August 18, 2012

Possible Reasons the Aan Petition Failed

Alexander AanOne of the frustrating things about activism is that it doesn't always work. And when it doesn't work, many are left feeling puzzled and discouraged.

As you are undoubtedly aware, many atheist groups heavily promoted an online petition asking the Obama Administration to intervene on behalf of Alexander Aan, the atheist in Indonesia who was sentenced to prison for admitting he was an atheist. As Hemant Mehta (Friendly Atheist) points out, many are now wondering why no more than 8,000 of the needed 25,000 signatures were obtained. So why could we only manage 8,000 signatures to support Aan?

What follows is going to be highly speculative on my part. I don't have any inside information about why so few were willing to lend their support. Here are some of the factors I suspect were involved for some of those who saw the petition and did not sign:
  • Skepticism that there was much the Obama Administration could do to influence Indonesia
  • Suspicion that the Obama administration wouldn't be interested in helping even if they could
  • Trouble identifying with Aan (he's not white, and Indonesia seems so far away)
  • Fear that using the White House petition website for any reason would lead to government surveillance, black helicopters, etc.
  • Belief that all online petitions are a waste of time

I'm not suggesting that everyone who did not sign was influenced by all these factors. Far from it. Any one of them could have done the trick. And perhaps there are others that are not occurring to me right now.

In any case, I applaud Hemant for asking the question and thank all those who did sign the petition. Activist efforts are not always successful, but that does not make them any less important.

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