Ich bin ein moderate Muslim!

In a great post called "Where Are the Muslim Moderates?," Cliff May describes the mechanism of Stalin's rule by fear:

In 1956, Nikita Khrushchev addressed a closed session of the 20th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party. For nearly four hours, he spoke about the unspeakable: the crimes of his predecessor, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

Though listeners were warned not to reveal what was said, and the speech would not be published for 32 years, word leaked out. The most widely told story, probably apocryphal, had it that as Khrushchev was detailing the mass arrests, torture and executions carried out within the Gulag, someone in the audience shouted: "And what were you doing then?"

"Who said that?" Khrushchev demanded. No one made a sound. "I want to know who said that!" he repeated, slamming a fist on the lectern. The audience was silent, trembling in fear. "That's right," Khrushchev said finally. "That's exactly what I was doing."

(Via Glenn Reynolds.)

I think that in the pre-blogosphere days, silence is what a lot of bloggers were doing. One of my theories is that blogging tends to attract shy people who are highly opinionated, but who were for various reasons intimidated into silence. I suspect that many of them will say stuff in writing that they might hesitate to say to someone's face.

Sissy Willis reminded me of the Khruschchev silence in a comment yesterday, which linked to a post about fear societies:

Fear societies are inevitably composed of three separate groups: True believers, dissidents and doublethinkers. True believers are those who believe in the ideology of the regime. Dissidents are those who disagree with that ideology and are prepared to say so openly. Doublethinkers are those who disagree with the ideology but who are scared to openly confront the regime. (Quoting Natan Sharansky.)
Expanding on a post by David Kaspar's Medienkritik, Sissy identifies an additional group:
....those members of academia who go along with politically correct groupthink they may not agree with in order to protect their careers. Call it "Fear Society Lite." Sharansky's "mechanics of tyranny that sustain such a society" are at work in those lofty intellectual bubbles just as surely as they were in the old Soviet Union and are today in the Arab tyrannies. A repressive society is a repressive society, wherever it may fall on a continuum of brutality and thought control.
What I think is the most important aspect of the blogosphere is that it destroys this mechanism. There is no requirement that any blogger be openly confrontative or engage in confrontation, and most importantly, there is no practical way to tyrannize bloggers.

Thanks to the blogosphere, moderate Muslims in many countries (along with others similarly intimidated or shamed into silence) can now speak their peace without fear, because they can do so anonymously, and at any time.

In the metaphorical sense, there's a little bit of moderate Muslim in all of us, and in fairness I'd have to include many of the courageous bloggers who'd never hesitate to say what they think online -- even in the most snarky manner possible. But at a work-related cocktail party, watch out! They're just as likely to stick to pleasantries and hide or change the subject when "uncomfortable" topics like politics or religion arise, or maybe just leave.

Or like me, they'll never again attend political meetings where they might be insulted or shouted down (or simply worn out by windbag, keep-the-meeting-going-all-night strategies). I had enough of that stuff, and it's one of the reasons I blog. Sure, people can shout at me here, but I can't actually hear them, and I don't have to pay attention. It's all in writing. Plus, I'm not a big enough blogger to receive the thousands of hate emails that big bloggers inevitably get if they're doing their job. If the comments ever got really bad, I could turn them off, I suppose. But no matter how bad it might get, it it could never be the same as being shouted at and threatened in person. It's a major loophole, and I see no way those who specialize in intimidation can close it. (Well, a laughably lame attempt was made in New Jersey, but that doesn't really count.)

The thing is, even if I were a complete coward (or someone with touchy employment issues), I could say exactly the same things in an anonymous blog, and there'd be no way for anyone to do anything.

Of course, there's always the possibility of someone bringing up a blogger's blog in a social or public setting. That's another issue -- but if you're lucky enough to have someone find your blog and ask you about it, why, that's more of an honor, than it is intimidating. (And their reasons for searching it out and reading it are a more worthy topic than the blog itself.)

Add to this the power-in-numbers phenomenon, and the days of traditional techniques of intimidation are numbered. That's because any attempt at intimidation will immediately be widely reported, and, as an attack on one becomes an attack on all, suddenly the attacker will not be a bully facing one lone victim, but hundreds, maybe thousands of victims -- all turning the tables and defending themselves at once. It would be as if a mugger selected a victim in a crowded city and everyone suddenly leaped into action to help.

To add insult to the bully's injury, a documented attack on a blogger tends to produce what every blogger wants: hits and traffic.

Thus, the bully who tries to intimidate a blogger ends up helping the very thing he intended to harm!

No wonder fear societies hate bloggers. It just isn't fair, being afraid of the people who are supposed to fear you!

posted by Eric on 04.11.06 at 03:14 PM


Great post! Our society hasn't encouraged courage or outspoken-ness like a democracy should, and that could have had disastrous effects during these PC times had the internet not come along.

I think we got really lucky. This technology has actually done for idea-sharing what banking has done for money... er... you know what I mean?

Harkonnendog   ·  April 11, 2006 5:22 PM

For the great minds think alike file- The Belmont Club has a post with a similar theme today, here:


a quote of something quoted:

To turn from all these books, which illuminate the challenges now facing Europe in a variety of ways, to Timothy Garton Ash’s [book] Free World is to step through the looking glass from reality into fantasy. Most of the writers I’ve discussed here are scorned by the academic establishment for their politically incorrect views; Garton Ash, by contrast, is a professor at Oxford, where he directs the European Studies Centre, and is a fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution. He is considered a world-class expert on Europe and its future, and he refers frequently in his book to his participation in glamorous-sounding international conferences on weighty topics. In short, he is at the heart of the European academic elite—and his book’s main value, it turns out, is that it is an absolutely perfect example of today’s European-elite mentality in all its arrogance, self-delusion, and folly. ...

end quote


Harkonnendog   ·  April 11, 2006 10:06 PM

Great post. I just finished reading G. K. Chesterton's "Outline of Sanity";his call for millions to find their voice and reclaim the personhood he saw being taken away by Big Capital in the 1920s, seems to have needed the distributed nature of the net. His 'Distributivism", giving everyone a ground stake, may coming about with the power of blogs and wireless communication. GKC would be amazed at the sophisticated "machinery" in ordinary hands, and doubtless would engage the heavy irony on the life of the factory workers who make it possible. I keep finding the themes of this book in modern fun-house mirror reflections all around.

Stewart   ·  April 11, 2006 11:20 PM

Thank you both! TJ, we did get lucky -- just as the intimidation/thought control machine thought it was firmly in place, an uncontrollable counterweight appeared out of nowhere. (I still remember the howling about "unrestrained" talk radio and the complaints about "uncontrolled" fax machines!)

Eric Scheie   ·  April 12, 2006 8:09 AM

Look now

Cristopher King   ·  April 19, 2006 8:30 PM

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