Oslo Journal, Part VII

Asma Jahangir


Editor’s Note: The Oslo Freedom Forum, an annual human-rights conference, took place from May 7 to 9, in the Norwegian capital. The previous parts of Jay Nordlinger’s journal are at the following links: IIIIIIIVV, and VI. 

Standing now on the stage of the Christiania Theatre is Rebecca MacKinnon, a former CNN reporter. She is talking, I believe, about the culpability of all. Not sure. Anyway, she notes that Wernher von Braun worked for the Nazis in his native Germany, and then worked for the Americans, who were pointing missiles at the Soviet Union. She plays a clip of Tom Lehrer singing one of his famous parodies: “‘Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down? That’s not my department,’ says Wernher von Braun.”

I can only tell you this: I’m damn glad that the U.S. had the services of Wernher von Braun, who helped the civilized world check the monstrous, expansionist, mass-murdering power of the Soviet Union. (He also put men on the moon.) About this Kraut’s presence in Alabama, I don’t feel a trace of shame. You?

Nicolás Pérez, an Ecuadorean newspaper executive, tells about the depredations of Rafael Correa, that country’s presidential dictator (if that’s the right term). He plays several video clips of this character. I remark to another Ecuadorean, “He’s awfully charismatic, isn’t he? They so often are, these caudillos and strongmen. It’s a kind of curse for society.” My Ecuadorean friend says, “Correa is full of rage and resentment. He is too crude to be genuinely charismatic. Too rough. You know who’s really got it? Hugo Chávez, unfortunately. A masterly, highly dangerous performer.”

Ahmed al-Omran is the writer of a blog called “Saudi Jeans.” I’m touched by something he says, here in Oslo: “I started this blog just for fun, and to practice my English.” He says that “nothing they can do” — “they” meaning hard-liners, the forces of dirigisme — “can reverse the tide of history.”

I have written about this “tide of history,” or “right side of history,” business before — for an essay published in National Review in April 2011, go here. It’s called “The Right Side of History: It’s bunk.” Still, I admire Omran’s spirit.

(Quick pun: What do you call a four-bagger in Saudi Arabia? An Omran. Nyuk nyuk.)

Asma Jahangir is a formidable, formidable woman. She is a Pakistani lawyer who works for women’s rights, and human rights. She has been beaten and threatened with death too many times to count. Her father was a dissident, and political prisoner, and her mother was a similar free-thinker.

She talks about a particular case: She defended a 13-year-old boy, who was accused of blasphemy. A judge acquitted him. The judge was murdered. I can only think, “Bless that judge — a brave and good man.”

Jahangir says that Islamists “use the ladder of democracy to get to the top and then saw it off.”

And I wish — I wish — you could hear her mock Western governments. For several years, she was a rapporteur at the U.N. for freedom of religion. And the Westerners, she says, “were so afraid, so politically correct.” In imitation of them, she trembles in fear, and makes her voice quaver. Priceless.

Among the attendees at the Freedom Forum is Bruce Bawer, the American writer who lives in Norway, and is a leading expert on this country. In a February column, I talked about his recently published e-book, The New Quislings: How the International Left Used the Oslo Massacre to Silence Debate About Islam. And I wrote, “Bawer makes a lot of people in Norway, the rest of Scandinavia, and Europe at large uncomfortable. There’s a good reason for that: He cuts very close to the bone. He holds up a mirror, I believe, from which many would rather turn away.”

Yes. Bruce is sometimes called anti-Norwegian — a foe of Norwegians. Nonsense. He’s one of the best friends they could have. He wants them to succeed, and to avoid the traps into which they stumble.

I think of a line from an old song: “Who else but a bosom buddy will sit down and level, and give you the devil, will sit down and tell you the truth?”

My old friend Jim O’Neill, now of the Thiel Foundation, opens a session with a Solzhenitsyn quote: “Blow the dust off the clock. Your watches are behind the times. Throw open the heavy curtains which are so dear to you — you do not even suspect that the day has already dawned outside.”

Mauricio Rodas, of the Ethos Foundation, makes a very familiar point — but a point I enjoy hearing again, and one that deserves the widest circulation: Gang members, all over the world? What they most strongly seek is family. Think of the family — a proper, Cleaver-like family, so mocked and battered. It is probably the best “gang” there is.

Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Foundation is here. His cause is the legalization of drugs, and he says that drug laws in the United States and elsewhere constitute serious human-rights violations. His cause, he believes, deserves its place among the other causes here at the Oslo Freedom Forum. Obviously the organizers believe so too.

I don’t believe it, my friends. Ethan is a swell guy. So are the organizers. The swellest. But I do not believe this. Genocide, slavery, gulags — U.S. drug laws?

We all know what free advice is worth, but I think there’s one part of Ethan’s act he would do well to drop. He notes the large number of black Americans in our prisons, and says that apartheid South Africa had nothing on us. Listen: American prisoners are in prison because they broke the law — skin color aside. The South African system was based on race.

This is not a petty distinction but a yawning difference.