Saturday, June 26, 2004

CENSORSHIP: the letter I just sent

UPDATE: I just readjusted my banner logo to link to this blog entry. If this is your first time visiting the Hairy Chasms, a hearty, chunk-farty welcome to you. This blog is about as shit-caked as they come; it's all about the scatology, but we also have fun saying words like BLOWJOB and CLIT. This is also, on occasion, a blog about religious issues (I have an MA in Religion and Culture from The Catholic University of America; I'm a Presbyterian with a keen interest in interreligious issues and Buddhism-- go figure), but we have no qualms about crossing the very artificial barrier between the sacred and the profane here. Sacred and profane are not-two. The blog is currently on a war footing thanks to the South Korean government's recent cyber-censorship, so if the banner offends you, well... that's the fucking idea. If you're here from the Korean Ministry of Information and Communication, checking up on whether your cyber-ban is working, (1) FUCK YOU and the dittohead Korean Netizens who fight for the right to remain ignorant in a time of Islamic fundamentalism, and (2) NO, your ban ISN'T WORKING BECAUSE I CAN STILL ACCESS MY BLOG AND READ THE ONES YOU'VE BLOCKED. I hope I've made myself clear: your ban has accomplished precisely dick.

To learn more, read the following letter, which I sent to a whole slew of bloggers and media people, some of whom have responded right away, others of whom have chosen, for whatever reason, not to address the issue. Again, if you're a newbie here, welcome. I push out a brown, steaming log in your honor. A log worthy of James T. Kirk-- a veritable Captain's Log.

I just sent a letter to a bunch of bloggers, and cc'ed it to a couple news organizations, and also made sure it would reach the MIC. One possible consequence is that the MIC will start hunting down proxy sites; then again, they might be doing this already. Be warned. This fight might see several twists and turns before it's over.

My letter:

Fellow blogger,

I am sending this message to the bloggers on my blogroll (and a few other folks) in the hopes that some of you will print this, or at least find it interesting enough for comment. I'm not usually the type to distribute such messages, but I felt this was important enough to risk disturbing you.

As some of you may already know, a wing of the South Korean government, the Ministry of Information and Communication (MIC), is currently clamping down on a variety of blogging service providers and other websites. The government is attempting to control access to video of the recent Kim Sun-il beheading, ostensibly because the video will have a destabilizing influence. (I haven't seen the video.)

Many Western expat bloggers in Korea are in an uproar; others, myself included, are largely unsurprised: South Korea has not come far out of the shadow of its military dictatorship past. My own response to this censorship is not so much anger as amusement, because the situation represents an intellectual challenge as well as a chance to fight for freedom of expression. Perhaps even to fight for freedom, period.

South Korea is a rapidly evolving country, but in many ways it remains the Hermit Kingdom. Like a turtle retreating into its shell, the people are on occasion unable to deal with the harsh realities of the world around them. This country is, for example, in massive denial about the atrocities perpetrated in North Korea, and, as with many Americans, is in denial about the realities of Islamic terrorism, whose roots extend chronologically backward far beyond the lifetime of the Bush Administration. This cultural tendency toward denial (and overreaction) at least partially explains the Korean government's move to censor so many sites.

The fact that the current administration, led by President Noh Mu-hyon, is supposedly "liberal"-leaning makes this censorship more ironic. It also fuels propagandistic conservative arguments that liberals are, at heart, closet totalitarians. I find this to be a specious caricature of the liberal position (I consider myself neither liberal nor conservative), but to the extent that Koreans are concerned about what image they project to the world, it is legitimate for them to worry over whether they are currently playing into stereotype: South Korea is going to be associated with other violators of human rights, such as China.

Of the many hypocrisies associated with the decision to censor, the central one is that no strong governmental measures were taken to suppress the distribution of the previous beheading videos (Nick Berg et al.). This, too, fuels the suspicion that Koreans are selfish or, to use their own proverbial image, "a frog in a well"-- radically blinkered in perspective, collectively unable to empathize with the sufferings of non-Koreans, but overly sensitive to their own suffering.

I am writing this letter not primarily to criticize all Koreans (I'm ethnically half-Korean, and an American citizen), nor to express a generalized condemnation of Korean culture. As is true anywhere else, this culture has its merits and demerits, and overall, I'm enjoying my time here. No, my purpose is more specific: to cause the South Korean government as much embarrassment as possible, and perhaps to motivate Korean citizens to engage in some much-needed introspection.

To this end, I need the blogosphere's help, and this letter needs wide distribution (you may receive other letters from different bloggers, so be prepared!). I hope you'll see fit to publish this letter on your site, and/or to distribute it to concerned parties: censorship in a supposedly democratic society simply cannot stand. The best and quickest way to persuade the South Korean government to back down from its current position is to make it lose face in the eyes of the world. This can only happen through a determined (and civilized!) campaign to expose the government's hypocrisy and to cause Korean citizens to rethink their own narrow-mindedness.

We can debate all we want about "root causes" with regard to Islamic terrorism, Muslim rage, and all the rest, but for me, it's much more constructive to proceed empirically and with an eye to the future. Like it or not, what we see today is that Korea is inextricably linked with Iraq issues, and with issues of Islamic fundamentalism. Koreans, however, may need some persuading that this is in fact the case-- that we all need to stand together as allies against a common enemy.

If you are interested in giving the South Korean Ministry of Information and Communication a piece of your mind (or if you're a reporter who would like to contact them for further information), please email the MIC at:

Thank you,

Kevin Kim
(Blogspot is currently blocked in Korea, along with other providers; please go to and type my URL into the search window to view my blog.)

PS: To send me an email, please type "hairy chasms" in the subject line to avoid being trashed by my custom-made spam filter.

PPS: Much better blogs than mine have been covering this issue, offering news updates and heartfelt commentary. To start you off, visit:
Wooj's blog

Here as well, Unipeak is the way to go if you're in Korea and unable to view the above blogs. People in the States should, in theory, have no problems accessing these sites, which all continue to be updated.

PPPS: This email is being cc'ed to the South Korean Ministry of Information and Communication. Please note that other bloggers are writing about the Korean government's creation of a task force that will presumably fight internet terror. I and others have an idea that this task force will serve a different purpose. If this is what South Korea's new "aligning with the PRC" is all about, then there's reason to worry for the future.


No comments: