Thoughts on Egypt, Information, and Freedom

Chuck Colson | BreakPoint | Friday, February 4, 2011

Thoughts on Egypt, Information, and Freedom

As I've been watching the TV news showing thousands upon thousands of Egyptians marching through the streets of Cairo, demanding political freedom, I've had an eerie feeling that I had seen something like this before.

My mind wandered back to 1990 when I visited the Soviet Union as part of a delegation to visit a notorious Soviet prison camp for dissidents. I had been to Russia before, but something was different this time—signs that the Communist regime was beginning to lose its grip on power. I was shocked to see Pentecostal Christians protesting in the streets of Moscow, demanding the freedom to emigrate.

And even though I had a KGB escort everywhere I went, Soviet dissidents were free to have conversations with me. That would never have happened before.

And what the dissidents told me was astounding. I asked them why change was happening. They said there were two main factors. First, President Reagan. Second, the fax machine.

That's right. The fax machine.

You see, the fax machine was a carrier of information to the people. And no tyrannical regime can last long once information begins to flow freely.

Today in the Middle East, it seems that the Internet is the medium that is fanning the fire of freedom.

As Egyptian Kareem Amer wrote last week in the Wall Street Journal, "The news of Tunisia's Jasmine Revolution rocked the Egyptian Internet. The blogosphere was full of calls urging people to take to the streets . . .  and bring down the regime of Hosni Mubarak, just as massive protests toppled the 25-year regime of" the Tunisian dictator.

In fact, Amer writes, the social networking sites "are the only means we have to broadcast our thoughts and organize ourselves." No wonder, then, that the Egyptian government shut down Twitter. Facebook, YouTube, Gmail and Blogspot.

But this is what tyrants do. All tyrants recognize that free discourse among the people will undermine their authority. This is why in every crisis authoritarian regimes clamp down on communication—whether shutting down fax machines in the old Soviet Union, or controlling the Internet in Egypt, Iran, or China.

In fact today, given our dependence on the Internet for information, free dissent within a society can be silenced by the flip of the switch. That's terrifying.

If there's an object lesson about what we're seeing in the Middle East, it is that every Christian should be working diligently to preserve the right to free speech, to preserve the free flow of information. Aquinas noted eloquently that civilization advances on well-reasoned discourse—on conversation, which is the heart of democracy.

There will be other worldview aspects to be discussed as the situation develops in Egypt. These are profoundly important questions and we Christians need to be paying attention, and be able to explain to our neighbors why worldview matters so much—and why the Christian worldview offers all people the best chance to live in freedom and dignity. We watch the events with deep concern and commit to pray for peace in the Middle East.

Chuck Colson's daily BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.