A Lesson from the US Congress for Kurdistan’s Parliament
By (NAMO ABDULLA) iraqi blogger
Two new words attracted a huge amount of attention in America last week: SOPA and PIPA, the acronyms for two recent bills proposed by bipartisan members of Congress to end online piracy.
While both bills target websites worldwide, PIPA was drafted to fight overseas websites in an effort to kill the role of globalization which is deemed negative by Hollywood and positive by Silicon Valley.
Under massive lobbying, the two bills seemed to have more supporters than opponents in Congress. On January 18, when the bills were widely available to the public, 80 members of Congress supported the bills and only 31 opposed the legislation, according ProPublica, a New York-based, Pulitzer Prize-winning news site.
These statistics, however, were turned upside down the next day after prominent websites such as Wikipedia and Google led a public campaign to oppose the bills, seeing them as attempts to “kill” the internet, and ultimately undermine free speech.
Wikipedia shut down its English-language version for 24 hours, while Facebook and other social media and blogging websites also exploited their by-default position to reach out and influence the hearts and minds of millions of users to oppose the legislation.
As a result, on January 19, ProPublica statistics showed congressional support of the projects dropped to 61 lawmakers, while the the number of opposing congressmen rose to 101.
There has long been strong domestic criticism of the US Congress. Some are fed up with how lobbyists influence the members of Congress in significant domestic issues such as supporting the interests of giant corporations and on international issues such as the protracted Israel-Palestine conflict. One blogger once called US Congress “a club of brazen prostitutes.”
However, the recent fuss over the anti-piracy bills allowed me to think of a good lesson that Congress has to offer our Parliament in Iraqi Kurdistan, where everything is 100 percent polarized between ruling- and opposition-party lawmakers. At a sensitive time, when Americans are preparing for one of the most important presidential elections in the US history, it was still possible for the congressional members to come together in a bipartisan committee.
The role of so-called “maverick” lawmakers, who use their own independent minds rather than the general belief shared by the bulk of party members, is decisive in determining the nation’s interest.
In brief, Kurdistan’s lawmakers need to learn from the US Congress that they are elected by the people and, therefore, required to be independent-minded in matters concerning the national interest. This does not necessarily force them to oppose the interest of their own political parties; they merely need to know that their parties’ interests can be more than what the party’s leadership decides behind the closed doors.
The author is a graduate student at Columbia Journalism School. Follow him on Twitter at #namo_abdulla, or email him at: email@example.com