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Opinion | The strange paradox of Julian Assange and the question of censorship

By J.B.Browne

It's 7:00 am.

I try not to look at my phone.

I take a shower, eat breakfast.

I open my feed, and fresh fish guts spill out from the blue light. My dopamine receptors start firing up, bombarded with the novelties of a perpetual outrage machine.

But today, one story leaps into view.

Ex-Hongkongers at London's Piccadilly Circus have rallied against the clampdown of press freedom in Hong Kong amid the recent abrupt closures of "pro-democracy/liberal media" outlets Apple Daily, Stand News, and Citizen News. All this, of course, follows the Hong Kong National Security Law implementation from June 2020.

More on that later.

But wait; are these the same "peaceful protestors" who recently ganged up on a singular Chinese woman who protested their protestations? These same "winged protestors of peace" who clashed with Chinese protesters rallying against anti-Asian hate in London last December? The same defectors masquerading as "expatriates" on flaky visa promises, who have spent their entire life savings climbing back up the umbilical noose of their colonial masters, only to be ignored, ostracised, and cajoled into low-paying service jobs?

The same harbingers of peace who preach free speech but see no issue flying hand-painted flags of Hong Kong Independence alongside the colonial flags of British Hong Kong. Such Dunning Kruger hubris is flagrantly unaware of world history and, more specifically, Hong Kong's history where such prized "freedom and democracy" never existed under British authoritarian rule.

The bluish din continued to flood my synapses. I found myself thinking about how mentally jarring it was watching a bunch of ex-Hongkongers campaigning for press freedom from within the bosom of Western imperialism in Asia. In the 156 years of British occupation, Hong Kong had no free speech laws. Nor was Hong Kong ever an electoral democracy, functioning instead as an administrative office taking direct orders from London. Oh, the irony of Hong Kong finally having elections under Chinese and NOT British rule.

But I digress.

I took a sec to marvel at this new, shifting world. Having hailed from Hong Kong and London, pre, and post-handover, and having lived and worked in Mainland China, I've come to appreciate a few things. Most of all, I've come to understand that most, if not all, societies are shades of grey when it comes to free speech and censorship. To think otherwise would be foolish, maybe even immature.

Sure, you can argue that China is wrong because it has formally acknowledged censorship. Everyone knows the score; there are limits but freedoms within those limits. Should the boundaries be pushed to the point of danger towards compromising national security, social order is prioritized to maintain a course of internal peace and prosperity.

I cannot recall any country or society that has never done this throughout history.

However, the more insidious form is informal censorship, most prevalent in Western societies. We see this strain of censorship, self-imposed or enforced, play out through school and mass media indoctrination, whereby the existing political system is sold as "free" and "democratic," attainable and influenceable. However, in reality, there's no link between how people vote and how their society operates.

In these societies, the right to "free speech" is widely discussed and accepted as a human right, much like water, food, or shelter. But in reality, it is a mechanism used to appease those who might have an issue with the way they are. Got a problem? Protest in the streets. Don't like a leader? Vote him out next time. Got a hot political take? Post it online. No one cares. Nothing changes.

Today, informal censorship appears as self-censorship through political correctness and woke culture. And those that push back against all and any of this, those who become politically aware, are unceremoniously shoved into artificial constructs of ideological perspectives designed to look like objective truths but are hollow, never challenging existing power structures seriously.

All media is an extension of the established order in any country because if you didn't have it, then there would be chaos. So for any country to consistently highlight its hypocrisy by accusing others of the same thing but from a different culture and system of governance is the pinnacle of absurdity.

All of which makes the ex-Hongkongers plight in London that much sadder – they genuinely believe they've ascended "higher moral ground." They weaponize their anti-communist bias as natural distortions of China to a rabid right-liberal Anglo-Saxon media in the business of "bad china" propaganda. They are incapable of seeing things for what they are: different shades of grey.

I'm still looking at my phone, but now it's 7:00 am in London.

Ex-British Prime Minister Tony Blair floats silently down the carpeted stairs of his £8m Connaught Square mansion. He's wearing an ornamental red dressing gown made from the finest silk in China, a gift from Wendy Deng. But that's all in the past now. He doesn't sleep well these days.

He presses the Nespresso machine. Tonight he will give a 20-minute speech at a world hunger event, receiving £330,000. Not bad. It pays to be top dog. Since the invasion of Iraq, he and Cherie have amassed at least ten houses and 27 flats, worth an estimated £27m. He sips his Fortissio Lungo and looks out over London; the sun is rising now. He thanks the same God that whispered to him to go to war.

Meanwhile, the same diffuse January light hits the outer walls of Belmarsh Prison, an hour's drive from Connaught Square and a bit more from Piccadilly Circus. Here, WikiLeaks founder and Australian journalist Julian Assange rots in prison for exposing the lies of Blair and others. Under dubious kangaroo court circumstances, his imminent extradition to the US is all but guaranteed. Given the years of persecution and absence of trustworthy information, his case has become too complex and unmanageable to understand for anyone who hasn't taken the time to understand.

Later that morning, the ex-Hongkongers chant and rave about free speech, about media outlets with proven ties to foreign agencies. Seemingly, they're ok with Assange's plight or just completely unaware.

Besides, they live "freely" in a western democracy where it's the norm for war criminals to be rewarded for massacres in distant lands and truth-tellers punished. For now, they're free to shout, just as long as it's within the law and the right thing to think and say. Should any of them break the mould and start to reconsider, they will find themselves cancelled by peers and media without a split second thought.

As he would refer himself, J.B. Browne is a half "foreign devil" living with anxiety relieved by purchase. HK-born Writer/Musician/Tinkerer.


The views do not necessarily reflect those of DotDotNews.


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