Thursday, March 29, 2007

Catholic priest sentenced in Vietnam

News just came over the AP wire, appearing on the New York Times web site, that caught my attention, in part just because of the peculiarities of dealing with a time zone on the far side of the earth. You see, Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly was sentenced (past tense) tomorrow. On to the substance of the issue, though. Father Thadeus was sentenced to 8 years in prison for his anti-government, pro-democracy activities. As he stood in court for sentencing, he seized the occasion to denounce the communist party.

Although Vietnam theoretically has freedom of speech, just as China and Iran and the United States, but there are limits on that freedom. In Vietnam or China, you can't even suggest that it would be a good thing to have more than one political party; in Iran, you can't suggest that the government should be secular; in the United States, you have to go a bit more extreme to be jailed for political speech.

What the situation brings to my mind, though, is the situation in Iraq. George W. Bush is trying to install democracy in Iraq, but democracy by its very nature requires an anti-establishment voice to inspire it, to move the people to fundamentally alter the status quo. I don't know if Father Thadeus is that sort of inspirational figure, but it's pretty clear that Nouri al-Maliki is not. Iraq needs to find its Thomas Jefferson or Robespierre or Simón Bolívar, and he can't be appointed by President Bush.

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