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Sharks vs. Dictators

February 1, 2013 3 minute Read by Christopher Walsh

This post originally appeared on www.freedomcollection.org.

Last week, the Discovery Channel concluded its 25th year of Shark Week, an annual exhibition of the ocean’s most infamous predators.  I wondered what could be more terrifying than a 15 foot, 4000 pound Great White cruising toward me.  The answer came faster than you might expect.  Sharks may be one of nature’s most remorseless killing machines, but they are far less scary than any authoritarian regime you will find on the map.  Given the option of being worked to death in a North Korean labor camp or swimming in shark-infested waters, the shark option strikes me as more appealing.  If you find it difficult to agree, let’s examine some figures. Despite their razor sharp jaws and magnetism for bad press, sharks accounted for a miniscule percentage of human suffering last year.  A University of Florida study recorded 75 unprovoked shark attacks worldwide in 2011.  With a human population of almost seven billion, that is a remarkably low figure.  For all the fear they conjure, sharks tend to leave people in peace.  The same cannot be said of the world’s dictators. By way of comparison, let’s examine the populations in two of the dictatorships featured in Freedom House’s Worst of the Worst 2012: The World's Most Repressive Societies.  In North Korea, the State Department's human rights report for 2011 suggests that hundreds of thousands of citizens are imprisoned in brutal work camps as part of collective punishment programs.  The Freedom Collection’s own Kang Chol Hwan languished for 10 years in such a camp after his grandfather was accused of treason; he sustained himself by eating rats and earthworms. In Syria, daily reports depict rising body counts of innocent civilians as the Assad regime continues its crackdown on opposition forces.  Some place the death toll as high as 20,000.  In his Freedom Collection interview, Ammar Abdulhamid described the regime’s order to have snipers fire on protestors at first and then escalate to unleashing tanks in the streets. In all, a Great White shark torpedoing up from the deep toward an unsuspecting surfboarder will probably haunt more imaginations; sharks do, after all, look the part of real-life monsters.  No doubt there were 75 people in 2011 who would agree (and rightfully so).  That being said, the more dangerous threat are those dictators who revel in cruelty, trample human dignity, and go to any length  to extinguish the spirit of freedom.  No doubt, as Freedom House highlights, there are at least 2,453,231,500 suffering people who would agree.

This post was written by Christopher Walsh, Program Coordinator of the Freedom Collection.


Author

Christopher Walsh
Christopher Walsh

Christopher Walsh serves as a Manager for the Human Freedom Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute.  In this role, Christopher manages communications, evaluation, and public policy research projects that advance freedom and democracy in the world. He also develops and implements efforts to make the Bush Institute a welcoming place for today’s generation of dissidents and democracy advocates, overseeing visits for training, inspiration, and insight. 

Prior to joining the Bush Institute, Christopher worked with the International Republican Institute in Washington, D.C. As IRI’s program officer for Central and Eastern Europe, he coordinated political party building and civic advocacy programs in the Balkans and Turkey.

A native of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Christopher is a graduate of American University with a B.A. in International Studies.  He currently lives in Dallas with his wife and three young children.

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