HomeCommentaryYes, let’s talk about red-tagging as censorship

Yes, let’s talk about red-tagging as censorship

Red-baiting or red-tagging is the act of accusing a person or group of persons as communists or its sympathizers

Censorship. It goes by different names and imposes varying levels of acceptance and sense of what is taboo.

Businessmen have their confidentiality clauses and non-disclosure agreements. Gangsters have their own brand—omerta (code of silence)—while mainstream religion its vows of silence, or in Salman Rushdie’s case, the fatwa.

Newspapers playing footsie with tyrannical governments either force journalists to “soften the blows” or face retrenchment with little or no warning at all. Columnists with the courage to say it like it is either get pay cuts or “slay” cuts, as I call it, where livelihood, if not life itself, hangs in the balance.

The State wags gag orders, stages book burnings (Hitler’s Nazi Germany) and publication bans all for the purpose of silencing critics. Others, like the former dictator Ferdinand Marcos, orders the shutdown of the free press in exchange for a media under its beck and call.

Murder can be considered the ultimate form of censorship.

Censorship, in fact, is a crime under a democratic Constitution. The Bill of Rights is clear (Art. III, Sec. 4): “No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.”

Red-tagging, or what is earlier called red-baiting, falls under this category but on a more profound level. Allow me to explain.

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By definition, red-baiting or red-tagging is the act of accusing a person or group of persons as communists or its sympathizers. It publicizes the idea that those accused of being communists are out to destabilize or violently overthrow the government, thus the label “Enemies of the State”.

Red-tagging began in the early 1920s in the United States, aptly called the “Red Scare”. This was launched on the heels of the October Revolution in Russia.

Numerous workers’ strikes set the stage for the American government to deal with a growing number of Americans deemed either socialist, anarchist or anti-capitalist by ideology. This was the first stage.

The second stage was sparked by an American politician, Sen. Joseph McCarthy, sometime the 1940s to 1950s. The Cold War between the United States and Russia resurrected a string of accusations made by McCarthy against Americans suspected of being communists. History aptly labeled it McCarthyism.

Thousands, if not all, of those accused barely have evidence against them to begin with.

Author Henry Miller wrote his novel The Crucible as a reaction to McCarthyism, comparing it to the Salem witch hunts. Any who had read the novel knows that the plot revolved around charges of witchcraft resulting through mass hysteria and religious superstition than actual evidence.

An activist joins a demonstration in Manila on October 28 to protest the so-called red tagging of critics of the government. (Photo by Jire Carreon)

Today’s red-tagging of Filipino critics, dissidents and human rights activists is no different. Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Southern Luzon Command chief Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade seems to know the origins of red-tagging quite well.

That he uses it as a formulaic strategy, right down to the very details of the playbook, tells me, however, there is more to Parlade’s brand of red-tagging than meets the eye.

History is a mesh of several inquisitions, the more prominent one being the Spanish Inquisition. By definition, “Inquisition” is a holy office which began in the 12th century to root out “heretics”: people who hold contrary views from orthodox religious doctrine. This included Jews and Muslims and every non-Catholic congregation.

Inquisition, therefore, is the campaign where people are questioned about what they believe. If they hold contrary views to the established religion, either they renounce the heresy or fall into the hands of torturers until they do. If torture fails to extract a confession and renunciation, they are executed either by hanging or burning at the stake.

Over a couple of centuries, the Spanish Inquisition tortured and killed more than 32,000 people. Some say the death toll reached 300,000. Some estimates go as high as 50 million.

Nazi Germany in World War II was in many ways a kind of inquisition which targeted the Jews. While it did not punish under any charge of heresy, Adolf Hitler’s inquisition used race as a justification for mass murder.

Recent studies have raised doubts as to the numbers killed during the days of Auschwitz, Buchenwald and Majdanek, which was traditionally held at six million. Some experts say it may have reached 20 million.

I am raising all these points for one thing: to establish the fact that Communism is an ideology, a set of political and economic beliefs. Its dialectics explain the perils and flaws of Capitalism from a historical, philosophical and revolutionary standpoint. To limit its tenets to the simplistic overthrow of government does Karl Marx a huge disservice.

Through the years, Marx had been interpreted and reinterpreted to mean this and that, paving the way for Leninism, Stalinism and Maoism and other isms found within the purview of the Marxist ideal.

Regardless of one’s choice to believe this or the other, people, by constitutional verdict, has the right to free thought—whatever that idea may be. No State—dictatorship or what-have-you—has the right to outlaw free thought as it is the foundation upon which the right to free speech stands.

This is where red-tagging ultimately crosses the line by criminalizing an idea whose socialist aspect had helped society in varying degrees through the years. This is where red-tagging is no different from the Inquisitions of old, which sought to punish punitively those who hold ideas other than those promulgated by the powers that be.

Some would argue the point that Communism holds in its dialectical structure extremely violent means of overthrow. Lest we forget, mainstream religions are “guilty” of the same, let alone justifications for holy wars, inquisitions, tortures.

The State itself has a bloody track-record of imposing violent means to achieve political ends. Ferdinand Marcos’ Presidential Decree No. 1081 and Pres. Duterte’s Anti-Terror Law are two examples of brutality as policy.

Capitalism, with its vicious incursions into indigenous lands and communities to mine precious metals, to say nothing of forcible labor of children and women, is no different.

The problem with the State and its capitalist ventures is that it refuses to accept any criticism of its ideas, more so blame for imposing its more violent ways.

Author Salman Rushdie says, “The moment you declare a set of ideas to be immune from criticism, satire, derision, or contempt, freedom of thought becomes impossible.”

Lt. Gen. Parlade is thus guilty of the most heinous crime against human freedom: the overthrow of the people’s freeness to hold ideas. To embrace different systems of belief is an inviolable right, and may I hazard to say, every human being’s entitlement.

Any ideology which imposes itself as the only truth worthy of intellectual loyalty—almost always under pain of intimidation, harassment and death—deludes itself, and thus fools the nation.

Author John Steinbeck puts it in clearer perspective: “This I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected.”

And let me add, undirected by the State, no less.

Joel Pablo Salud is an editor, journalist and the author of several books of fiction and political nonfiction. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of LiCAS.news.

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