National Security & Defense

Oslo Journal, Part II

Ji Seong-ho speaks at the Oslo Freedom Forum. (Terje Pedersen/AFP/Getty)

Editor’s Note: Last week, Jay Nordlinger attended the Oslo Freedom Forum, the annual human-rights conference in the Norwegian capital. His journal began yesterday, here.

Onstage at the Nye Theater, to kick off the opening session of the conference, is a rock band from Lebanon. Rather, they’re a duo: the Wanton Bishops. And they sing two songs.

The first is a (rock) version of “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child.” It’s amazing how these spirituals have endured, and traveled. The Wanton Bishops are not a threat to Marian Anderson’s reputation, but one can appreciate the effort.

They next sing a song that goes “whoopie whoopie whoopie.” (Not to be confused with “Lookie, Lookie, Lookie, Here Comes Cookie.”)

‐Thor Halvorssen tells us that there are some people who were meant to be here, but can’t. Abdulkarim al-Khaiwani, for example. He is, or was, a Yemeni journalist, who has spoken at the Freedom Forum before. He was murdered — assassinated — a couple of months ago.

Four others are in prison. I catch only two of the names, I’m afraid. One is that of Anwar Ibrahim — the Malaysian oppositionist. The other is that of Leopoldo López, the Venezuelan oppositionist.

López’s watchword is one I have quoted many times: “El que se cansa, pierde.” He who tires, loses.

‐Introducing the Norwegian foreign minister, Thor notes that Norway is one of the few countries never to have started a war.

Ah, yes, “Norway the Peaceful.” That is the title of an early chapter in my history of the Nobel Peace Prize, Peace, They Say. Norway managed to stay out of World War I. They wanted to stay out of the next war, but Hitler wouldn’t let them. Then they enjoyed the protection of the United States and its nuclear umbrella, leaving them free to rail against the United States and proclaim their own peaceableness.

Anyway . . .

‐The Norwegian FM makes a good enough speech. A fine speech. I would like to note one thing, however. He speaks of the “right to love who[m] you want.” Barack Obama does the same thing. So does Michelle Obama.

“No matter who you love!” they say, over and over. I don’t know why they don’t just speak of gay marriage, directly. Directly and uneuphemistically. People have had the right to love whom they love forever, and they always will.

The older I get, the more I dislike euphemism.

‐Anwar Ibrahim’s daughter, Nurul Izzah Anwar, speaks before the assembly. She is one of those courageous daughters, helping their imprisoned fathers. There are courageous wives, too. Occasionally, courageous husbands.

‐Saad Mohseni is “the chairman and CEO of MOBY Group, the largest media company in Afghanistan.” (I am quoting from his bio.) “The son of an Afghan diplomat, Mohseni spent his childhood living all over the world before his family moved to Australia after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.”

The title of Mohseni’s talk is “The Power of Pop Culture.” He says approximately the following: “In Afghanistan, we have condensed a century’s worth of change into ten years, because of technology.” He also says that, on fields that were once execution grounds, sports are played, merrily.

He gives item after item of good news — news that you never hear about Afghanistan, or at least that I don’t.

Listening to him, I have a sad and bitter thought: “After we leave, it’ll all go to hell, just as in Vietnam and Iraq.” I hope that this is completely wrong.

‐A Thai journalist, Pravit Rojanaphruk, speaks of repression in his country. He says that the junta has an “attitude-adjustment program.” This is a comical phrase, to me, though I know that the reality is far from comical.

‐A North Korean escapee, Ji Seong-ho, gives his testimony. All of these testimonies, by North Korean escapees, are staggering. Last year, I wrote about Park Yeon-mi: “Witness from Hell.”

I will quote from Ji’s bio: “In order to survive, Ji would exchange stolen coal for food on the black market. While taking coal from a train car in 1996, a malnourished Ji lost consciousness and fell onto the tracks, losing both his left hand and foot when a train ran over him. After a grueling amputation surgery, Ji was left to fend for himself. In 2006, he escaped to South Korea, where he is now a law student at Dongguk University.”

Speaking to us in the Nye Theater, Ji breaks down in tears. So does his interpreter (speaking to us through our headsets). Ji did not fend for himself — not entirely. His siblings gathered food for him. They apparently gave him the best. They themselves subsisted on grass and wild mushrooms. Their growth was stunted, as a result. Ji is filled with guilt because of it.

Their father, at some point, was tortured to death.

I could go on. North Korea is, with the possible exception of Syria, the worst place on earth. The earth’s most horrendous nightmare. It is, as Jeane Kirkpatrick said, a “psychotic state,” one with which the world at large doesn’t quite know how to grapple.

‐During a coffee break, I meet the Israeli ambassador to Norway, Raphael Shutz. It takes cojones to represent Israel in Europe — or anywhere else.

Just now, I Googled his name, to be sure I had it right. Here is a headline: “New Israeli envoy met with hatred.” Yup. (Article here.)

‐One of the most interesting people here — and that’s saying something — is Shiraz Maher. Let me lay some bio on you:

“Maher, who grew up in the United Kingdom, was galvanized into radical Islam after the events of 9/11. He joined Hizbut Tahrir, an international Islamist organization, and by 2005 began to have doubts about the group. He ultimately decided to leave the movement after the London bombings later that same year. He has since dedicated his life to countering the spread of radical Islam.”

In the Cold War, just about the most valuable anti-Communists were ex-Communists. Bill Buckley was eloquent on this subject (as on all). Many of the founding editors and writers of National Review had been Communists: Whittaker Chambers, James Burnham, Frank Meyer, Willi Schlamm, Max Eastman . . .

Maher “gets” the jihadist mindset, no question about it. Or rather mindsets. There are various mindsets in the jihad, he explains.

Some people are “fanatical terrorists,” plain and simple. Some have a humanitarian motivation: They want to help people in Syria, for example. Some are martyrdom-seekers — they want to die. Some are thrill-seekers.

One of the most arresting things Maher says is, “My best friends blew up Glasgow Airport.”

Maher and his friends understood themselves to be “defending our lives, our honor, our dignity, and our religion. What could be more just and noble than that?”

He later says something that makes my eyes open wide. “The West is shy about its values. It doesn’t speak up for classical liberalism, which gave birth to centuries of organic growth — legal, cultural, artistic, and political.” (I have paraphrased, as I have done, and will do, a lot in this journal.)

Whoa. For years, many of us have been talking about this very problem. Mark Steyn, for example, says, “We tell them to assimilate. But what do we give them to assimilate to? Nothing.”

ISIS, says Shiraz Maher, “is bold, defined, empowering. It knows who it is and what it stands for. It is not confused. There is no hyphenation in it. There are no ‘British Muslims’ or ‘African-Americans.’ You’re a Muslim. You enter something much bigger than yourself, a fraternity of the faithful.

“It all boils down to identity: the sense of needing to belong.”

Before he finishes, Maher says, “I realized that it was only the secular state that allowed me to express myself, and that guaranteed the right of everybody to live life as he sees fit and be what he wants to be.”

Shiraz Maher has given one of those addresses that you wish — or I wish — everyone could hear.

‐An exec from Twitter takes the stage. He has many interesting things to say about this exciting new “platform.” (Not so new anymore, I realize.)

He celebrates some of Twitter’s greatest moments — placing special emphasis on “#Ferguson” and “#BlackLivesMatter.”

This is one of the problems of Twitter, of course: that it can build a worldwide myth. A misguided mass mentality. Ferguson must be one of the most misunderstood — indeed, lied-about — events of modern times.

‐“My grandfather was the biggest Communist in America, and I was the biggest capitalist in Russia.” I once heard Bill Browder say that. He is in attendance in Oslo. His grandfather was Earl Browder, the head of the CPUSA. Bill co-founded the Hermitage fund.

His lawyer was Sergei Magnitsky, whom the Russian government tortured to death — slowly. Bill changed his life around entirely, to challenge the Russian government. That’s how he spends his days.

He could have gone merrily on, but he didn’t. I admire this fellow, a lot.

‐With Bill and my colleague John Fund, I meet Roar Hagen — a Norwegian who is one of the most famous illustrators and cartoonists in Scandinavia. He tells me that his name, Roar, is a pre-Christian name: a Viking name. (It’s pronounced in two syllables, not like the English word.) As for “Hagen,” I think of that as a Wagner name (Götterdämmerung).

I ask him, “Will political cartoons survive the death of newspapers?” It’s going to be hard, says Hagen.

His son, by the way, is one of the most famous actors in Scandinavia: Pål Sverre Valheim Hagen. He starred as Thor Heyerdahl in Kon-Tiki, which was nominated for an Oscar three years ago.

You didn’t think I could bring you movie news, did you?

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you tomorrow.

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