Silencing Powerful Voices


When I say “powerful”, I don’t just mean people in positions of actual political power. I mean powerful in the sense that the words of these individuals, or groups of people, have immense weight. Whether it is a single person or a population, many powerful voices are being silenced, and it’s up to the rest of us to ensure they are heard again.

My piece earlier today defending the people’s right to protest is one such action. Through protests carried out by, or on behalf of, oppressed or disadvantaged people, we can create change. I used the example of Adani because, despite the fact our government and the inauthentic Labor opposition are rolling over for it, the people have the power to instigate change. As it is, within the next few decades, without government aid, Australia can potentially each 50% renewable energy.

But what voices are being silenced, and why? There are many silenced people in the world, and while the details about why may differ, they all come down to one core motivation – people in power find those voices too inconvenient to have spreading their progressive nonsense. When the popular or oppressed voices are heard, it creates sympathy or inspires actions, which is unacceptable to those whose positions are maintained through tyranny.

One notable example (not that all voices aren’t worthy of note, just this one has a chance, albeit small, of getting somewhere) is the war in Yemen. Since 2015, the US backed Saudi invasion of Yemen has spawned what the UN calls the worst humanitarian disaster today, a tough title to earn given the number of dire events in the world. But while there has been a deadly veil of media silence on the war, the death of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi gave the world an entry point.

Today, there is increasing scrutiny on the Saudi-led war, spearheaded by Bernie Sanders, which has resulted in the US actually considering a step back from their involvement. The US has sold weapons to Saudi Arabia and the UAE for years (the latter, suspiciously, making an appearance in Libya too), and these weapons have been used in attacks against civilians. It feels wrong to delegate the voice of the Yemeni population to the US government, but given the reality of US involvement, if the government drops their support then it might just let Yemen get some reprieve.

A jump north, to Israel/Palestine, and you see another silenced people. That is, if you don’t read about the region. Earlier this year I even read a book titled Gaza Unsilenced, which did give journalists and Palestinians a voice. In this case, Israel’s brutal repression of anything Palestinian, be it a State, a people, an identity, has kept much of the world in the dark. People know things are bad there, but we are told so often about terrorists, rockets, tunnels, Hamas – surely both sides are equally bad? If you listen to the Israeli or Western media, then sure, but the silenced voices of Palestinians who suffer daily paint a very different and much bleaker picture.

I can’t remember when it was exactly, but there was a pro-Palestine rally in Brisbane one night when I was having dinner with a few friends. If I wasn’t eating and talking, I told my friends that I probably would’ve joined the small procession.

On the other side of the silenced voices coin are individuals who have been silenced in various ways for their actions. Chelsea Manning has been again locked up, this time for refusing to give testimony in the case against Julian Assange – who a number of governments are also trying to silence through extradition to the US. WikiLeaks is perhaps one of the most important organisations in history, and yet those who risk their lives to reveal and publish information in the public’s interest are hunted down.

The US isn’t the only country holding political prisoners, however – try as they might, you can’t quite yet call the US government a dictatorship. Egypt’s late former President Morsi was a political prisoner, deprived of adequate medical care and kept locked away from the public eye. Lest the Muslim Brotherhood or some other revolutionary force get any ideas or inspiration, the leader of the first democratic government in Egypt in decades was silenced. Egypt, under the new (US backed) dictator Sisi, is facing its most brutal regime yet (so too, incidentally, are the people of Gaza).

In Latin America, a similar scenario is taking place. Ecuador, obviously, has a role in the Assange arrest, bowing to US pressure. Brazil is facing much worse, however, with Bolsonaro at the helm. The Amazon, the Brazil’s Indigenous peoples, LGBT+ people, etc. are all at severe risk after a soft coup was undertaken against former leader Lula da Silva. Like Morsi, he was arrested and has been essentially hidden from the world. He is unable to access any media, nor even allowed to make public statements. He was arrested on flimsy corruption charges solely for the purpose of deposing him, keeping him out of the Brazilian election. This succeeded, hence the ascension of Bolsonaro.

In none of these cases am I suggesting that the voices of these people be appropriated. I speak as much for the Palestinians as the Israeli government does, for example; that is to say not at all. What I believe, in cases like these, is that our voices be used to amplify theirs. Of course, have opinions, ideas, etc. but when it comes to representing the interests of those that are silenced, we must project their voices first and foremost. Be it the Palestinians, Unions, Assange, any of the other examples I mentioned or the myriad of others I haven’t, take the time to listen carefully and hear them.

Their reach is limited – the least we can do is ensure the world’s attention is brought to the atrocities occurring daily in silence. The louder they are, the greater the change we can achieve.

Liked this? Read The Silver Lining in the Khashoggi Murder

Previous piece: The Right to Protest: Adani

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