‘Death to America,’ &c.

Burning the American flag in Tehran on November 4.


The headline read, “New ‘Death to America’ songs unveiled in Iran.” I have a feeling there is no exhausting that genre. The report began, “Hard-liners in Iran have unveiled two new ‘Death to America’ songs at the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran, hoping to keep anger high ahead of nuclear talks with Western powers.”

Well, those nuclear talks appear to have gone very, very well for the mullahs — and not very well for Israel or others interested in peace and freedom. But what I really want to focus on is this: “hoping to keep anger high . . .”

Isn’t this what much of political life is about? “Keeping anger high”? There are politicians, and other people in the public square, who seem to exist for no purpose but this. Experience tells me that this point is especially true for the Arab world, plus Iran, plus Turkey.

China is experiencing a rash of self-criticism, the old Maoist technique. Let me put that differently: The Communist dictatorship in Beijing is inflicting on Chinese people the ordeal of self-criticism. It is a component of the Communists’ persecution and system of control.

Let me give a recent example. In the city of Guangzhou, which we used to call Canton, there is a newspaper called New Express. This paper has been exceptionally bold. Indeed, there is more press boldness in this region of China — the south — than in other regions. Guangzhou is a stone’s throw from Hong Kong.

A New Express reporter, Chen Yongzhou, wrote a series of investigative articles on a manufacturer called Zoomlion. This company is partly owned by the state. The authorities, not appreciating the series, arrested Chen. And then New Express did something that knowledgeable people have called “unprecedented”: ran a front-page appeal, saying, “Please Let Him Go.”

“If Brother Policeman can find any evidence of shabby reporting on our part,” said the editors, “please make notice of it and we will gladly doff our hat.” They said, “We are a small newspaper, but we have some backbone in spite of being poor.” They said they were “ashamed” at not having spoken out sooner, about Chen: but they were worried that their doing so would worsen his treatment in detention. They further advised that armed police were looking for the paper’s economic-news director, who had gone into hiding.

Flash-forward a bit: Chen Yongzhou turned up on television, with his head shaven and wearing a prison uniform. He was wearing handcuffs, too. And police were surrounding him. He said — he was made to say — “I’m willing to admit my guilt and to show repentance.” He said he had written his articles “because I hankered after money and fame.” He said he had learned his “lesson.”

New Express did too. The editors abandoned their position of defiance and became suddenly contrite. You can’t blame them, or Chen, I say: Not many of us have the ability to endure torture, or the willingness to die from it.

China has made great progress in recent decades. It is a much, much better country than it was — less totalitarian, less cruel. But it is still a one-party dictatorship. It is still unfree. And it is still a place of gross official cruelty and brutality.

Every now and then — fairly often, actually — I get an e-mail that says “URGENT APPEAL.” These e-mails come from human-rights groups, and they usually say that someone is near death. Another such e-mail came in last week. This one was an “URGENT APPEAL TO ALL RAPPERS AS WELL AS TO THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY.”

A rapper named Ángel Yunier Remón Arzuaga is in prison, in Cuba. He is not only an entertainer but also a dissident — an objector to the Castro dictatorship. He is known as “El Crítico,” or “The Critic.” The dictatorship does not take kindly to critics. That’s why he’s in prison.

He has been on a hunger strike. This is a somewhat complicated issue, hunger-striking: I wrote a little essay about it three years ago, for National Review (“Death by Hunger Strike”). This was after a heroic man, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, starved himself to death. He, too, was a Cuban dissident.

Whatever we think of hunger-striking, Cuban political prisoners have long done it, and they do it because they are driven to extremes. They are desperate. They feel they have no recourse. One man, Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta, did something horrifying: He sewed his mouth shut.

As to appealing to the world’s rappers: Well, good luck, I say. The rapper Jay-Z vacationed in Cuba earlier this year, with his wife Beyoncé. They are unlikely to criticize the dictatorship. They are friends of the Obamas, and fundraisers for Obama. You know the scene.

Generally speaking, the Left is not interested in human rights for Cubans, or in Cuban political prisoners. They are more interested in defending, excusing, or hailing the dictatorship. I wish this weren’t true, and I cringe to write it — but many years’ experience has made this plain.