Ta Phong Tan may well be Socrates reincarnated. Certainly the former Vienamese police officer appears to be channeling the old master's words, "'If you offered to let me off this time on condition I am not any longer to speak my mind... I should say to you, 'Men of Athens, I shall obey the Gods rather than you."'
As a member of Free Journalist Club, an organization banned by the Vietnames government, Ta Phong Tan most surely knew that the opinions she was blogging were illegal. Charged with anti-state propaganda nearly a year ago, she will be tried along with two other members of the Free Journalist Club next week and faces a possible prison term of twenty years.
Her crime? She blogged.
She chose, as did Socrates, to speak her mind rather than obey the illegal laws of her country.
Ta Phong Tan's mother Dang Thi Kim Lieng went one step further in staging her own protests against the government's gag orders: she went to her local government building and set herself ablaze to protest the arrest of her daughter.
Sadly, Ta Phong Tan is but one in a long line of Vietnamese bloggers to face severe legal penalties for their writing: Phan Thanh Hai, Lu Van Bay, Vu Quoc Tu and his wife Trang Dem, Vi Duc Hoi, Nguyen Van Tinh, Pham Minh Hoang, Dieu Cay. And more. Many more.
I have been blogging since before it was called blogging. I have written hundreds of blogs, and I have read many more than that. I do not always agree with the opinions, the logic, the tone of blogs I read. Others have sometimes vehemently disagreed with me, sometimes to the point of literally telling me to STFU.
Nearly five hundred years ago Erasmus, perhaps also channeling Socrates, wrote, "In a free state, tongues too should be free." In no other time of history have more people in our world been in a position to wag their tongues with abandon. Those of us who enjoy the freedom to speak freely, to write our blogs without fear of arrest and imprisonment, must keep in the forefront of our minds and our hearts the plight of those bloggers living in places without such freedom.
There is no room for anyone to tell another person to harness their views. An enlightened world will be one where people can have dissident perspectives without fear of reprisal, without being imprisoned, without being ridiculed by fellow bloggers to STFU.
A stoning begins when one individual picks up a rock.
Mom was an easy going woman, not a strong disciplinarian, quite liberal in her child rearing ideas. One thing she would not tolerate in her home was for any of us to tell anyone else to "Shut up." Depriving anyone of the ability to express themselves was akin to physically attacking them.
And possibly more dangerous.
Perhaps many of us need to revisit Socrates, to emulate his courage in speaking out even in the face of severe penalties. Perhaps many of us need to remember that any attempt to curb the expression of thoughts by others is the death of freedom.
We will likely not be able to remember the names of Ta Phong Tan and her compatriots in the war for freedom of speech in their land. They are, nonetheless, of the same bloodline of Socrates, and to be no less revered.