It’s Official: Tunisia Now Freer than the U.S.

Tunisian Prime Minister Béji Caïd Essebsi announced on Monday the dissolution of the country’s secret police arm. This step toward democracy is the most important taken by any Arab country for decades.

Euronews has video:

Tunisia’s interim government also abolished the ‘Ministry of Information,’ which had been in charge of censorship, allowing a free press to flourish. Of course censorship, especially habits of self–censorship, does not actually disappear with the stroke of a pen. Employees of state t.v. have struck recently to protest what they consider government censorship of their news reports.

An Arab country with neither secret police nor censorship is unprecedented in recent decades. Tunisia is inspiring similar demands in Egypt and Jordan. When skeptics wonder if the Revolutions of 2011 would really change anything essential in the region, they would be wise to keep an eye on these two developments in Tunisia, which, if consolidated, would represent an epochal transformation of culture and politics.

In the United States, the fourth amendment had been intended to prevent unreasonable and arbitrary domestic surveillance of Americans. It says,

‘The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.’

Not only were people not to be spied upon by the government without a warrant, but warrants were not to be issued without probable cause.

Arguably, Tunisians are now freer than Americans. The US government thinks our private emails are actually public. The FBI and NSA routinely read our email and they and other branches of the US government issue security letters in the place of warrants allowing them to tap phones and monitor whom we call, and even to call up our library records and conduct searches of our homes without telling us about it. Millions of telephone records were turned over to George W. Bush by our weaselly telecom companies. Courts allow government agents to sneak onto our property and put GPS tracking devices under our automobiles without so much as a warrant or even probable cause. Mr. Obama thinks this way of proceeding is a dandy idea.

The Fourth Amendment is on the verge of vanishing, and this attack on the Constitution is being abetted by pusillanimous and corrupt judges and fascistic elements in our national security apparatus. Freedom of peaceable assembly is also being whittled away in the United States of America via devices such as ‘free speech zones;’ the founding generation intended that the whole of the United States be a free speech zone. Many of the protests in the Middle East being cheered on by Americans would be illegal in this country.

Few among the public even seem to care about these assaults on our liberties here. At least the youth of the Middle East can generate a little passion over censorship and unreasonable surveillance. Makes an old Madisonian tear up a little.

Posted in Tunisia | 38 Responses | Print |

38 Responses

  1. Excellent observation…(to make things worse the US MSM advertises itself as free to dis-inform the public.)

  2. Its common to refer to our diminishing rights as being “whittled away” – it allows us to claim ignorance – when in fact our rights were not taken, encroached ,abrogated or whittled away & certainly not by some big scary bogey man in a Dark Suit ……we just gave them up – a little at a time with none to blame but ourselves.
    Since we haven’t had the guts to protect the rights we HAD it’ll be interesting to see how we fare trying to get some back – I think we could take more than a few lessons from the ME.

    • Well, we didn’t exactly give them up. The 2000 election was stolen, and we repeatedly voted out the autocrats, only to discover more autocrats.

      I think most people just haven’t realized yet that our democracy is broken, so people haven’t realized that it may take “extralegal” means (nonviolent protest) to restore our rights.

  3. Thanks for pointing out that the emperor has no clothes on. I completely agree with your assessment but do not have the courage to say things like these.

    I am amazed at the gullibility and lack of critical thinking of my fellow countrymen. I have always thought this more than ironic that our government assigns parking lots as free speech zones. Of course logically that means rest of the country is not free. This practice has been going on for a decade now and people just don’t get it.

    People are too busy following Charlie Sheen and what not to pay attention here…..

    • The issue of parking lots as free speech zones is a spurious one.

      Such zones are for people with signs that have the potential to block the view of others.

      Other than behaving in ways that interfere with the rights of others who have come to public events to enjoy them as well, I’m quite confident that you will find that the First Amendment applies just about everywhere.

      Freedom of speech doesn’t demands that one group be allowed to disrupt another (e.g, letting the Phelps’ carry their “god hates fags” signs into the military funerals themselves, rather than being kept far enough away that they don’t disrupt the services).

      • “Such zones are for people with signs that have the potential to block the view of others”

        Are you not kidding yourself?

  4. …. and profiling of Muslims in the US…
    Special US prison units fill with Muslims. while Muslims account for six percent of the inmate population in federal prisons as a whole, in the CMUs (known as “Guantanamo North,” the so-called Communication Management Units) “somewhere between 65 and 72 percent of the population is Muslim,” said Alexis Agathocleous, an attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights. “So, that’s a tenfold over representation. That obviously raises concerns about religious profiling,” he said.

  5. Let’s wait and see what the next Freedom House publication of Freedom in the World says.

    I dare say that the US will still have the better score.

    Any takers?

    • Freedom House is located in the US and receives funding from operations closely attached to the US government.

      Despite their inherent bias, I bet the US position in their rankings will drop. Again. I’m not sure how high Tunisia will rise, though.

      • Every person or organization is located somewhere. It takes a good deal more than that to demonstrate bias.

        I mean, Juan Cole is located (most of the time) in the United States and teaches at a college that gets money from the US government. Does that make him biased?

        If that isn’t enough for you, look at Reporters Without Borders. It’s a French organization that rates press freedom around the world. Out of the 178 countries they rank, the US comes in at #20. Tunisia rings in at #164.

        If anything is “official” it’s they’ve got a long, long way to go before they are a free people.

  6. The whittling away at the Fourth Amendment and our individual liberties began with Richard Nixon when he created “enemy lists” of people who were audited regularly by the IRS and had their mail opened (including my parents), and thought he could get away with breaking into the office of the Democratic National Committee and ransacking the offices of Daniel Ellsburg’s psychiatrist. It accelerated under Reagan and was raised to a fine art by George W. Bush and Dick “Shotgun” Cheney. While I am deeply disappointed that Barack Obama has dismantled only a handful of the worst of the Bush-era abuses, at least he imposed some restrictions and limits on the FBI, NSA and CIA, and – as far as we know – has not expanded the government’s blatant abuse of its power that was an everyday thing under the Bush reign of error.

    The crux of the issue was that Cheney was never a small “d” democrat nor does he believe in actual democracy and freedom. For decades, he spouted flimsy nonsense about a so-called “unitary executive,” tried arguing when he wasn’t busy burying the Constitution that the Vice President’s office was its own branch of government, and took Supreme Court justices such as Clarence Thomas and Anton Scalia on junkets at a time when the Court was deciding cases in which Cheney had a direct interest.

    America’s own Axis Of Evil – Bush, Cheney and Jay Bybee at the Justice Dept. – were our own version of Mubarak, Khadafy, Kharzhi, Saddam and Ben Ali, et al: Corrupt, self-aggrandizing little men who acted like dictators in their use of “secret police,” and abused their power daily. That they have never been brought to justice is as dark a stain on America as was their eight years in office.

    Until the country can come to grips with its past, and reconcile what it did to destroy our freedom in the name of preserving our freedom, we are doomed to relive that period over and over again. And the world will never see us in quite the same light as it once did.

    • The Obama Administration has yet to act in any consistent way to undo the damage to civil rights and due process which occurred under previous Administrations going all the way back to Lyndon Johnson (and no, it didn’t begin under Nixon. Everyone knows that MLK was a target of Government spying ordered from the top – and he was shot before Nixon became President.) This damage accelerated under Clinton and accelerated exponentially under Bush Jr. But under Obama, it has gotten even worse. His Administration has backtracked on its pre-election intent to fix the economy and restore civil rights and due process. Obama seems to have no traction or command within his own Administration.

      • Obama is an empty suit at best. But more realistically he is an ambitious person devoid of any character who’ll sell his grandma to get what he wants. At worst he is serving his masters.

  7. This gets at the single great truth to be aware of and to which its people need to see past their complacency to resist.

    Once people in the US transcend the notion of their exceptionalism, they can come to see the world can spin in reverse: progress does not always extend forward.

    Quite to the contrary, and this was the real lesson of the Holocaust, which has in the grandest of ironies, been lost on the powers that now be in Israel.

    • Right…nice to know that Israel took the wrong lesson from the Holocaust…
      Seriously, do you not see how incredibly arrogant it is of you to make that statement. Not to mention how very incorrect it is as well.

      • Frankly, I see more arrogance in your virtually content-free denial. There isn’t even an argument here, just a bald assertion, and a counterfactual one, at that. The facts are available from about a billion human rights agencies and UN offices: the government of Israel has flagrantly violated many foundational human rights laws and principles that were established to formally criminalize the atrocities of the Nazi regime. On top of the physical segregation, the forced removal, the brutal slaughter, the blockade, the collective punishment, the devaluation of the scapegoat’s right to life/food/water, etc., we are also seeing professors in the US and Israel denied tenure or fired for criticizing the regime’s war crimes, a hallmark of fascist/closed societies. If you refuse to see reality for what it is, that is not Travis’s fault.

  8. The fascist court decision to give corporations power to influence voting using unlimited money, direct payments possibly excepted leads to the real legitimization of corporate armies like Xe being used against flesh and blood type residents of the country. Contributions of even sovereign funds or conglomerate monies from foreign controlled arms manufacturing firms can buy air time on highly consolidated corporate media in turn key operations that control multiple markets and radio, TV and newspaper ownership across the board. Those corporate security firms hire only the best and like Killing with the best tools.

    • Do keep in mind that many of those “corporations” were merely political action committees that had incorporated.

      While I can (at least kind of) see preventing GM and perhaps even unions from making large contributions, it’s much harder to excuse doing so to NARAL or the Heritage Organization.

  9. Something you can do to fight back: 24 midwest peace activists have been subpoenaed by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald & Obama’s Justice Dept. for doing solidarity work with the people in Palestine and Columbia. They are being threatened because of that loosy-goosy material support for terrorism law the Supreme Court okayed. Anyway, today is a call-in day to support these folks. I hope you’ll take a minute to call Fitzgerald, Attorney General Holder & the Whitehouse. link to

    The case is outlined on the website, if you have questions. Thanks. We have to stop this outrageous encroachment on our rights.

  10. Your constant attention to the state of liberty in both the Muslim world and the U.S. is extremely important for Americans, who seem so far in denial about the degradation of their democracy over the last 15 years.

    Liberty is a fragile achievement requiring constant care. Some think it should be treated as a gated community, in which “I” should hide, excluding “you.” Others view liberty as a common good best shared. Both groups, however, surely agree that to take liberty for granted is to weaken it. Consider, in this context, the significance of some events currently taking place in the Mideast and the U.S.

    Across the Arab world, people are putting their lives on the line by publicly protesting, often in the face of both laws prohibiting freedom of speech and security forces with a reputation for torture and murder. Simultaneously, Arab societies are now building civil society. In Egypt, for example, a free union federation has just been organized.

    Meanwhile, on March 2 Israel totally closed a border crossing into Gaza via which limited but critically important food aid was being transferred into the ghetto, thus intensifying its policy of collective punishment. In addition, yesterday used F-16s to attack a university building under construction in Gaza. This is perhaps understandable: if you wish permanently to repress a population, it is indeed useful to prevent them from being educated. And this is not an isolated incident of Israeli efforts to prevent Palestinians from becoming educated. On the West Bank, an armed band of Israeli terrorists from the illegal settlements there—settlements recently supported by the U.S. government at the U.N.–attacked Palestinian villagers.

    In the U.S., the right to bargain collectively, won under near-revolutionary conditions during the Great Depression, is now once again under attack, albeit by peaceful, fairly democratic, though arguably illegal methods. In addition, the U.S. government is holding a soldier naked in jail every night “for his own protection.” Having kept him in confinement for months, much of it in solitary, the government has evidently succeeded in so damaging his psyche that he might stuff his shirt in his mouth and kill himself. Even Solzhenitsyn’s tales of the Gulag Archipelago didn’t include this legal tactic.

    Now, these are just random events and do not constitute proof of which country has a more decent government or a more responsible society or a stronger democracy. But these events do suggest something about the direction in which various societies in this world are moving, and I would like to suggest that it would be in your interest, as a citizen, to pay attention.

  11. While I agree that many aspects of the current illusion of American democracy are actually those of fascism, or more accurately, totalitarianism or corporatism, one must firmly note that “fascism” is found in concerned comments by left wing, liberal, progressive, Libertarian, right wing, and far right wing writers. The definition is either not being shared by all those writers, or widely differing effects of ‘fascism’ are being targeted by different people as being the important effects.

    Left and Right have far more common ground than is recognized, but that recognition is constantly obscured, and misdirected by many well funded entities bent on manipulation of public opinion for their own benefit. THAT is a primary issue that also goes unrecognized.

    • No, James, please don’t bless us with another serving of “everyone’s equally bad”. Please do your homework-it’s just lazy to keep spouting that nonsense.

  12. Does the NSA have surveillance assets in Tunisia? It would be a rather hollow victory if all this means is that their e-mails get Hoovered up by Washington alone instead of by Washington and Tunis both.

  13. THE FISH ALWAYS ROTS FROM THE HEAD. I put this up some time ago but each week it seems more and more valid. The US is a country where moral courage is in increasingly short supply.

  14. I’m a Madisonian not only in the philisophical sense but also in the sense of residing in Madison, WI. In addition to labor rights and education, the right to petition has become at least a secondary focus of our protest campaign. It’s not just teachers here- it also includes law enforcement officials who detest Walker’s attempted politicization of the police and plans to subvert law and order for his own benefit. We are in the streets, and this is for real. Pay attention and get involved, and we may well have a chance to restore the freedoms that have been taken from us.

    • From Tunisia, our hearts are with you. We hope that you and all honorable american people may preserve America’s freedom fundamentals that inspired the world for decades. Please make all your best, the “American Dream” mustn’t die!

  15. I don’t think it’s arguable that Tunisians are freer than Americans, and I am surprised that a Michigander would even make the attempt.

    This is a day in which the Governor of Michigan is arrogating to himself the power to dismiss local officials, seize control over their finances, dissolve municipalities, and even set corporations in the place of elected government to be the overlords of towns and cities.

    It is bizarre, surely unconstitutional– but since our courts are owned by corporations–perhaps impossible to get a fair ruling on.

    Soon, it won’t be that Tunisians are freer than America. It will be that some dictatorships are freer than America.

  16. Al Gore wrote a great column about how we allowed fear to destroy our liberties, when that which we feared was so much less than the genuine terror experienced by people in other countries, and yet they managed to retain more liberty than we.

  17. Another way in which local governments are whittling away at the right to peaceably assemble is by demanding that any such group acquire insurance against anything that “might happen” well in advance of the event. Those policies can be quite expensive.

    Some friends wanted to picket Caterpillar in Peoria to protest their sales of earth moving equipment to Israel, used to destroy Palestinian dwellings to make way for Israeli “settlements.” They held the march without, but the city severely limited its scope.

    Good commentary on our rights against searches/to assemble vs. potential/actual similar rights in the Arab world.

  18. BRAVO, Juan Cole!

    In your(informed:) commenting on Tunisia’s abolition of its secret police, thanks for turning the tables & taking a well deserved swipe @ US, noting our e-mails are routinely read by the NSA (F*** you, NSA scumbag, if you’re reading this!:) & FBI, etc., etc.

    Definitely makes this “old Madisonian tear up a little,” too!

  19. Are we talking about the home of the KKK and Joe McCarthy ?
    When it comes to oppression, I have memories of Kent State and thousands of drafted in America’s jungle warfare.
    It seems Vietnam did all right for itself when left to settle their civil war.
    There seems to be a bad case of ‘rose coloured glasses’ going around when it comes to history. Doesn’t anyone remember the genesis of the labour movement in reaction to the oppression of Robber Barons ?
    Now they inflict them selves on the world.
    So much for anti Monopoly legislation. ‘Free Trade’, Globalization and jobs gone to the country with the most devalued currency..

  20. I’m a tunisian who used to live in USA .
    I remember that i was more respected among you than i was among my ex goverment .If we feel better today and we are free because one day we liked your freedom and your goverment hate that we become free , so get rid of it

  21. The US promises to be an ugly place in the coming decades. Declining freedom and declining material wealth for the majority.

    Time to tell the youth to emigrate ?

  22. Why is it necessary for everyone to blame the current state of affairs on the youth? Yes, the youth in Tunisia rose up – they were also starving. I’m sick of this absurd abdication of responsibility by the generation which allowed America to tank – the boomers.
    Stop pointing fingers at the youth – this has been a slow unfolding process that began in the mid seventies before many of us were born. It has happened under the watch of the same generation that now points fingers at us. This is your mess, guys, and it will fall to us to clean up. The least you can do is not blatantly lie about it.

    • My dad had a comment – and he was of the generation that went to war in Europe. We live in the world we inherit – not the one we make.
      ‘The same generation that points fingers.’
      The same generation that was known for free love, flower power and drug use ? Oh, we’re a staid bunch, for sure.
      The media lies. The Russians used to say they were less naive than the Americans because we KNOW the government lies to us.
      It isn’t many years since censorship was open. These days what people really think is not a secret.
      ‘Pointing fingers ?’ That’s what was said 2 eons ago.

  23. the problem is…that the Minister Rajhi (ministre de l’interieur) has said that the secret police arm’s members was only 200! No one believes that, here, in Tunisia! The hole WORLD is sick…

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