Freedom at Issue:

Insights on the global struggle for democracy

September 2012

Arch Puddington

In 2006, in the midst of the furor over the publication of Danish cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, Freedom House issued a statement that declared:

At the heart of the cartoon controversy is the right, now and in the future, of an independent and uncensored press—and artists and writers in other venues—to comment on the issues of the day without interference from the state or threat from discomfited or aggrieved groups.

We now find ourselves embroiled in yet another uproar over freedom of expression and the sensitivities of the Muslim world. While the level of violence provoked by the Innocence of Muslims thus far has been notably lower than was the case with the Danish cartoons or, especially, the publication of Salman Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses, the response of the world’s political leadership has often been more disturbing than in the previous episodes.

Courtney C. Radsch

The recent outbreak of violence in several Muslim-majority countries, ostensibly in response to a malicious amateur video created by anti-Muslim hatemongers, has prompted calls to formally restrict speech that insults or does not “respect” religions and prophets. Freedom House, along with many other human rights and free expression organizations, has spent years attempting to turn the tide of opinion at the United Nations against this idea, which has reared its head annually in the form of a resolution condemning the so-called “defamation of religions.” In 2011 we succeeded, only to see the progress quickly reversed as a result of the disparaging Innocence of Muslims video clip and the ensuing violence, which has left dozens of people dead around the world.

Nancy Okail

Last week the world witnessed a wave of violent outrage in various Muslim countries, triggered by a film produced in the United States that defames the prophet Muhammad. While there is speculation on whether the attacks against U.S. embassies were spontaneous or orchestrated, that is not really the most crucial issue in this tragedy. More important is the way the overall phenomenon is being used to draw attention away from pressing political and economic problems in the affected countries.

Stefanie Ostfeld

Corrupt dictators who take bribes and loot their treasuries are rightly condemned by governments and other observers in developed countries. But the extent to which this plundering is aided by lax and weakly enforced money laundering laws in the West has too often escaped notice. It is remarkably easy for these criminals to hide their identities behind anonymous shell companies and bank secrecy in order to bring their dirty money into the United States and Europe.

Katherin Machalek

Meet the oil barons, fashion divas, and ruling families of Central Asia.

This piece originally appeared in Foreign Policy Magazine. To see the original, click here.

Arch Puddington

For some time, Latin America was identified as one of the success stories from the wave of democratic development that accompanied the waning years of the Cold War. Over the span of a relatively few years, a region notable for violent insurgencies, military juntas, oligarchies, and caudillo rule underwent a historic transformation that left practically every country with a freely elected government and a civic environment in which an array of liberties were respected. After the democratic upsurge, the lone holdout was Cuba, with its inflexible and increasingly anachronistic Communist dictatorship. Over the past decade, however, the commitment of governments in the region to democratic standards has wavered, in some cases considerably.

Sam DuPont

A Burmese human rights activist told me a story about the last time his office was raided, two years ago. Government security forces kicked down his door and stormed the office, with a mandate to seize the organization’s electronic data. Not exactly savvy in computer hardware, the raiders grabbed only the monitors and marched out. A few days later, the activist was hauled before a judge and accused of deleting all his data. He was convicted and imprisoned.