Thursday, January 15, 2004

I've often said that the political extremes are closer to each other than to the center. Many dictatorships start out with some sort of ideology but prolonged autocracy almost inevitably degenerates into a corrupt, ideology-free state whose sole purpose isn't to advance their alleged ideology but to perpetuate the power of those in charge. Take Zimbabwean strongman Robert Mugabe. He was a Marxist, then a pan-Africanist. His latest incarnation is that of the anti-colonialist. Tony Blair, you see, is responsable for all the problems in Zimbabwe. Economic collapse? Blair's fault. Social tension? Blair's fault. Lack of any goods in the shops? Blair's fault. The drought? London ordered that too.

Naturally, autocrats aren't fond of those who point out such hypocrisy and Mugabe's no exception. His war on what's left of the free press is quite strident. "Opposition" (ie: independent) newspapers find their editors regularly arrested, their offices raided, even their printing presses bombed. Recently, editors of the Zimbabwe Independent, the country's most influential weekly, were arrested and charged with criminal defamation. They reported that Mugabe had "commandeered" an airliner from the cash-strapped national carrier, Air Zimbabwe, for a jaunt in Asia.

Defamation is normally a civil crime, which means the aggreived party can file suit and, if successful, receive monetary damages but the defamer doesn't go to jail. Criminal defamation means jail time.

The editor of the Independent noted, "Criminal defamation is a nasty law, a relic of empire used by governments to deal with critics."

Appropriate that the anti-colonial Mugabe who rails against alleged British imperialism should use a relic of the British Empire to repress those who aren't his sycophants.

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