Oslo Journal, Part III

Maryam al-Khawaja


After he was, in fact, released — still refusing to renounce violence — Mandela was a fervent supporter of Qaddafi’s dictatorship in Libya, Castro’s dictatorship in Cuba, and other vicious regimes. As the most respected statesman in the world, he could have done wonders for political prisoners in those countries. Instead, he lent all his moral authority to the persecutors.

Sharansky? A democrat through and through, a friend of political prisoners wherever they may be, whoever may be persecuting them.

Anyway, I could go on, but we have other fish to fry, and Mandela is practically untouchable. (I address some of these issues in my new book, a history of the Nobel Peace Prize. These issues are painful for those who admire Mandela, as I do. Mandela’s presidency was gracious, historic, and crucial.)

Closing his talk, Cotler quotes Martin Luther King: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” This is one of President Obama’s favorite quotes. In fact, he had it woven into a new rug for the Oval Office.

But King, a learned man, was quoting Theodore Parker, the abolitionist minister. At any rate, it’s more appealing to cite King than Parker . . .

Humberto Prado is the director of the Venezuelan Prisons Observatory. And he tells us about conditions within Venezuelan jails — a horrible scene, altogether. The violence is incredible. The prisoners are armed to the teeth. In one year, 2011, 560 inmates were killed, and 1,457 injured.

Prado shows pictures — very hard to see. He says that if he had been discovered with these pictures at the airport, it would have been very bad for him. As it is, the fact that he is speaking about these issues makes him “a traitor to my country” — at least in the eyes of Hugo Chávez’s regime.

Two years ago, I did a piece on an Iranian exile journalist named Manuchehr Honarmand. (Go here.) This remarkable man, who has led a harrowing life, found himself in a Venezuelan prison. Let me excerpt a bit from that piece:

His prison was an infamous one, known for de­pravity and murder: Los Teques. Honarmand recalls that three or four prisoners in his cellblock were killed every week — by other prisoners. They were armed with knives, pistols, other things. One evening, Chávez’s men did some killing themselves. They came in and executed a man, by beheading him. They left the body and the head in the cell, for the dead man’s wife to find the next morning.

Etc., etc. By the way, Prado makes a point that cannot be repeated enough: Chávez may be a clown, and much of the world sees him as a clown. Okay. But this is a clown who can do much damage, to individuals and countries.

The next speaker has a lovely name: Naomi Natale. In Italian, Naomi Christmas. She is from New Jersey but now lives in Albuquerque. She is an artist and photographer with an urge toward human rights.

Her current project, I believe, is One Million Bones, “a collaborative art installation designed to recognize the millions of victims and survivors who have been killed or displaced by ongoing genocides and humanitarian crises in Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia and Burma.”

What a sick name, “the Democratic Republic of Congo.” Remember the old remark about the GDR, “the German Democratic Republic”? Three lies in one — not a republic, not democratic, and not even all that German, given control by Moscow.

Natale says she was shocked to read a book by Philip Gourevitch: We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families. It is about Rwanda. I remember wanting to talk with Gourevitch about Sudan, for a piece I was writing. I did. (That piece, by the way, published in May 2005, is here.) Gourevitch is a man with important things to say.

Maryam al-Khawaja is in Oslo again — she is a Bahraini activist who grew up in Denmark and went to Brown University. Her father is in prison. She informs us that he is on the 90th day of a hunger strike — yes, the 90th day. And she is unsure of his whereabouts. She has not been able to reach him.

Last year, I wrote, “She shows remarkable composure for a daughter in such circumstances. How many of us could attend a conference, participate in a conference, with such poise in those circumstances?” I can only repeat myself now.

This journal will continue tomorrow. To get Jay Nordlinger’s new book, Peace, They Say: A History of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Most Famous and Controversial Prize in the World, go here.


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