Politics & Policy

Oslo Journal, Part V

Benny Wenda

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, III, and IV.

The most fantastically dressed person here is Benny Wenda, a West Papuan tribal leader — feathery headdress and all. He escaped his homeland while on trial. He was granted asylum in the U.K., where he founded the Free West Papua Campaign.

West Papua is under the heel of the Indonesians. The struggle of this place, so little known in the world, reminds me of the struggle of East Timor — two of whose leaders won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996. East Timor subsequently won its independence from Indonesia.

Here in the Christiania Theatre, Wenda says, “Colonialism is supposed to be dead. Slavery is supposed to be dead. But both are alive and well in my country.”

As a child, Wenda saw terrible, terrible things: Most of his family was killed. He remembers his mother slapped and beaten, his aunts raped. He has dedicated himself to “raising my people’s voice.”

Toward the end of his talk, he brings out the West Papuan flag — a “mono-star flag,” as he says. It is illegal where Indonesia has control. He says, “I don’t think the Norwegian police will come arrest me.”

He vows, “I will never be silent until my people are free. Then I’ll give up. I want to see my people smile — like other people, who have freedom.” He says that “there are people in my homeland, many of them elders, who are hiding in the jungle. I want to have a reunion with them. I want to see them smile, while we have tea.”

#ad#It’s hard to imagine that West Papua will ever be first on a human-rights agenda. They are remote, easily overlooked. But they are not remote to themselves, are they? No one is.

‐“Good day, friends of freedom.” That’s what Jestina Mukoko says as she takes the podium. She is from Zimbabwe, and she directs an organization called the Zimbabwe Peace Project. What they do is document the human-rights abuses of the Mugabe regime. Mukoko herself has suffered those abuses.

They came and got her in the middle of the night, as I understand it. “I was in my nightclothes. Barefoot. I did not have my prescription glasses.” It’s the little details that seem to get to you: a woman not having her prescription glasses.

Her testimony is unbearable, of course. They tortured her. They got drunk on beer as they did so. They were bragging that they had been given an important assignment — that’s why the boss had given them money to buy beer.

When I see Jestina Mukoko at the podium, and later in other places, I feel I am looking at a woman made of iron.

‐What are we to think of Singapore? I have long been “conflicted,” to use the modern word. (Ugh.) On one hand, Singapore is a shining example of economic freedom — a beacon unto the world, you could almost say. On the other hand, it’s not quite free, is it?

Speaking to us by video is Chee Soon Juan, leader of the Singapore Democratic Party. According to his bio, he has “been arrested and jailed more than a dozen times for his political activities, primarily for repeatedly challenging Singapore’s laws that require protest organizers to obtain a police permit before staging political demonstrations or making speeches on political issues.”

As a critic of the ruling party, Chee has been sued for defamation, “on multiple occasions” (as his bio says). A court ordered him to pay more than $1 million in damages. Unable to do so, Chee declared bankruptcy. One consequence is that he is forbidden to stand for election or to travel out of the country.

I’m going to have more to say about Singapore in a future piece for National Review. But I can tell you this right now: I completely agree with Chee when he says, “Democracy is not a Western concept” but “a human concept.”

#page#‐Do you know this law? “Political liberalization follows economic liberalization, as day follows night, as Wednesday follows Tuesday, as August follows July.” I have come to think of this as more a generality than a law . . .

‐In the evening, there is a reception in City Hall — where the yearly Nobel ceremony occurs. (The peace ceremony, I mean — the others are held in Stockholm.) Speaking to the assemblage is a minister of the Norwegian government, I believe — I don’t catch his name or position. I’m not crazy about some of what he has to say.

But my ears perk up when he names his ideal politician: Lincoln. If a man knows enough to admire Lincoln, he knows a lot.

I think I’ve mentioned before, in one of these Norwegian journals, the Lincoln memorial in Vigeland Sculpture Park (here in Oslo). It is one of the most affecting Lincoln memorials I know about.

#ad#‐One of the guests is the great Marina Nemat, who wrote Prisoner of Tehran: One Woman’s Story of Survival Inside an Iranian Prison. That would be Evin, one of the cruelest and most brutal places on earth. Arrested when she was 16, Marina was tortured, raped, etc.

Her story is a dizzying and throttling one. Also an important one, and a complicated one.

For many years, she has lived in Canada. She faced a choice (as she explains it): She could become engulfed by the horrors and injustices of the past, or she could use her life to speak the unspeakable truth, and help others. She chose the latter course. This beautiful, serene woman fights for all of those who are in the situation she herself was once in.

This week, she is pleading a particular case: that of Hamid Ghassemi-Shall, a Canadian citizen who traveled to Iran to visit his sick mother in May 2008. He is in Evin.

‐At dinner, I meet Ben and Lynne Moses, who are filmmakers in Hollywood. Ben was the creative force, as I understand it, behind Good Morning, Vietnam. When I shake his hand, I tell him, “I’m ready for my screen test.” He seems skeptical, for some reason.

Ben and Lynne have made a documentary called A Whisper to a Roar. It tells about the struggle for democracy in five countries: Egypt, Malaysia, Ukraine, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe. Why those five countries, in particular? I don’t know, but they are all excellent cases — and this is an excellent film. (I later attend a screening.)

The Moseses are talented, cool, and friendly, which is great. But they are also performing a load of good with this film.

‐Among the journalists are two Jamies — Jamie Weinstein of The Daily Caller and Jamie Kirchick of . . . everywhere, I think. There is also Eli Lake, the ace national-security correspondent who is now with Newsweek/The Daily Beast.

Back when Eli was covering Iraq, and knew every in and out — all the political parties, all the players — David Frum, I think, referred to him as “the Michael Barone of Iraq.”

Anyway, all of these guys are a delight to be with, and they make you think, “Journalism’s gonna be all right, and is all right.”

(Memo to my readers: Please forgive this burst of hopefulness. I expect it to pass soon.)

‐The American embassy here in Oslo is ugly — oogly. There ought to be some law, against ugly American embassies. American embassies should be beautiful, like America itself, physically and spiritually.

And yet, what doesn’t modern architecture smother?

This journal will continue on Monday. 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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