Editor’s Note: The Oslo Freedom Forum took place in the week of October 19. OFF is the annual human-rights gathering in the Norwegian capital. The previous parts of Jay Nordlinger’s journal are at the following links: I, II, III, IV, V, VI, and VII.
There is a panel discussion on “Dangerous Words” — censorship, violent retaliation, and so on. One of the participants is Flemming Rose, a Danish journalist, the man responsible for publishing the “Muhammad cartoons.” You remember this furor, and this bloodshed, from 2005.
He makes an interesting point about the U.S.: This country has made great progress in civil rights over recent generations. But we have the rise of speech codes on campus, and other such restrictions.
Another panelist emphasizes “Islamophobia on the right.” I’m sure it exists. I also think that people want it to be a bigger problem than it is. People want some even distribution of blame. “You’re guilty, I’m guilty.”
You know what I mean?
Speaking of even distribution of blame: Another panelist cites Rudy Giuliani, the onetime mayor of New York, for complaining about art on the grounds that it was offensive to Catholics.
Here’s the thing: Rudy didn’t want to pay for that art. He didn’t see why that art — a Madonna stained with elephant dung — should receive a taxpayer subsidy. Now, if you want to show it at your gallery or museum or whatever, that’s your business.
Is that so bad? Are we all good libertarians here? (Heh.)
‐Srda Popovic, the Serbian activist, is onstage now, introducing a session. He says that “people power is a team sport.” A dorky phrase, but true, I think.
By the way, he will tell me something interesting later, when I ask him about the breakup of Yugoslavia: “I never knew I was a ‘Serb’ until I was 15!”
Oh, is this a big topic: nationhood, nationalism, Balkanization, self-determination . . . But I’ll scoot right along . . .
‐Garry Kasparov, the chess great and democracy activist, is onstage. He is a physically robust and quick-moving fellow. You think the mind is quick, too?
Kasparov says, “Putin has engaged with and co-opted the West.” Also, “we have more leverage than we think.” “We”? Kasparov means democrats and well-wishers to democracy.
He says that Russia exports more than 80 percent of its oil and gas to the EU. And just a third of the EU’s oil and gas comes from Russia. So who has the leverage? “Sellers need buyers,” notes Kasparov.
He further says, “The Free World must break all forms of dependency on dictatorships. Engagement has failed.” The Free World “holds many winning cards in this game of global poker.” Yet “we fold our hands when Putin bluffs.”
Kasparov wants people to wake up, it seems to me.
He cites this frequent caution: “Putin is too dangerous to challenge.” Then he points out that, when President Truman launched the Berlin airlift, Stalin was in the Kremlin! He also brings up the Cuban Missile Crisis and KAL 007.
“It’s all about us,” he says. “Do we have the political will? The courage? Too many of us have forgotten how to fight dictatorships.”
He gives a stirring speech, Kasparov does.
‐Yoani Sánchez is possibly the most famous democracy activist in Cuba. She has a popular blog. This blog is read mainly by non-Cubans, I think. A small percentage of Cubans are online. This is something Yoani wants to stress, here in Oslo.
She says that Fidel Castro and his fellow Communists “converted a country into a military establishment, where every citizen had to become a soldier. You had to accept orders, not ask for rights. The intellectual class subordinated itself to the ruling party.”
(I am paraphrasing, as usual, but closely.)
Of all the government’s monopolies, the most dramatic one is on information, says Yoani. “Imagine going to the local newsstand and finding nothing but the official press there.” In her country, she says, “information is considered treason.”
The arrival of new technology was a boon, to ordinary Cubans.
But “we are the country in Latin America with the fewest Internet connections.” There are fewer than 1 million computers for a country of 11 million people. (I believe I have heard this correctly.) And only 2 million have “the luxury of a mobile telephone.”
Yoani gives us this sobering fact: One hour of Internet time costs a third of the average monthly salary.
“But!” says Yoani. “We are a creative people.” People who have long had to rely on underground markets for food, clothing, and household items are used to finding things that are censored, forbidden, or rationed. “We have done the same with information.”
Flashdrives packed with forbidden information cut paths through the island, she says.
Her final words are something like this: “A system that has depended on silence is very fragile when people begin to speak.” Cubans are beginning to speak, she says.
On a video screen, there is a WiFi symbol, looking like the Cuban flag.
For many years, I have written about Yoani Sánchez, and her daring activities. I recall that she was once beaten within an inch of her life. She was amazingly defiant.
There was also the time she went to vote in one of those fake elections the Communists periodically stage. On her ballot, she wrote the word “Democracia.” Then she took a picture of it. See it here.
‐Jamila Raqib is the executive director of the Albert Einstein Institution. This is an organization founded by Gene Sharp, an American political science professor. Sharp came up with “198 Methods of Nonviolent Action.”
You know what I really admire? He did not conjure up two others, to goose the number to 200. If 198 was the number, that was the number.
Jamila Raqib is a beautiful woman — am I allowed to say that? — who gets under my skin. And not in a good way. She talks about the effectiveness of jamming bureaucratic systems, to lodge a protest. This method was “particularly effective” during the Vietnam War, she says, when anti-war protesters in America succeeded in “overloading the system.”
Well, nice job, guys. Really great. An American defeat, a Communist takeover of the whole of Vietnam, a million murdered, still others put into reeducation camps, still others forced into the South China Sea, on anything that might float, to brave piracy and dehydration and drowning . . .
What a thing to celebrate at a “freedom forum,” the American defeat in Vietnam. Yay! Maybe we could celebrate the Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, too? That was less murderous . . .
Our speaker also talks about “nonviolent action” in “Palestine.” I think she means anti-Israel action (which is usually plenty violent). Does anyone dare to oppose the depredations of the PLO and Hamas? Such a braveheart would not get very far, I fear.
There is also something about “anti-whaling” activities.
Anyway . . . (I have surely been too hard on this lovely woman, who I’m sure helps a good many people, who deserve the help. I’m in a crabby mood.)
‐Professor Steven Pinker, the famous Harvard psychologist, is at the podium. I’d like to make just a few points about him and his presentation.
He looks a lot like Sir Simon Rattle, the music director of the Berlin Philharmonic. (I didn’t think that anyone else could really possess those locks.)
He uses a graph from Freedom House — I’m a little surprised, and pleased.
He says he wants to “preview” his speech. The old line is, “Tell ’em what you’re going to say, say it, and tell ’em what you’ve said.” In short speeches especially, this seems weird, to me.
“Billy, I’m going to tell you to come for dinner. Come for dinner. Billy, I’ve told you to come for dinner.”
Pinker must be one of the three people left who pronounce the word “bestiality” correctly.
In a list of human successes — the abolition of slavery, for example — he includes the death penalty (abolition of, in many places). I’m against the death penalty. But I’m not sure it belongs on this list.
Pinker lists the end of conscription, too. Myself, I can see instances where conscription is justifiable. But that is a long discussion . . .
Pinker must be one of the three people in the world — outside South Africa — who pronounce “apartheid” correctly. As I heard someone say in the ’80s, “The word sounds like what it represents: apart-hate.”
Pinker speaks of “the decriminalization of homosexuality.” I recently wrote about the verbotenization of the word “homosexual.” “Homosexuality” may be more kosher. (Because the word “gayness” is strange?)
Unless I’m mistaken — and I may well be — Pinker speaks of IQ favorably. I think of someone who reminds me a bit of Pinker, the late professor Stephen Jay Gould (who was a professor of mine). Gould devoted much of his energy to opposing the notion of IQ (again, if I remember correctly, and I think I do).
Feel like knocking off for today? Wrap up this journal tomorrow? Okay, see you then.