Politics & Policy

Oslo Journal, Part III

Tibetan prime minister Lobsang Sangay

Editor’s Note: Last week, Jay Nordlinger attended the Oslo Freedom Forum, the annual human-rights conference held in the Norwegian capital. For the first two parts of his journal, go here and here.

I have a friend named Mileydi Fougstedt, who’s a Cuban journalist resident in Stockholm. Her first name is pronounced pretty much like “m’lady.” So when you’re speaking to her, you feel like you’re speaking to a high-class Englishwoman.

Mileydi tells me she spent some time living in Britain — where her name was the source of some confusion and mirth.

‐One of the speakers here is the prime minister of Tibet — the democratically elected prime minister of Tibet. I’m speaking, of course, of what’s called the “Central Tibetan Administration”: Tibet’s government-in-exile, located in Dharamshala, India.

The PM is Lobsang Sangay, who, if I have understood correctly, is the first Tibetan to graduate from Harvard Law School.

He begins his address to us with a joke — though not entirely a joke. The Chinese government finds different ways to bedevil him and other inconvenient people. For example, they try to sabotage his computer. He has learned to be very wary of attachments.

Attachment, he informs us, is a cardinal sin in Buddhism.

#ad#Again if I have heard correctly, he has never seen Tibet. But “I’m proud to be born a Tibetan, and I’m proud to serve as a Tibetan.” He suggests that the Central Tibetan Administration stands as a model for governments-in-exile.

I think of something from Nobel history — the history of the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1989, the committee gave the award to the Dalai Lama. And the chairman, presenting the award, said, “This is by no means the first community of exiles in the world, but it is assuredly the first and only one that has not set up any militant liberation movement. This policy of nonviolence is all the more remarkable when it is considered in relation to the sufferings inflicted on the Tibetan people during the occupation of their country.”


Sangay notes that 117 Tibetans have now self-immolated — have burned themselves to death. That is a high toll. The Communists allow “no space” for protest, he says, and if you fall into their hands, you would rather be dead. Protesters, or would-be protesters, have an understandable fear of torture — interminable torture. Before they self-immolate, they inject poison, just to be sure. They don’t want to survive.

Freedom for Tibet, he says, “will be one of the best stories of the 21st century.” And when that day comes, he would be happy to welcome us all to Lhasa.

‐I have mentioned something in this column many times: When I looked into Darfur, many years ago, I found that possibly the worst aspect of the story was the rape. Not the mass murder, oddly enough, but the rape: the constant, incessant rape.

And so it is with many situations in the world. (I found the same when looking into Liberia.)

One of the Freedom Forum’s guests is Soraya Bahgat, who has set up a group called Tahrir Bodyguard. You know Tahrir Square in Cairo. This has been the site of mass protests. It has also been the site of assaults — mob sex assaults — during these protests. According to Bahgat’s bio, volunteers for her organization “patrol the square during protests in high-visibility helmets and vests to intervene in any attacks on women.”

It’s heartening to know that there are people who do really useful things with their lives. (Don’t get me wrong: Marrying, raising children, being a good citizen — such things as these are really useful too. I know you understand me.)

‐An American professor and activist, Lee Ann De Reus, gives a talk about the DRC — that is, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. And I remember an old joke: though it wasn’t really a joke.

The GDR, or the German Democratic Republic, a.k.a. East Germany, was three lies in one: not democratic, not republican, and not really German, given control by Moscow.

Hosting television coverage of the Olympic Games, Bob Costas seemed to rejoice in saying “German Democratic Republic.” It was so politically correct. It was also nauseating — one of those little things that sustained Communism for so long. Unjustified legitimization.

And you remember what the Khmer Rouge renamed Cambodia, right? “Democratic Kampuchea.”

At the podium, Professor De Reus discusses “root causes.” I have no doubt she knows what she’s talking about. I must say, though, that I long ago developed an allergy to the phrase “root causes.” From so many, it was basically an excuse for terrorism and other crimes.

‐Lunch at the Grand Hotel is more pleasant than the “DRC” (to put it mildly). I meet a Danish entrepreneur, who is devoting what he has earned to the propagation of good works — to the defense and promotion of freedom. How refreshing, how satisfying: to earn a pile and then sprinkle it on worthy, necessary efforts.

I ask him, “Will the U.S. economy recover?” He gives me two words, like the one word in the famous Dustin Hoffman movie: “Shale oil.” So, yes.

Not even Obama and the Democratic party can keep us from getting it forever — I mean, forever keep us from getting it.

#page#‐I talk to another Dane, a young man, who has recently been in college in the United States. We talk a little about America’s strange obsession with race and all things racial. He uses a perfect word — he found it “sickening.” “Sickening” is exactly right.

I’m used to it — have lived with it pretty much my entire life — and am still sickened by it, after all these years, and all this practice.

‐I see Marina Nemat, author of Prisoner of Tehran: One Woman’s Story of Survival Inside an Iranian Prison. That prison is Evin: one of the most feared names, one of the most feared places, in the world. The name is a byword for rape, torture, murder, and depravity in general.

It seems incredible to me that I know someone who was in Evin. I remember meeting Kang Chol-hwan at the Freedom Forum, a few years ago. He is the survivor of the North Korean gulag who wrote The Aquariums of Pyongyang. I couldn’t believe I was shaking hands with someone who had been in the North Korean gulag. It was like meeting someone from outer space.

I further remember something pretty sickening: a woman saying she admired Kang until he met with President George W. Bush.

That is a hatred — a sick hatred — that even the best psychologist would be hard pressed to analyze.

#ad#‐We have an address by the Norwegian foreign minister, Espen Barth Eide. The name seems familiar to me: Where have I seen it before? It occurs to me that it comes up in my book on the Nobel Peace Prize. I do a quick search. And lo . . .

In 2004, the Nobel committee gave the prize to a Kenyan environmentalist named Wangari Maathai. Many people were delighted by this award, because the committee was “expanding” the definition of peace to include environmentalism — and what could be better than environmentalism? Others were a bit skeptical, however.

In the book, I quote “a Laborite who had been Norway’s deputy foreign minister,” this same Espen Barth Eide (a mellifluous triple-barreled name): “If they widen it too much” — i.e., if the Nobel people widen the definition of peace too much — “they risk undermining the core function of the peace prize. You end up saying everything that is good is peace.”

EBE was a former deputy foreign minister in 2004? He looks pretty young even now, in 2013, as foreign minister.

‐Jamie Kirchick, a journalist based in Berlin, and a friend of mine, gives a bracing talk called “Devil’s Advocates.” He is speaking of men and women in free countries who sell their services to dictators such as Qaddafi. An important and underexplored topic.

I got into this a little myself a couple of years ago in a piece called “His Father’s Son: Saif Qaddafi comes home, in the worst way.”

Can “devil’s advocates” be shamed? I’m sure they can, to a degree (but then there will be others to take their places, right?).

‐Asmaa al-Ghoul, to quote her bio, “is a Palestinian journalist and secular feminist.” She “is known for her vocal criticism of Hamas and Fatah, which has led to her imprisonment, interrogation, death threats, and attacks.”

She tells us what the Gaza Strip (as we used to call it) is famous for: terror, oppression, and so on. But there is another Gaza, she says: a Gaza of beautiful beaches and relatively normal life.

I recall something that Shimon Peres, the Israeli president, once said at Davos: The Palestinians are fortunate that Gaza has some of the most beautiful beaches in all the Mediterranean. Will they make intelligent use of them, attracting tourists?

In any event, Ghoul does not deny, she says, that Gaza is beset by “extremism, occupation,” and other terrible things. I think, “Occupation by whom? Hamas?” I further think: We need a better transliteration of this dear and brave woman’s name.

She has been beaten by both men and women, she says. And, “to be perfectly honest, I’d rather be beaten by a woman.”

Palestinian journalists “have sold their pens,” she tells us: sold them to one party or one movement. And “this, in my opinion, made Islamists come to power.”

The lack of bona fide Palestinian journalism has been one of the saddest aspects of this whole, sorry saga. Of course, you could say the same about the Arab world at large. This is a running theme of Khaled Abu Toameh, the Arab-Israeli journalist who writes for — stars for — the Jerusalem Post. He is one of the most valuable journalists in the world. Indispensable, practically.

Asmaa al-Ghoul is rather too judgmental, I believe, toward Palestinians who have left Gaza — who have left it to come to Norway, for example. She herself will not leave Gaza, she says, defiantly. And then she has a very nice line: “I will not leave Gaza to war, to fundamentalism, to extremism . . .”

Thanks so much for joining me today, dear readers. (To be a journalist in a free country is relative cake.) I’ll resume tomorrow. 

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