Rebiya Kadeer is one of the most distinctive-looking people in the world. I have seen her here at the Freedom Forum before. She is the “Mother of the Uighurs,” the leader of that persecuted Turkic minority in China. With her long braids and unusual headgear, she stands out. Physical characteristics aside, she exudes serenity and good cheer, with an obvious strength within.
I feel she is something extraordinary under the sun.
‐Thor Halvorssen talks with a man who is watching some others put up an “Oslo Freedom Forum” banner. He says, “You’re Swedish, right? And you’re watching Norwegians work? Isn’t it usually the other way around here?”
So true. Someone once said to me, years ago, “The Swedes are the Mexicans of Norway — doing the work . . .”
(I can tell you, from my personal experience, that restaurant staff in Oslo are very often Swedish.)
‐At lunch, I meet a Tibetan woman who has lived here for 40 years. When the Dalai Lama fled in 1959, this woman and her parents fled with him. They lived in Dharamsala, India, where the Tibetan exiles formed their community. And now this lady has led a Norwegian life.
It’s amazing what displacements tyranny leaves, or causes. When this dear lady was born, could her parents or others have guessed that she would live 40 years in Norway?
Better than living under the Chinese Communists, for sure. But Tibetans would rather live in Tibet.
‐I’ll tell you something about the current government in Norway, which is right-of-center: They’re suckuppy to the ChiComs. Too bad.
‐I talk for a while with Lhamo Tso, the wife of Dhondup Wangchen, who made the movie about Tibet: Leaving Fear Behind. From 2008 until last June, he was a prisoner of the Communists. His wife and four children have been living in San Francisco. They are hoping he can join them.
Lhamo Tso is a lovely, gracious, charming woman. She has been through a lot — but she seems to lack bitterness. She conveys a certain lightness of spirit. She tells me about the life she and her kids have had in California.
I kind of like that America has been sheltering them. It’s not such a bad country, you know? Despite all the things you hear about it . . .
‐I think there was a magazine feature called “Faces in the Crowd.” I can’t remember what magazine it was in. Anyway, I’d like to mention three faces in the crowd — friends of mine.
Jianli Yang, the great Chinese democracy leader. He heads Initiatives for China, based in Washington. I predict there will be statues of him in China one day.
Otto Reich, the foreign-policy thinker, diplomat, and businessman. A Cuban American. Seldom has there been a greater contrast between public image and reality. The Left makes Otto out to be a right-wing ideologue and menace. In reality, he is a gentle, liberal-minded, cerebral man — deeply committed to democracy. For his anti-Communism, the Left can never forgive him.
(By the way, he avoided shaking the hand of Somoza, years ago, and he avoided shaking the hand of Pinochet. No one knows this. It is part of his makeup, however.)
My third “face in the crowd”: Bruce Bawer, the American writer, long resident here in Norway. He reminds me of Norman Podhoretz: a literary scholar — a man of letters — pulled into politics by the terrible flow of the world. Both men felt they had to do something to stop the slide, rather than merely play in the gardens of Shakespeare, Milton, and the rest of those authorial types.
‐I might mention: There’s a woman named Shakespeare here at the Freedom Forum . . .
‐I also meet a man named Bard. Actually, his name is Bård — note the little circle over the “a.” He is a Norwegian think-tanker. When he is with English-speakers, he says his name is “Bard,” as in Shakespeare. In Norwegian, however, his name is pronounced “Bord” (thanks to that little circle over the “a”). He does not want to appear to say, “I’m bored.” That could be insulting, to the English-speakers around him.
‐Let me tell you about an exchange I overhear: A man asks a woman, “Where are you from?” She says, “Burma.” He says, apologetically, “I’m from Denver, Colorado. Not nearly as interesting.”
I understand this mentality. I grew up with it in Ann Arbor. But the thing is: Denver may be very interesting indeed to the woman from Burma. Burma is old hat to her. We are taught to put ourselves down.
Everyone is exotic to someone else, you know? Americans don’t grasp that, somehow.
‐A session opens at the Nye Theater. It opens with music, performed by a duo: a woman and a man, on keyboard and guitar. They both sing (she principally, I think).
I have noticed something about pop singers — I hope this won’t sound too snarky, because I don’t really mean it that way: They close their eyes when they sing. And the more impassioned they want to be, the tighter they shut their eyes. I think that, when they are very young, they see singers do this — and figure that’s the way you sing.
Anyway . . .
‐In remarks from the stage, Thor Halvorssen introduces me to a phrase I have never heard before — maybe I’m the last to know: FOMO. Fear Of Missing Out. The belief that something better is happening elsewhere. FOMO is a terrible and common malady. It causes people to check their phones constantly, for example.
The Oslo Freedom Forum has a slogan, or admonition: Say No to FOMO.
I’m going to remember this for a long time — it is tucked into my repertoire.
‐Thor Halvorssen, despite his name, is a Venezuelan. And, in 2004, his mother was shot by Chávez’s agents. She was attending a peaceful protest. A chavista government is not much for protests, peaceful or not.
The lady survived the shooting. But her son has bad news today: His uncle Javier was killed a few days ago. Thor says that the rise of Chávez unleashed a crime wave. Javier was apparently a victim of that wave.
Thor’s cousin Leopoldo López is the leader of the Venezuelan opposition, and, of course, in prison: No opposition is really tolerated in this undemocratic country. In various columns and posts, I have cited López’s slogan: “El que se cansa, pierde” — “He who tires, loses.” Truer words were never spoken.
And the Communists and their like — they don’t never tire. How about the rest of us?
‐Onstage at the Nye, Thor says, “Indifference is not an option.” But it is, isn’t it? And one that most people choose, I suppose (to the extent they choose). I know what Thor means, though: Indifference should probably not be an option.
John Bolton titled his memoirs “Surrender Is Not an Option.” It is, though — a bad one (except in odd circumstances).
‐Bassem Youssef is the Jon Stewart of Egypt, or of the entire Arab world. He was inspired by watching Stewart to do his own show. He started it in his laundry room, if I heard correctly. He put it up on YouTube. It was a hit.
Youssef, incidentally, is a heart surgeon by training.
Soon the show went to television. It was the most watched program in the Middle East. But Youssef was taken off the air. The authorities could not stand the mockery.
He stands before us in the Nye. Full of charisma, an obvious star. He wonders why anyone should listen to “an unemployed bum like me.” He recounts some of the difficulties he and his crew worked under: constant threats of legal prosecution, mobs outside the theater in which the show was taped.
Youssef makes a general statement about satire: “Laughter is a powerful weapon against fear.” The tyrant has the urge to “kill the joker.”
He then makes a statement of admirable humility: “I merely had a show canceled. What I have been through is nothing compared with what some others at this forum have been through.”
A standup guy (and I’m not trying to be punny). (Besides, I think he sat down for most of his show.)
‐I meet a woman of South American birth who lives in Scandinavia. She tells me that she gets her news about America from Jon Stewart and Bill Maher.
Ay, caramba (as they probably say in her native land). That is a problem.
To be continued . . .