Free speech: Why I'm lucky to live in America, not Iran

The big reason we're better: they don't execute you for blogging in America. Sometimes your page rank goes down, but it's not quite the same thing.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

Yesterday was President's Day here in the United States. It's a strange little holiday, in part because even what's being celebrated is unclear both legislatively, and between the states and federal government.

Briefly, the holiday is and always has been officially Washington's Birthday, celebrating the birth of our first president, George Washington. And even that has some degree of controversy, because when ol' George was born, it was on February 11, 1732, according to the Julian calendar. But when the Gregorian calendar was adopted in 1752, the date George popped in the world suddenly became February 22.

And then there's Lincoln. When I grew up, we got a day off from school for Washington's birthday and another for Abe Lincoln's. Apparently, we were particularly bratty back in New Jersey, and the state did everything it could to get away from us little monsters, including celebrating two holidays in the same month.

In any case, sometime in the late sixties, having nothing better to do with its time, Congress decided to stick all federal holidays on Mondays and somehow combined Washington's birthday with Lincoln's and thus begat President's Day. The only problem is that although most Americans think we're celebrating President's Day, we're not. The holiday is still officially Washington's Birthday, Lincoln's birthday has been conveniently lost, and well, you get the idea. Your tax dollars at work.

So how does this all bring us to Iran? If you've been following Violet Blue's excellent reporting on the crackdown on bloggers and social networkers in Iran, you'll begin to understand how severe censorship can get in a truly regressive and repressive society. It's deeply disturbing.

See also: Iran’s Deadly Cyber Police: Indefinite Detention and Execution for Netizens

There's not even any tangible evidence of wrongdoing, and it's likely web site operators and bloggers will be put to death, and that's after torture.

Now, contrast that with the United States. Yesterday, I ran a very tongue-in-cheek gallery honoring some of our favorite presidents. Well, honoring them is probably going too far. Mostly, I mocked.

I imagined what pick-up lines would have been like for James Buchanan, our only bachelor president. I called Ronald Reagan a moderate and then proceeded to lampoon not just Newt Gingrich (low hanging fruit) but even Mitt Romney. I went to town with Bill Clinton and a company called Cigar Monster. I mentioned a blow-up Karl Rove doll and did a mission-accomplished dig with George W. Bush. And I even questioned the effectiveness of the current sitting president.

See also: Gallery: Presidents and their not so presidential apps

In Iran, they'd be pulling off my fingernails by now.

I was helped by other editors here at ZDNet, who gathered images and some background information. In Iran, their families would have been rounded up for questioning by now.

You know what happened after I went full monty mocking our leaders? You know what happens to me whenever I go fully monty mocking our leaders? Do you have any idea how often I mock our leaders? It's virtually a full-time job. And, well, it's not really full monty. I wear sweatpants.

The worst that ever happens is I get ignored. Sometimes readers get cranky. And then, on good days, I get a call from a staffer in a Congressman's office, a chief-of-staff in an admiral's office, or a special agent in charge from a three-letter law enforcement agency.

I don't even get yelled at by these people (well, not counting our readers). But our government representatives often tell me how fun they find my writing. Sometimes, they're nice enough to point me to additional information, or why they think my characterization of "their guy" is a little too harsh. Once in a while, I get asked to do some pro-bono advisory work.

In no case has anyone threatened to put me to death (well, not counting our readers). In no case has any federal official asked me to change my story, edit my story, or censor my story. Now, to be fair, I have access to a lot of sensitive information and have never published anything which is restricted. That's part of why I'm trusted with sensitive information.

But, back to the point. In Iran, if you complain slightly or even are in the wrong place at the wrong time, you're tortured and executed. Here, you're either ignored or sent some white papers to read.

Many of you have wondered why I'm so pro-America in my writing, how I can possibly love a nation so flawed in so many fundamental ways. Well, now you know.

America is great because we have freedom of speech. The big reason we're better: they don't execute you for blogging in America. Sometimes your page rank goes down, but it's not quite the same thing.

But -- before you think I'm getting too jingoistic (look it up) -- I need to point out a disturbing trend once again. The American government and American government policy is not trying to censor any of us. But lobbyists are. Special interests are. The companies we buy our tunes and flicks from are trying to censor us, and they don't care how far they have to go to shut down our cherished free speech.

Think about that the next time a SOPA or a PIPA comes up as a bill. Is censoring us more like America or more like Iran?

See also: Chris Dodd and the MPAA: bribery or politics as usual?

I'm proud to be an American, but I'm not exactly thrilled with our lobbyists.

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