Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Dr. Hodges unleashes the beast

You know, for the better part of a year, this stinkin' blog hasn't received much correspondence. I'd get the occasional letter, but correspondence has been, if I may use a urinary metaphor, more drip than trickle.

Now, however, thanks to this censorship bullshit, I get letters daily. True: most of them are from the same five people. But I don't care: this is heartening. Soon the correspondence will be from the same six people, then seven people, and so on.

Dr. Vallicella's good friend Dr. Horace Jeffery Hodges is an assistant prof at Korea University. He works literally across the street from where I live. I should stroll over to his office someday in "Braveheart"-style warpaint and scare the shit out of him.

But that would be a poor way to repay Dr. Hodges for his latest effort on our behalf (I hope he won't mind being known, here at the Hairy Chasms if nowhere else, as an honorary FUCKer). You see, Dr. Hodges just sent a letter in to the Korea Herald, one of the two major English-language papers on the peninsula. It hasn't been published there yet (good luck with that, sir), but I asked Dr. Hodges if he'd allow me to reprint the letter on the blog. As with my letter, I hope you'll copy this and spread it around. Dr. Hodges covers the major talking points now familiar to those of us in the fight: the hypocrisy of allowing previous beheading videos to be shown, the question of Korea's status as an internet power, etc. But he adds something else, something important: the broad scope of the current censorship is harming academic research efforts-- i.e., it's putting a major damper on the free flow of information, one of the hallmarks of free and open society.

Without further ado, I cede the floor to Dr. Hodges:

As many of you are aware by now, the Korean Ministry of Information and Communication (MIC) is blocking millions of websites. As justification for this censorship, the MIC has explained that its intention is to block access to the video of Kim Sun-il's beheading at the hands of radical Muslims. Apparently, the MIC's aim has failed since many Koreans are reportedly sharing the video privately through other cybernetic means.

Many netizens have commented on the MIC's inconsistency in blocking the Kim Sun-il video while allowing videos showing the beheadings of foreigners such as Daniel Pearl, Nicholas Berg, and Paul Johnson. Netizens have also argued for total freedom of access to the internet as integral to the right of free expression. Roughly, the argument is that a free society depends upon free speech, and therefore upon free access to information.

The MIC might counter that blocking websites showing the beheading of Kim Sun-il poses no special threat to internet access and that there is an overriding need in this case to prevent emotional trauma to Kim's family. The fallacy in this argument is twofold. First, as already noted, the MIC has failed to stop many Koreans from viewing the video. Second, the MIC is not blocking just specific websites; it is blocking entire domains, millions of websites.

Censorship on this scale does pose an implicit threat to a free society. Take my situation. I am an assistant professor at Korea University, and my research interests are rather broad. Korean libraries do not always have the English-language sources that I need for my research, but thanks to Korea's cybernetic sophistication, I have been able to use the internet to meet most of my scholarly needs. Consequently, I have published on John Milton, Islamic radicalism, and the worldwide growth of Christian evangelicalism, among other articles. Recently, I have worked with scholars from Hanshin University and Yonsei University on a project investigating the problematics of Korean unification, for which I was almost totally dependent upon internet resources. In all of my research, I had always been very satisfied with my ability to access online articles.

Currently, however, I am encountering a problem. As I continue my research on various topics, I find that the blocking of domains has cut off access to many, many websites. A websearch process that once took only seconds is now impossible. I am merely one individual, but if we multiply my case by hundreds, thousands, even millions of others, then the danger to a free society becomes clearer.

Korea's deserved status as a modern society and its stated goal of becoming an economic hub for Northeast Asia will increasingly depend upon individuals having broad internet access. I therefore call upon the MIC to lift the blocking of domains and again allow free access to the internet.

Horace Jeffery Hodges
Assistant Professor
Department of English Language and Literature
Korea University

Please do your part to get this letter out and about. Pester the media. No, really: pester the media.


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