Monday, June 22, 2009

Siemens Stains

"Notions like human rights, equality and civil liberties did not come from documents. They came from struggles. Anyone who is aware of the feminist movement in this country can see such a struggle taking place; a struggle that has yet to succeed but that probably will in time. Struggles cannot be fought from the outside; they must occur internally. What struggles will take place within the community of Muslims I would not hazard to say. Nor would I venture an opinion as to whether the Muslims of the twenty-first century will follow the direction of the West in their controversies over political and social norms, or whether they will find unique solutions to unavoidable contradictions. Either way, conflict, diversity and evolutionary change seem inevitable despite the powerful appeal of a traditional core of norms and values."
- from Columbia University's Richard Bulliet, cited in Nader Hashemi's article The Relevance of John Locke to Social Change in the Muslim World, in Iran: between tradition and modernity.

I have been fascinated by the challenges modernity poses to the various Muslim nations for some time. The House of Saud has genuflected mightily to preserve its illusion of Wahhabi puritanism whilst introducing TVs and mobile phones into their homes. In Iran, similar tensions prevail. As the Wall Street Journal has uncovered, the clerics and the corporates have a special agreement on modernity:
[I]n confronting the political turmoil that has consumed the country this past week, the Iranian government appears to be engaging in a practice often called deep packet inspection, which enables authorities to not only block communication but to monitor it to gather information about individuals, as well as alter it for disinformation purposes, according to these experts.

The monitoring capability was provided, at least in part, by a joint venture of Siemens AG, the German conglomerate, and Nokia Corp., the Finnish cellphone company, in the second half of 2008, Ben Roome, a spokesman for the joint venture, confirmed.

Siemens, Siemens, where have I heard that name used in association with violent dictators before... Ah, that's right; in Cracked's Five Popular Brands the Nazis Gave Us:

Siemens was the major player in the Nazification of Germany. The company, run by Werner's son, Carl, and then his grandson, Hermann, struggled in the wake of World War I and the Great Depression and had to earn some dough fast. When Hitler rose to power in the 1930s, it was the signal for the Siemens executives to start building factories, and nowhere was the real estate better than near the homey neighborhoods of Auschwitz and Buchenwald.

Hundreds of thousands of slave workers were employed to build all sorts of goodies for the German military to use on both the western and the eastern fronts. Though they weren't the only company at the time supplying the German war effort, they were certainly the most prolific. Siemens was in charge of Germany's rail infrastructure, communications, power generation ... the list goes on. If the Reichstag was the brain behind the war, Siemens was definitely the right hand that stroked Hitler to ecstatic glory.

And y'know how I said last week that what happens in Iran, happens everywhere? Back to the WSJ:

Countries with repressive governments aren't the only ones interested in such technology. Britain has a list of blocked sites, and the German government is considering similar measures. In the U.S., the National Security Agency has such capability, which was employed as part of the Bush administration's "Terrorist Surveillance Program." A White House official wouldn't comment on if or how this is being used under the Obama administration.

Last time I buy a Nokia, that's for sure.