By Robert Fisk
"Shut them up. Accuse them. Imprison them. Stop them talking. Why is it that this seems to have become a symbol of the Arab - or Muslim - world? Yes I know about our Western reputation for free speech; from the Roman Empire to the Spanish inquisition, from Henry VIII to Robespierre, from Mussolini and Stalin to Hitler, even - on a pitiable scale - to Mr Anthony Blair. But it’s getting hard to avoid the Middle East.
When Egyptian women cry “Enough!”, they are sexually abused by Mubarak’s cops. When Algerians demand to know which policemen killed their relatives, they are arrested for ignoring the regime’s amnesty....
The Damascus newspaper Tichrine - the Syrian equivalent of Private Eye’s Rev Blair newsletter - demanded to know why Washington was showing such concern for human rights in Syria. Was not the American-supported blockade of one and a half million Gaza Palestinians a violation of the rights of man? Had not the Arabs seen all too clearly Washington’s concern for the rights of man in Abu Ghraib and Guanatanamo? All true. But why on earth feed America’s propaganda machine (Syria as the centre of Hamas/ Hiz-bollah/Islamic Jihad terror, etc) with weekly arrests of middle-aged academics and even, it transpires, the vice-dean of the Islamic studies faculty at Damascus University?
Of course, you won’t find Israel or the United States engaged in this kind of thing. Absolutely not. Why, just two months ago, the Canadian foreign minister, Maxime Bernier, discovered that a confidential document sent to Canadian diplomats included a list of countries in which prisoners risked being tortured - and the names of America and Israel were on the list! Merde! Fortunately for us all, M. Bernier knew how to deal with such pernicious lies. The document, he announced, “wrongly includes some of our closest allies. It doesn’t represent the opinion or the policy of the (Canadian) government”. Even though, of course, the list is correct.
But M. Bernier managed to avoid and close down the truth, just as Mr Mubarak does in Cairo and President Bouteflika does in Algiers and just as the good Shaikh es-Sayed did in Toronto. Syria, according to Haitham al-Maleh, a former Syrian judge, claims there are now almost 3,000 political prisoners in Syria. But how many, I wonder, are there in Algeria? Or in Egypt? Or in the hands - secret or otherwise - of the United States? Shut them up. Lock them up. Silence."