voice, accessible to all who are connected.
But this also means that a far more significantly proportional section of the population, whose thoughts are neither dictated by logic or rationale, are allowed to spread “venom” the way they see fit.
One could say that if one doesn’t wish to listen to this, to read words they don’t like, they don’t have to. And they’d be right.
That is after all the most fundamental tenet of freedom of speech, a crucial element in any democracy.
But the internet is not much about choice. How much of what we read, what we are exposed to is something we have actively sought out? How much of the news we get, the “knowledge” we attain, comes from a process that is active from within us, and not something we merely stumble on to?
In fact, most of what we learn nowadays is just that, happenstance.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. There is perhaps, however, something wrong with the fact that no one is burdened anymore with a need for evidence, no need to propose factually conceived judgments.
Therein lies the beast within the beauty, the beauty within the beast.
This is the price we pay for freedom. Or isn’t that what governments say when they’re trying to fight so-called “wars against terror”?
An “encounter” here, a little “crossfire” there, some Guantanamo-style imprisonment served on the side.
How ironic that nations built on the foundations of language are using the fringes of language to say what they can’t. And, in the light of what we can say, some solace can be found from the fact that an open platform, a mere status on a social networking site, is powerful enough to ruffle the most despotic of feathers
Due process, judges, and juries: Pawns and rooks and bishops on a grey and grey chessboard set where no one’s winning. But I digress.
Say, when a certain university student criticises a certain head of state for speaking in favour of a certain nuclear power plant that will lay a certain national treasure to waste, how should a certain government deal with such uncertainties that come with certain kinds of open platforms?
Silence bought with imprisonment? The modus operandi of a certain kind of government?
That is the environment we find ourselves in. Speaking in tongues and uncertainties, in insinuations and euphemisms, hints, allusions, metaphors, similies.
How ironic that nations built on the foundations of language are using the fringes of language to say what they can’t. And, in the light of what we can say, a group of words which is getting smaller by the day, some solace can be found from the fact that an open platform, a mere status on a social networking site, is powerful enough to ruffle the most despotic of feathers.
The beauty in this is, for the moment, all we can take away from it, the copper lining on this cesspit of a cloud.
Now, whether or not this student was a person spewing nonsense to promote some self-serving agenda, or if he was exercising his diminishing right to oppose those in power, remains to be seen.
Though most of us will know under which category he rests.
But we may also find that, at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter. It bears repeating that whatever crime he may have committed was a crime of thought, not one of action, and if what you think is deemed wrong by the state, and if you ever find yourself unable to refrain from releasing these thoughts, then ... who knows? These are tremendously frightening thoughts unto themselves.
For now though, the string of hope we clutch on to is the interminable force the internet has provided us with.
Let it flow through the world, let thoughts and words and phrases of dissent, be they good or bad, ripple across the ocean of digitised revolution, as ineffective as that mostly is. That is one place where they have yet to find the adequate bricks to build a wall around us.
And where lies the uncertain future of a certain university student now? Honestly, I can’t say, even if I knew.
SN Rasul is a Sub-Editor at the Dhaka Tribune. Follow him @snrasul.