Editor’s Note: The Oslo Freedom Forum, an annual human-rights conference, took place last week, in the Norwegian capital. The previous parts of Jay Nordlinger’s journal are at the following links: I, II, and III.
Outside the Grand Hotel, I see a bunch of pre-schoolers, being led around in ropes, according to the modern fashion. Do you know what I mean? They are corralled together with these benevolent leashes. About three adults tend them. One woman (I assume a woman), leading a little blond boy, is in full burqa: face covered. If the boy wanted to look up to see her, he could not. She is just a black lump.
Is this a heartwarming expression of multiculturalism? Of a better, more interesting, more diverse Europe? Or is it a little creepy? Or a lot creepy?
In the asking of these questions, have I committed a hate crime? Come and get me, copper.
At the podium in the Christiania Theatre is Somaly Mam. She is a Cambodian who, as a child, was sold into sexual slavery. The way she puts it is, “I was not lucky to have good parents.” She was sold to a brothel, where, as she says, she was “raped every single day.” Her testimony is, of course, unbearable.
She is now helping to “empower victims to be survivors” and to “empower survivors to be part of solutions.”
Jean-Robert Cadet is another former slave. A Haitian, he was sent off to serve a family not his own when he was four. The way his masters-to-be put it was, “We need a child for the house.”
Let me relate some of his testimony, in close paraphrase:
“We would call everyone in the house, including babies, Monsieur, Madame, or Mademoiselle. We walked the family’s children to and from school, but we were not allowed to go to school. We set the table for meals, but were not allowed to eat what we were serving. We answered when called, but were forbidden to speak until spoken to.”
He says — this may be tough for some to swallow — that “colonial slaves were better off.” Why? “Because there was a community of slaves. Children received parental love and lived their childhood without inordinate fear. Children of slaves knew they were inferior, but not to those who were black like themselves. Like most children, they were disciplined by their parents, but they were not abused. They could be childlike and noisy, instead of silent and invisible.”
Almost all of the Freedom Forum testifiers make an impression on me. But some more than others. Almost every sentence Jean-Robert Cadet speaks is indelible: “We would call everyone in the house, including babies, Monsieur, Madame, or Mademoiselle.”
It’s the “including babies” that kills you. And you know it’s true.
Urmila Chaudhary was a slave in Nepal. “I never knew my age for sure.” Slaves like her were not allowed to make direct eye contact with the people for whom they were working.
That is just a detail, among many.
Kimmie Weeks is a Liberian-born activist for children, a man who has long lived and worked in the United States. He was a refugee once, deathly ill. Nine years old.
“Someone felt my pulse. ‘He’s dead,’ he said. They wrapped me up in the cloth I was lying on and discarded my body on a heap of dead bodies. So, I was left for dead.”
Weeks says, “Stop bitching and start a global revolution.” I think of a bumper sticker we once saw in the parking lot of a Cracker Barrel in rural Virginia. It said, “KWICHERBITCHIN.” Possibly my favorite bumper sticker ever.
Next at the podium is Julia Ormond, the movie actress. When she starts to speak, I figure she’s an American who affects an English accent. But a friend informs me she’s an Englishwoman, with plenty of American in her speech. Interesting. Sort of a hybrid.
She says we all misinterpreted Khrushchev when he pounded his shoe and said, “We will bury you.” If I have heard right, she believes the Cold War was a big misunderstanding, the fault of thickheaded Americans, mainly.
When Khrushchev installed nukes in Cuba, he wasn’t really threatening us. He was saying, “I’m going to show you how it feels to have missiles pointed at you. Get your missiles out of Turkey!”
Ormond describes a conversation she had with Mary Robinson — you know, the Irishwoman at the U.N., who presided over the Durban Conference, that festival of anti-Semitism. President Obama gave Robinson the Medal of Freedom. When some of us objected, Robinson said, “There’s a lot of bullying by certain elements of the Jewish community.”
Yeah, whatever, lady. As the Mistress of Durban, you should know a lot about bullying.
Anyway, Ormond said to Robinson, “Why can’t we apologize?” (for the West’s sundry international sins, I guess). Robinson said, “You can’t apologize for what you’re still doing.”
At the end of her speech, Ormond sings “Amazing Grace.” It’s out of tune, but, to my ears, better than the speech.
I see, by her bio, that Ormond is an activist against human trafficking. For that, one can only give her highest honors, whatever her views on the Cold War, Mary Robinson, or anything else. To campaign against human trafficking: There can hardly be a more useful activity. There can hardly be a more blessed leveraging of fame.
Thank you, Julia.
Readers of my column know who Jianli Yang is. I have written about this great man for many years, since before he was in prison in China. For my 2007 piece on him, “Leader of the Chinese,” go here.
Between sessions at the Freedom Forum, I kid around with him — or half-kid: “In a democratic China, there will be monuments to you.” He says, “I want no monuments to myself [of course]. I just want Mao’s down.”
Tutu Alicante, you met in Part I of this journal. He is the lawyer and activist from Equatorial Guinea, on the western coast of Africa. Here in the Christiania Theatre, he gives his testimony.
In 1993, he was studying to become a Catholic priest. But then an event occurred that “changed my life forever.” The military came to his community to suppress an uprising by a group of young men: There were arrests, torture, and executions. The military burned down the Alicante family’s house.
“I asked my father, ‘What can we do?’ He could barely utter a word. ‘There is nothing we can do, son.’ And this resignation was shared by the entire community.”
Tutu Alicante decided that he should do something. He has been campaigning against his country’s absurd dictatorship, run by a brutish, plundering clown named Obiang, ever since. I believe Alicante will win.
Manal al-Sharif, you have also met. She’s the young Saudi woman who broke the taboo against driving. She is a heroine throughout the Arab world (and beyond). Here’s something I did not know about her: She was once an Islamist, a supporter of al-Qaeda.
The “turning point” for her, she says, was 9/11. “I saw a man throwing himself from one of the towers. He was escaping the fire. That night, I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t get that man out of my mind. ‘Something is wrong here,’ I thought. ‘No religion on earth can accept such mercilessness and cruelty.’
“So, I saw that my heroes were nothing but bloody terrorists, and that was the turning point in my life.”
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.