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Contentions

Annals of Useful Idiocy, Circa 2010

As a service to future historians (if they can just find this post) seeking to understand how the moral outrage of the world focused in 2010 on Israel rather than Iran, I offer this excerpt from a Spiegel interview with the well-known Swedish author Henning Mankell, a passenger on one of the smaller boats in the Gaza flotilla:

SPIEGEL: This [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict is complicated enough, but it probably doesn’t even constitute the biggest threat to peace in the region at the moment. That is posed by Iran, with its controversial nuclear program and its prediction that Israel will disappear from the map.

Mankell: I am very concerned, because I don’t trust this president (Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) and the mullahs. They want to have any weapon that can be used to destroy Israel. Naturally we cannot accept that.

SPIEGEL: But what do you want to do? Campaigns like this one can be directed against a democratic country like Israel. The Iranian government wouldn’t even let things get that far.

Mankell: I had an invitation to a literature festival in Tehran, which I turned down.

SPIEGEL: Why?

Mankell: Because Iran puts writers and intellectuals in prison and makes some of them disappear. I can’t go to a country like that.

SPIEGEL: Why don’t you go there and make the repression public?

Mankell: I wouldn’t be able to do what I would like to do. They would misuse me for propaganda purposes.

SPIEGEL: And you didn’t have this concern with the Gaza campaign?

Mankell: I saw what I saw. I felt what I felt. I thought what I thought. I saw what happened to people, and that’s what I want to report on.

Earlier in the interview, Spiegel asked Mankell whether he had ever been to Gaza (“no”), whether he knows the IHH and the Free Gaza movement that organized the flotilla (“not well enough to be able to form an opinion”), whether Hamas was a source of hope for him (“I don’t know enough about the issue”), and why he ignored multiple Israeli warnings that the ship could not proceed to Gaza (“At least they should have let us continue for another two hours, until we were just off the coast”).

In other words, he declined the invitation to go to Iran and speak truth to power, but a safe boat trip to just-off-the-coast of Gaza, in the service of organizations he failed to investigate, to assist an Iranian proxy about whom he is agnostic, appealed to his moral sense. No one, of course, will ever surpass the concision of Woody Allen’s statement of moral idiocy on being asked to explain his affair with Mia Farrow’s daughter: “The heart wants what it wants.” But Henning Mankell’s “I felt what I felt, I thought what I thought” deserves the same place of honor in the literature of useful idiocy. Historians take note.


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