"Slave Hunter" Co-Authors Chime in on Technology, Internet


You'll find separate interviews on this site with Aaron Cohen and Christine Buckley, the co-authors of Slave Hunter: One's Man's Global Quest to Free Victims of Human Trafficking (Simon & Schuster). One thing you won't read in those Q&As is their shared beliefs that technology and the Internet are helping to make the cause to end global slavery easier. That's because we've saved those comments for this post.

"As I watch coverage of the events in Iran, I'm torn," Buckley says while preparing to leave New York for her home in Paris. "I'm pleased that technology (particularly Twitter and text messaging) has enabled the demonstrators to protest, access information and communicate with each other. But given (former Iranian President Mohammad cleric Ayatollah Ahmad) Khatami's threat, I also fear for their lives. The regime will not go down without shedding blood. There are many parallels with the situation in Burma and North Korea."

Buckley mentioned this last week, before today's Radio Free Asia revelation about a leaked report purportedly drafted by authorities in Burma's military government describing a top-secret visit to North Korea late last year by Burma's top brass, during which the two sides pledged to significantly expand cooperation in military training and arms production. The 37-page report in Burmese claims to contain details of a Nov. 22-29 visit to North Korea by 17 Burmese officials, billed as a goodwill visit to China and reportedly led by Gen. Thura Shwe Mann, Burma's third-ranked leader and armed forces chief of staff.

Burma and Iran's roles in the human trafficking Cohen is trying to stop received prominent attention in Slave Hunter and Buckley's similarly titled June 2007 OC Weekly cover story on her future co-author, who has long been a student of the Middle East as part of his life's work, something that has earned him a fatwa. But on his cell phone shortly after returning to Orange County from New York last week, Cohen said he suspects any death orders fatwas have been dropped as a changing administration changed its view toward the Middle East--and vice versa.

"The former model was these were clashing civilizations that were being looked at religiously," Cohen explained. "They reworked the war on terror as a war on ideology. In that kind of environment, that kind of thing [fatwas] flourished. When Barack Obama gave his speech in Egypt, one thing he talked about is Islam is not part of the problem, it is part of the solution. That was a very radical statement for the president of the United States to make. He defined a new foreign policy that includes religion. You will not see the issuance of fatwas like you would when people perceived this as east versus west. In fact, I just worked with imam Feisal Abdul Rauf on a Washington Post article on Obama's speech."

Cohen believes what's happening in Iran is a reflection of a similar change in long-held views about governance of people there. "I think what's so provocative is you have neocons and you have Muslim extremists and you have prophetic scriptures that show certain nations at conflict in the Middle East," Cohen says. "What we've got to do is move away from these. Also in Iran, in the recent election, there was a huge democratic movement."

Technology is fueling that movement, or at least getting the word out to the world about it. And despite Buckly's fears about the short-term repression of democracy seekers in Iran, she is confident, "that technology and the Internet are the key tools we need to provide oppressed people--helping them free themselves from brutal dictatorships."

Cohen agrees--and believes technology can push other human rights issues farther.

"I see benefits from technological advances and the Internet's emergence to solve problems and end hunger," he said. "There are a lot of things we can solve now. We just have to make everything work and learn to talk to each other. Human rights brings together all sides. When Palestinians work with Israelis in rescuing children, their other conflicts are easier to solve."


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