Saturday, June 26, 2004

Message from Big Hominid

Fellow blogger,

I am sending this message to the bloggers on my blogroll (and a few other folks) in the hopes that some of you will print this, or at least find it interesting enough for comment. I'm not usually the type to distribute such messages, but I felt this was important enough to risk disturbing you.

As some of you may already know, a wing of the South Korean government, the Ministry of Information and Culture (MIC), is currently clamping down on a variety of blogging service providers and other websites. The government is attempting to control access to video of the recent Kim Sun-il beheading, ostensibly because the video will have a destabilizing influence. (I haven't seen the video.)

Many Western expat bloggers in Korea are in an uproar; others, myself
included, are largely unsurprised: South Korea has not come far out
of the shadow of its military dictatorship past. My own response to
this censorship is not so much anger as amusement, because the situation represents an intellectual challenge as well as a chance to
fight for freedom of expression. Perhaps even to fight for freedom,

South Korea is a rapidly evolving country, but in many ways it remains
the Hermit Kingdom. Like a turtle retreating into its shell, the
people are on occasion unable to deal with the harsh realities of the
world around them. This country is, for example, in massive denial
about the atrocities perpetrated in North Korea, and, as with many
Americans, is in denial about the realities of Islamic terrorism,
whose roots extend chronologically backward far beyond the lifetime of
the Bush Administration. This cultural tendency toward denial (and
overreaction) at least partially explains the Korean government's move
to censor so many sites.

The fact that the current administration, led by President Noh
Mu-hyon, is supposedly "liberal"-leaning makes this censorship more
ironic. It also fuels propagandistic conservative arguments that
liberals are, at heart, closet totalitarians. I find this to be a
specious caricature of the liberal position (I consider myself neither
liberal nor conservative), but to the extent that Koreans are
concerned about what image they project to the world, it is legitimate
for them to worry over whether they are currently playing into
stereotype: South Korea is going to be associated with other
violators of human rights, such as China.

Of the many hypocrisies associated with the decision to censor, the
central one is that no strong governmental measures were taken to
suppress the distribution of the previous beheading videos (Nick Berg
et al.). This, too, fuels the suspicion that Koreans are selfish or,
to use their own proverbial image, "a frog in a well"-- radically
blinkered in perspective, collectively unable to empathize with the
sufferings of non-Koreans, but overly sensitive to their own

I am writing this letter not primarily to criticize all Koreans (I'm
ethnically half-Korean, and an American citizen), nor to express a
generalized condemnation of Korean culture. As is true anywhere else,
this culture has its merits and demerits, and overall, I'm enjoying my
time here. No, my purpose is more specific: to cause the South
Korean government as much embarrassment as possible, and perhaps to
motivate Korean citizens to engage in some much-needed introspection.

To this end, I need the blogosphere's help, and this letter needs wide
distribution (you may receive other letters from different bloggers,
so be prepared!). I hope you'll see fit to publish this letter on
your site, and/or to distribute it to concerned parties: censorship
in a supposedly democratic society simply cannot stand. The best and
quickest way to persuade the South Korean government to back down from
its current position is to make it lose face in the eyes of the world.
This can only happen through a determined (and civilized!) campaign
to expose the government's hypocrisy and to cause Korean citizens to
rethink their own narrow-mindedness.

We can debate all we want about "root causes" with regard to Islamic
terrorism, Muslim rage, and all the rest, but for me, it's much more
constructive to proceed empirically and with an eye to the future.
Like it or not, what we see today is that Korea is inextricably linked
with Iraq issues, and with issues of Islamic fundamentalism. Koreans,
however, may need some persuading that this is in fact the case-- that
we all need to stand together as allies against a common enemy.

If you are interested in giving the South Korean Ministry of
Information and Culture a piece of your mind (or if you're a reporter
who would like to contact them for further information), please email
the MIC at:

Thank you,

Kevin Kim
(Blogspot is currently blocked in Korea, along with other providers;
please go to and type my URL into the search window to
view my blog.)

PS: To send me an email, please type "hairy chasms" in the subject
line to avoid being trashed by my custom-made spam filter.

PPS: Much better blogs than mine have been covering this issue,
offering news updates and heartfelt commentary. To start you off,

Here as well, Unipeak is the way to go if you're in Korea and unable
to view the above blogs. People in the States should, in theory, have
no problems accessing these sites, which all continue to be updated.

PPPS: This email is being cc'ed to the South Korean Ministry of
Information and Culture. Please note that other bloggers are writing
about the Korean government's creation of a task force that will
presumably fight internet terror. I and others have an idea that this
task force will serve a different purpose. If this is what South
Korea's new "aligning with the PRC" is all about, then there's reason
to worry for the future.