Editor’s Note: The Oslo Freedom Forum took place last week. This is the annual human-rights gathering in the Norwegian capital. Jay Nordlinger has been writing a journal on this gathering, and related matters, and the previous parts can be found at the following links: I, II.
I’m talking about China with a couple of young people who are deeply, and personally, interested in the matter. When will the ruling Communists fall? When will this one-party dictatorship come to an end?
I explain that the Soviet Union once seemed permanent. The name of the game was coexistence between the USSR and the United States. Both camps were here to stay. We had to find a way to get along.
But then came Reagan and his men, and they said, No: The Communist system is illegitimate and will end up on the ash-heap of history. The Americans applied pressure of every kind, including the moral.
On Christmas Day 1991, the USSR expired.
One young woman I’m talking to says something like the following: That’s a very nice story, but no one is talking that way about China. Reagan’s way. No one is saying that a one-party dictatorship with a gulag is illegitimate. Everyone just wants to get along with China, and profit from China.
And that is … so true.
‐Outside the Nye Theater, where the Freedom Forum is taking place, there is a group of protesters. Leftists. I recognize them from my Ann Arbor days. (I grew up in Ann Arbor, Mich., a small citadel of the Left. I know these people like the back of my hand.) Tell you what: I’m almost homesick!
This gang is holding a banner that reads “Hands Off Venezuela!”
Ah, yes. You know who I say “Hands Off Venezuela!” to? The chavista dictatorship. Quit lying to them, stealing from them, starving them, jailing them, and taking away all their rights.
‐At the podium in the Nye Theater, there is an official of the United Nations. This is rather unusual: The U.N. is a bête noire at the Oslo Freedom Forum (not without reason). This official is Michel Forst, the rapporteur for human rights. He is obviously a decent sort, and he has a big and surely difficult job.
‐Also speaking in the theater is Anne Applebaum, the journalist and historian. She speaks of the invention of the printing press, back in the 15th century. This set off convulsions, including wars and a reformation.
Today, there are convulsions related to the new media: the Internet and all its wonders (and horrors).
Applebaum sounds a familiar theme: There are no agreed-on facts. Everyone has his own news, his own stream, his own media pacifier, if you will. “People get their news from their close-knit, ideologically similar friends,” says Applebaum.
This is the bubble I have tried to burst out of. Sometimes I do it better than at other times. It depends on my degree of willingness, really.
Applebaum also speaks about the Putin regime, about which she is expert. The way they go about undermining democracies is astonishing. Why don’t they tend their own garden, and lift Russia up? Surely there are problems to be solved there, right?
This is a big topic …
‐For a while, it seemed like I was reading every other day about a Bangladeshi blogger being hacked to death. Standing before us now is a survivor: Ahmedur Rashid Chowdhury. What a man he is, this publisher and writer.
He says that Bangladeshi bloggers have been hacked to death in front of their wives.
People told Chowdhury to get out of the publishing business. It was too dangerous. You could not discuss political and social issues in Bangladesh — not openly. “This is not a suitable country to have such discussions,” Chowdhury was told.
In October 2015, men came to his office with machetes. They did not quite kill him. In critical condition, he was air-lifted to Nepal.
He has now received a “new start” in Norway, as he says. He is an exile writer and publisher. “Whenever a writer, blogger, or publisher is threatened for free-thinking, I will stand beside him,” he says.
What a man.
‐Leyla Hussein comes from Somalia, but she now lives in London, I believe. At any rate, she lives in the U.K. — and sports a posh English accent. Or so it is to my ears anyway.
What she does is campaign against FGM — female genital mutilation.
Now, a lot of people don’t like you to use this term. They say it’s pejorative. I don’t care. FGM is a practice that deserves to be scorned.
Leyla Hussein herself was subjected to it. She tells us about her experience in detail. After it happened, she lost her trust in the people around her. Very much including her own beloved family. That was a consequence of FGM, for Leyla.
Do not buy that FGM is an innocent or respectable cultural or religious norm, she says. No: It is a form of child abuse and a form of sexual abuse. It has terrible consequences, physical and mental, and they are long-lasting.
Leyla Hussein is using her life — using her experience — for great good.
‐Xavier Bonilla comes from Ecuador. He is known as Bonil. He is a political cartoonist — and a target of his country’s regime, that of the chavista Rafael Correa.
Bonil quotes Correa: “The press is a weed — a plague — that needs to be controlled every day.”
Lot of that goin’ around. There always is.
Bonil has been targeted by the law and in other ways as well. Correa has shown his photo on television and said to his supporters — regime supporters, fellow chavistas — “If you spot him on the street, make him accountable for his cartoons.”
A brave hombre, Xavier Bonilla, a.k.a. Bonil.
‐I take a long walk through Oslo. And I have a thought I always have, when I’m here (and elsewhere in Europe, for that matter): All of these people from Pakistan and other Muslim countries — will they ever be Norwegian? Will they eventually assimilate, integrate? Will it turn out all right?
That is the $64,000 question (or whatever the amount is up to now).
‐The Nobel Peace Center is hard by Oslo Fjord, and it is a beautiful building: the old train station. In a big city, have you ever seen an old train station that’s not beautiful? That would be a rare sighting, I think. They really cared about such things, back when.
‐Not to be a total jerk, but I’m kind of impressed with the Nobel Peace Center — not just architecturally, but for this reason: In their gift shop, they stock my history of the peace prize — which has many criticisms in it (along with praise).
Good for them. Broad-minded.
‐In the Nye Theater, before the human-rights presentations resume, we’re entertained by a British comedian, Chris Turner. His specialty, it seems, is rapping: freestyle rapping. He asks the audience for a topic, rather like an improvisational musician asking for a tune, and then he raps on that topic.
When he was a kid, he says, he thought that “Dr. Dre” was pronounced “Doctor Doctor E.” Pretty funny. And he says that he thought all rap was made up on the spot, rather than written out and rehearsed.
As he talks and explains, I think of Ben Crenshaw, I swear. (Crenshaw was a great golfer of decades past.) When he was a little kid, just starting out in golf, he hit the ball on the green, as Ben Crenshaw would. But it didn’t go in the hole. So he cried. Or got mad or something.
Why? Because he had been told that the object of the game was to get the ball in the hole. And he had “missed,” you see?
I love that story.
On the stage, Chris Turner says that we hamstring ourselves by our expectations of what is possible. We can do much more than we do, he says. We limit ourselves, get in our own way. You can freestyle rap, he says. You just don’t know it.
Such food for thought …
‐In Part I of this journal, I mentioned Mohamed Nasheed, the former president of the Maldives. Where’s that, or where are those? In the Indian Ocean, southwest of India.
At the Nye Theater, he tells his story. Let me tell you a bit of it. I won’t do it justice, I’m afraid.
He started out as a journalist. That was a dangerous thing to be in the dictatorial Maldives. He was arrested. He was held in solitary confinement for a year and a half. He was beaten, tortured, spat on, urinated on — fed glass. You get the idea.
At some point, he was released. He went back to writing. They arrested him again. Prison. Release. Writing. Arrest. Prison.
And so it went, for years. There was a “revolving door” for Nasheed between prison and his writing desk. (Those are his words, “revolving door.”)
In the late ’90s, he got the idea that it might be safer for him if he got elected to Parliament. He did. But they arrested him anyway — and sent him into internal exile, on a far-away island.
There, he fished and farmed.
Eventually, he left the country, going to Sri Lanka, forming a political party in exile. Thugs shot at him. He fled to the U.K., where he was granted asylum.
(I am telling the story according to the notes I took. One or two things may be off — but the gist is right.)
Flash-forward to 2008 — when the Maldives at last held free and fair elections. Nasheed was elected president. He and his confreres decided not to arrest the previous president, who had ruled the country for a full 30 years. (That was Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.)
There had always been a “vicious cycle” in the Maldives, says Nasheed: The incoming ruler jailed the previous one. “We wanted to break this cycle,” he continues. “One of the great features of democracy is the peaceful transfer of power. If a president thinks he will be arrested as soon as he leaves office, that is a powerful motivation not to leave.”
Over the years, I have heard David Pryce-Jones, the British historian and my fellow senior editor at National Review, make this point about the Arab world: Departure from power means imprisonment or, more likely, death. So, what’s the incentive to leave? The incentive is entirely in the other direction.
Mohamed Nasheed was deposed by military coup in 2012. There has been much more drama in his life since then, but I’ll stop now.
At the end of his talk, Nasheed says we must never, ever give up. There have been many times in his life when he could have given up — but he never did. “Giving up is exactly what the dictator wants you to do.”
‐Anas Aremeyaw Anas is a journalist from Ghana. He goes under cover to do his work. He takes care not to let his face be known. His motto is “Name, shame, and jail.” He has gone after child-traffickers and many other malefactors.
And he talks eloquently and passionately about democracy. In my experience, Africans who are democrats are really passionate about it. Far more than Westerners. There is no complacency in them. They take nothing for granted.
“I may die,” says Anas. “But if I die, I take solace in the fact that I have contributed to democracy. What about you?”
A word from the National Review Store: To get Digging In: Further Collected Writings of Jay Nordlinger, go here.