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Oslo Journal, Part IV

American photojournalist Stephanie Sinclair (Vimeo)

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Editor’s Note: Last week, Jay Nordlinger attended the Oslo Freedom Forum, the annual human-rights conference held in the Norwegian capital. The previous parts of his journal are at the following links: I, II, III.

Stephanie Sinclair is an American photojournalist, giving a talk called “Too Young to Wed.” She tells us about child marriage in Afghanistan. One girl self-immolated. Another girl — I think it’s another girl — was married off at eleven. Her father sold her for opium.

The photojournalist has photos, of course. I don’t really look at them. It’s not that I’m squeamish, though maybe I am. It’s that: I believe the worst anyway. I don’t need to see. You know what I mean?

But for others, I’m glad there’s photographic evidence. Do you know what I mean by that, too?

I think of Holocaust museums. I would never set foot in one. But I’m glad they exist for other people. I don’t need to be “sensitized”; I could use a little desensitizing, actually. I knew enough about the Holocaust by the time I was 20 or so to last me forever. But for others — give them a Yad Vashem or two, fine.

Stephanie Sinclair’s talk makes me think of a question I and others have batted around for years. It goes something like this: On one hand, we’re told — by our teachers and so on — that no culture is better than another. We must not be “ethnocentric.” We must not “impose our values.” We must be good multiculturalists and relativists.

Well, I can’t be: Child marriage, clitorectomy, etc. — those practices are wrong, not just for us Yanks, but for everyone. As the victims of those practices agree.

Just ask them, go ahead.

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Can we pause for a sec for a language note? We have so much heaviness in this journal, we’re entitled to a light language note.

Words go in and out of fashion, and “amazing” is now enjoying a run. Everything and everyone is “amazing.” Everyone and everything is “incredible” too.

The original meaning of “incredible” is pretty much lost, I think. Luckily, we have “unbelievable,” to convey that meaning. But “unbelievable” can mean “amazing” too, if you follow me . . .

(Not long ago, Charles Moore — I think it was Moore — told a story about a young person who very much enjoyed reading a “Credo.” “It’s incredible!” he exclaimed, in admiration.)

There are Cubans at this forum, as I mentioned before — Cubans in exile and Cubans on the island, who are visiting. Berta Soler is one of the visitors from the island. She is the leader of the Ladies in White. Roberto de Jesús Guerra is another visitor (and I believe there are only two). He is an independent journalist, a very dangerous thing to be in Cuba.

Why did they let them out? Why did the dictatorship allow Berta and Roberto to attend the forum? I ask them. “International pressure,” comes the answer. Plus, the dictatorship wants to show that it is reforming — although any reforms, say Berta and Roberto, are cosmetic. Anyway, I will tell you more about my talk with them later.

Guerra founded the Hablemos Press (“hablemos” meaning “let’s talk”). I have an English translation of his speech to the forum. I think we should have some excerpts.

When I was 14, I was at a barrio meeting, organized by the Cuban Communist Party. The delegate was saying that “we should be grateful to the revolution for the food they sell us monthly through the rationing card.” I responded by complaining, “Five pounds of rice and ten pounds of beans are not enough to live on.” Days later, I was convicted of pre-criminal social dangerousness, along with 196 other teenagers in the region. I was sentenced to a year and a half of forced labor on a government sugar-cane plantation.

“Pre-criminal social dangerousness” is a funny-sounding phrase, I grant you. I blinked the first time I saw it. But it is a very, very common charge in Cuba. Many people have been tossed into dungeons and tortured, as a result of it.

Roberto has some pictures for us, and he says,

Let me show you the headquarters of Hablemos Press. Our only newsroom is the same room where my wife and I sleep and eat. We Cubans cannot legally build, rent, or buy a place to create or house a media outlet. Even if someone gave me the money to do it, I could not, since it is illegal.

He continues,

Let me show you my printing press. It is actually a Canon printer that was given to me as a present by a friend from the Czech Republic who knew about the work of Hablemos Press. With this small printer, I make from 400 to 600 copies of my newspaper a week. We are constantly repressed and incarcerated for making these copies.

The sympathy of the Czechs for the Cubans is a wondrous story. I wrote about this relationship in 2005: “Solidarity, Exemplified.”



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