Commentary Magazine


Topic: human rights

Israel’s Predetermined Guilt and the Irrelevant Left

If you’ve been around Israeli politics long enough, you pick up on the one thing that bothers leftist “human-rights” groups more than anything: their irrelevance. At times, their frustration boils over into quite humorous attempts to coopt credit for Israel’s democratic achievements when in fact, as usual, they’ve had nothing to do with it. Today’s New York Times marks yet another such instance.

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If you’ve been around Israeli politics long enough, you pick up on the one thing that bothers leftist “human-rights” groups more than anything: their irrelevance. At times, their frustration boils over into quite humorous attempts to coopt credit for Israel’s democratic achievements when in fact, as usual, they’ve had nothing to do with it. Today’s New York Times marks yet another such instance.

The Times story is on official Israeli investigations into possible wrongdoing on its part during its recent war in Gaza. This is exactly what Israel does after wars, and what it has done for decades. Not only does Israel tend to investigate individual strikes, but it puts the IDF’s strategic command under the microscope, and sometimes, as with the 2006 Lebanon war, takes the investigation right up to the Israeli prime minister himself.

Because human-rights groups are thus irrelevant to the process of Israel defending human rights, they seek to convince credulous reporters (or reporters who know better but prefer to keep up the propaganda war against the Israeli government) that when Israel does something right, it’s because of them. It may sound laughable to those who know the basics of Israeli life and politics, but these activist groups have a trump card: the New York Times will publish their self-congratulatory blathering.

Today that’s precisely what the Times does. It starts out with the headline: “Israel, Facing Criticism, to Investigate Possible Military Misconduct in Gaza.” If you didn’t know better, you might read that headline and think the beginning and the end of the headline are related. They are not. It’s true that Israel is facing criticism. It is also true that Israel will investigate possible military misconduct. It is not true, however, that Israel is investigating possible misconduct because fringe activists are lobbing spitballs at the IDF.

The Times continues down this road, in the process offering an illuminating portrait of just what Israeli human-rights groups do:

Some said the timing of the inquiries appeared to be an attempt by the Israeli government to pre-empt the impact of international investigations into allegations of possible Israeli war crimes committed in Gaza. They also pointed out that the cases, opened by Israel’s Military Advocate General Corps, included obvious episodes that had already drawn condemnation.

One prominent Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem, refused to participate in the investigations and said history showed that the Israeli military could not possibly conduct a credible prosecution of itself.

“Based on past experience, we can only regretfully say that Israeli law enforcement authorities are unable and unwilling to investigate allegations of breaches of international humanitarian law committed during fighting in Gaza,” the organization said in a statement. “Should the existing whitewashing mechanism be replaced with an independent investigative body, we would gladly cooperate with it.”

So Israel will investigate without being prompted by B’Tselem. Also, B’Tselem won’t get involved in the investigation. What will they be doing? Whatever it is, it has no bearing on justice and truth and morality in war. (This 2011 COMMENTARY essay by Noah Pollak remains the indispensable profile of the group.)

Earlier in the piece, however, the Times delivered a truly telling message:

The announcement, conveyed at a briefing by the Israeli military, came only two weeks after a cease-fire in the conflict, an unusually speedy response. But critics, including human rights advocates in Israel, said it remained to be seen whether the investigations would yield significant criminal indictments and punishments.

Think about that second sentence. It “remained to be seen” if there would be indictments from the investigation that just began. You would be hard-pressed to think of a more superfluous sentence to appear in a major newspaper. But the key is who the Times is supposedly paraphrasing: “critics, including human rights advocates.”

That’s right: the human-rights groups are upset that Israel isn’t considered–or considers itself–guilty until proved innocent. In fact, they don’t even care if those under investigation are proved innocent. They want “significant criminal indictments and punishments.” Not just punishments: significant punishments.

Punishments for what? Well, nobody knows that yet because Israel–which is far more trustworthy in such investigations than outside organizations like the UN, which the Goldstone affair compellingly demonstrated–hasn’t completed its investigation. And “human-rights” groups like B’Tselem don’t know either, and won’t know, because they refuse to participate in the investigation.

What Israel’s critics want is not justice. They want show trials. Israel has long been more than willing to be its own toughest critic and to discipline anyone who earns it, in the military or in its political establishment. But Israel’s critics there and in the international community, including so-called human-rights groups, want Israelis punished for defending themselves lawfully and morally. For surviving and thriving in the face of their genocidal enemies.

To Israel’s critics in the “human-rights” NGO community, Israel’s guilt is simply taken for granted. The irrelevance of those groups is a testament to Israel’s collective judgment.

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Terrorists and the Mantle of Human Rights

Many analysts and scholars have pointed out the strange bedfellows that some self-described progressive organizations make with radical terrorist groups or autocratic regimes. The American Friends Service Committee, for example, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947, subsequently aligned itself with and defended the Khmer Rouge until the full horror of that communist organization’s genocidal campaigns became clear. Lynne Stewart, a prominent lawyer famous for defending left-of-center clients, once told the New York Times that she supported violence “directed at the institutions which perpetuate capitalism, racism and sexism, and at the people who are the appointed guardians of those institutions, and accompanied by popular support.”

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Many analysts and scholars have pointed out the strange bedfellows that some self-described progressive organizations make with radical terrorist groups or autocratic regimes. The American Friends Service Committee, for example, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947, subsequently aligned itself with and defended the Khmer Rouge until the full horror of that communist organization’s genocidal campaigns became clear. Lynne Stewart, a prominent lawyer famous for defending left-of-center clients, once told the New York Times that she supported violence “directed at the institutions which perpetuate capitalism, racism and sexism, and at the people who are the appointed guardians of those institutions, and accompanied by popular support.”

That may have been morally obtuse enough, but she eventually found herself in prison for supporting terrorists who promoted the most extreme forms of racism and sexism. This past January, I highlighted an incident in which Human Rights Watch (HRW) partnered with an organization run by a man subsequently designated by the U.S. Treasury Department as an Al Qaeda financier; HRW never bothered to review its reports and the information which it apparently accepted blindly from al-Karama, the partner in question.

Now, information is surfacing about the United Kingdom-based CAGE (sometimes called CAGEPrisoners) which has led a campaign on behalf of Mahmoud al-Jaidah, a Qatari national arrested and sentenced in the United Arab Emirates for helping al-Islah, the UAE’s branch of the Muslim Brotherhood which last year sought to overthrow the government violently.

Here’s the problem: Last February, British police arrested CAGE Outreach Director Moazzam Begg on suspicion of “facilitating terrorism overseas,” and subsequently charged him with “providing terrorist training and funding terrorism overseas” in relation to Syria. This should not have been a surprise. Begg was a former Guantanamo Bay detainee who had confessed to training in Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan. Despite Begg’s arrest, CAGE continues to promote extremists in the name of human rights. For example, on July 17, 2014, it held a fundraiser to discuss “the ethnical, political, and legal consequences of caring for the oppressed.” Nothing wrong with that, but the event listed Israfil Yilmaz as one of the guest speakers. Yilmaz is a Dutch citizen identified by security officials as a jihadist training Islamist extremists inside Syria. We’re not talking about the so-called moderate opposition. By Yilmaz’s own admission, he said he was with Katiba Muhajireen, a group that in 2013 merged with Jabhat al-Nusra, an Al Qaeda affiliate. Not surprisingly, British authorities intervened. Begg defended Yilmaz, however, as someone he “knew well in Syria.”

Alas, for CAGE, such an embrace of radicals seems more the rule than the exception. In 2009, for example, the group held a fundraising dinner at Kensington Town Hall in London. CAGE announced that the event was to include an “exclusive video message” from Anwar al-Awlaki, the senior Al Qaeda cleric who encouraged the Fort Hood shooting. British authorities ultimately prevented CAGE from playing the message. It’s the intent that counts, though.

The United Arab Emirates is by no means a human rights Utopia and it does not pretend to be a democracy, but it is a moderate country progressing in the right direction. Sometimes, however, a country’s enemies reveal a lot about a country. When Al Qaeda, Qatar, and the Muslim Brotherhood are lining up against the United Arab Emirates, it’s probably not because the Emirates are tolerating or promoting radical Islam. Nor do Al Qaeda affiliates and their defenders in the self-described human rights advocacy community, whether Human Rights Watch itself, al-Karama, or CAGE, seem to have the embrace of human rights at heart when they attack the United Arab Emirates or defend those who appear to support the most extreme forms of terrorism.

Until human rights groups stop interpreting human rights through a subjective political lens, and until they cease allowing themselves to be used knowingly or through their own naivety by hardcore Islamist groups, they will both advance an agenda anathema to freedom, liberty, and individual and they will also make a mockery of their declared and important mission to promote human rights.

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Scholars of African Literature Have Eyes Only for Israel

The African Literature Association has thrown its insubstantial weight behind the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement. Opponents of the boycott movement should welcome this move. Unlike some of the other academic associations that have gotten behind BDS, the African Literature Association cannot even assert that it has, because of U.S. funding, a special interest in Israel. The ALA, though it is headquartered in the U.S. at present, is an emphatically international organization whose political interests, if a literary association must have such interests, are in Africa.

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The African Literature Association has thrown its insubstantial weight behind the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement. Opponents of the boycott movement should welcome this move. Unlike some of the other academic associations that have gotten behind BDS, the African Literature Association cannot even assert that it has, because of U.S. funding, a special interest in Israel. The ALA, though it is headquartered in the U.S. at present, is an emphatically international organization whose political interests, if a literary association must have such interests, are in Africa.

It is therefore striking that none of the ALA’s resolutions specifically concerns Africa. In South Africa, where the ALA met this year, Human Rights Watch has said that the government has refused to acknowledge “xenophobic attacks on refugees” from Somalia and elsewhere. But the ALA, though it explicitly complains of Israel’s treatment of African refugees, had nothing to say, as its members partied in Johannesburg, about South Africa’s record.

Here are some other things going on, according to Human Rights Watch’s 2014 World Report, on the continent the African Literature Association purports to be concerned with. Human Rights Watch shares with the ALA an undue focus on Israel, but at least it has the consistency to notice human-rights violations elsewhere.

In Sudan, the government’s “indiscriminate bombing and ongoing clashes with rebels, and the obstruction of humanitarian assistance to rebel-held areas since the outbreak of conflict in June 2011, have displaced tens of thousands within those states and elsewhere in Sudan and forced more than 225,000 to flee to refugee camps in South Sudan and Ethiopia.” Millions have been displaced. Hundreds of thousands are dead. The African Literature Association doesn’t care.

In South Sudan, “the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) committed serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, especially in Murle areas. Soldiers unlawfully targeted and killed Murle civilians and caused thousands to flee their homes out of fear of attack. Soldiers also looted or destroyed homes, schools, churches, and the compounds of aid agencies.” The African Literature Association doesn’t care.

In Ethiopia, “arbitrary detention and ill-treatment in detention continues to be a major problem. Students, members of opposition groups, journalists, peaceful protesters, and others seeking to express their rights to freedom of assembly, expression, or association are frequently detained arbitrarily.” The African Literature Association doesn’t care.

In the Central African Republic, the Seleka, a largely Muslim rebel group that briefly controlled the government “killed scores of civilians who were trying to flee attacks. In some villages, every single structure was at least partially burned. The destruction was often accompanied by pillaging, leaving civilian populations utterly destitute.” Violence between the Seleka and armed Christian and animist groups continues and has displaced hundreds of thousands. The African Literature Association doesn’t care.

In Somalia, in government controlled areas, “targeted killings of civilians, notably journalists, increased.” In the Democratic Republic of Congo, “the Rwandan-backed M23 armed group committed widespread war crimes, including summary executions, rapes, and forced recruitment of children.” In Nigeria, “security forces razed and burned homes and properties in communities thought to harbor Boko Haram fighters. In Baga, a town in Borno state, Nigerian troops destroyed more than 2,000 buildings and allegedly killed scores of people, apparently in retaliation for the killing of a soldier by Boko Haram.” In Eritrea, many “are denied fundamental human rights, including the right to express opinions, form associations and peacefully protest. Scores of people continue to be arbitrarily detained and imprisoned without trial at the whim of commanders and security forces; many are tortured.  Freedom to practice the religion of one’s choice is denied if the government disapproves of the choice.” The African Literature Association doesn’t care.

In fairness, the organization has not been wholly silent on human rights in Africa. For example, the ALA’s president, in 2011, wrote a letter to President Obama asking him to act on unspecified human-rights violations in Africa. But that letter was much less pointed and detailed than the resolution against Israel which, among other things, singles out Israel alone for working with repressive African regimes. They had nothing to say about their host South Africa’s close allies, China and Russia, both of which are known for exporting arms to nations, including Sudan, with poor human-rights records. Nor did they speak to South Africa’s refusal to support sanctions against Syria. About such things, the righteous scholars of the African Literature Association do not care.

We can thank the African Literature Association for making things crystal clear. When an association that exists primarily “to facilitate the attempts of a world-wide audience to appreciate the efforts of African writers and artists” and secondarily to support “the African peoples in their struggle for liberation” interests itself solely in Israel and has not a word for human-rights abuses in Africa, we can be confident that we are dealing with scholars in the grip of an anti-Semitic movement.

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Why Is Obama “Happy” About Rouhani’s Iran?

Though the latest nuclear talks with Iran failed to yield progress toward an agreement, the Obama administration isn’t rethinking its commitment to engagement with Iran. Having come into office determined to find a way to end the nuclear standoff, President Obama has taken every opportunity to demonstrate that he wishes to create warmer relations with Tehran, even staying largely silent while the Islamists brutally suppressed dissidents in 2009. That’s why he seized upon the faux election last summer that resulted in Hassan Rouhani becoming Iran’s president to justify the decision to trust the regime when it came to the nuclear question. Though the secret negotiations that led to a weak interim agreement with Tehran preceded that vote, Rouhani’s more moderate image has been useful in dampening outrage about the direction of U.S. policy toward Iran which seems oriented more toward détente than actually preventing the regime from attaining nuclear capability.

But yesterday we got another reminder of the naïveté of Western hopes for Rouhani’s moderation. Days after Rouhani had given speech extolling the need for greater Internet freedom in his country, Iranian police arrested six young people and paraded them on national television for the crime of creating an Internet video in which they danced and sang to Pharrell Williams’s song “Happy.” According to Hossein Sajedinia, the head of the Tehran police, the harmless video was “a vulgar clip which hurt public chastity.” But after being forced to publicly repent, and with a worldwide furor growing over their arrest, the six who appeared on screen were freed today, apparently none the worse for wear for their ordeal and humiliation, though their director is still in jail. Rouhani celebrated their release with the following tweet:

#Happiness is our people’s right. We shouldn’t be too hard on behaviors caused by joy

So should we be celebrating the advance of human rights in Iran today? And what has this to do with the nuclear talks?

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Though the latest nuclear talks with Iran failed to yield progress toward an agreement, the Obama administration isn’t rethinking its commitment to engagement with Iran. Having come into office determined to find a way to end the nuclear standoff, President Obama has taken every opportunity to demonstrate that he wishes to create warmer relations with Tehran, even staying largely silent while the Islamists brutally suppressed dissidents in 2009. That’s why he seized upon the faux election last summer that resulted in Hassan Rouhani becoming Iran’s president to justify the decision to trust the regime when it came to the nuclear question. Though the secret negotiations that led to a weak interim agreement with Tehran preceded that vote, Rouhani’s more moderate image has been useful in dampening outrage about the direction of U.S. policy toward Iran which seems oriented more toward détente than actually preventing the regime from attaining nuclear capability.

But yesterday we got another reminder of the naïveté of Western hopes for Rouhani’s moderation. Days after Rouhani had given speech extolling the need for greater Internet freedom in his country, Iranian police arrested six young people and paraded them on national television for the crime of creating an Internet video in which they danced and sang to Pharrell Williams’s song “Happy.” According to Hossein Sajedinia, the head of the Tehran police, the harmless video was “a vulgar clip which hurt public chastity.” But after being forced to publicly repent, and with a worldwide furor growing over their arrest, the six who appeared on screen were freed today, apparently none the worse for wear for their ordeal and humiliation, though their director is still in jail. Rouhani celebrated their release with the following tweet:

#Happiness is our people’s right. We shouldn’t be too hard on behaviors caused by joy

So should we be celebrating the advance of human rights in Iran today? And what has this to do with the nuclear talks?

The answer is simple. Despite Iran’s attempt to persuade the world otherwise, it remains a brutal theocracy where anything, even a simple video can land you in jail if it rubs the Islamist authorities the wrong way. Rouhani, a veteran operative of the regime, is no moderate even though he is attempting to put forward a more human face to the world than his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But power—including everything having to do with the country’s nuclear project—remains in the hands of his boss, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Incidents like the arrest of the video makers are designed to chill any signs of liberalization and dissent. As such, it was quite effective since few are bold enough to risk jail and a TV perp walk on the assumption that international attention will lead to their release. Unlike the lucky six, most Iranians who are arrested by the regime don’t become a trend on Twitter and simply disappear into the bowels of Tehran’s police dungeons.

But the Obama administration may argue that even if Iran is still a tyranny, that shouldn’t affect America’s decision to enter into a nuclear agreement with it. The danger Iran poses to the rest of the world stems from their ability to create a nuclear weapon, not policies designed to repress free spirits.

But the problem with America’s nuclear diplomacy is that it is based on the idea that Iran can be trusted to keep its agreements and that the further loosening of sanctions will aid the country’s progress toward better relations with the West. Unfortunately, Iran has proven time and again that it regards agreements with foreign powers as pieces of paper that it can tear up at will. And once sanctions are lifted, there is little chance the U.S. will ever be able to persuade a reluctant Europe to stop doing business with Iran.

So in order to rationalize a plan of action that is predicated on Iran turning the page from its past as a rogue regime, the U.S. must pretend that a regime that practices religious persecution and represses even the most innocuous sign of dissent is somehow changing. That’s why the administration’s negotiators have not even tried to raise the issues of Iranian sponsorship of terrorism in the talks. The more the discussion centers on Iranian behavior—whether as a backer of terrorists or as a vicious foe of human rights—the harder it will be for the president to persuade Americans that Iran means to keep even a weak deal that will give it plenty of leeway to cheat and get to a bomb.

Thus, far from being irrelevant to the talks that have been going on in Vienna, the “happy” dancers are a reminder that Iran isn’t the country Barack Obama would like it to be. The longer Americans cling to the delusion that Rouhani has genuine power and that he really can moderate the Islamist regime, the less chance there is that they will think clearly about the nuclear threat and a diplomatic process that seems to guarantee that it won’t be averted.

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Iran Promoted to UN Rights Bodies

Yesterday was business as usual at the United Nations, with Iran and a host of other despotic regimes winning seats on leading human-rights bodies. What should by any estimation be considered an astonishing inversion of the principles that the institution purports to champion somehow seems barely remarkable coming from the UN. For decades it has rendered its human-rights bodies Orwellian caricatures by handing them into the charge of the world’s worst human-rights abusers. It is completely absurd to imagine that the bodies that are supposed to be responsible for policing human rights can be administered by the very countries that ought to be subject to investigation.

The UN’s Commission on the Status of Women can now look forward to the assistance of the Iranians in fulfilling its worthy mission of promoting the welfare of the world’s women. Similarly, Iran will no doubt be eager to make itself useful in its new position on the UN’s NGO Committee, which is tasked with determining which NGOs are to be accredited by the UN. For years now tyrannical leaders have been seeking to use such positions of influence to drive out those NGOs that dare to publicize and criticize their shameful human-rights records. Iran’s ascent to a seat at this table is just another victory for the world’s dictators, hell-bent not only on tormenting their own peoples but also on ensuring that these crimes are kept far away from the world’s attention.

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Yesterday was business as usual at the United Nations, with Iran and a host of other despotic regimes winning seats on leading human-rights bodies. What should by any estimation be considered an astonishing inversion of the principles that the institution purports to champion somehow seems barely remarkable coming from the UN. For decades it has rendered its human-rights bodies Orwellian caricatures by handing them into the charge of the world’s worst human-rights abusers. It is completely absurd to imagine that the bodies that are supposed to be responsible for policing human rights can be administered by the very countries that ought to be subject to investigation.

The UN’s Commission on the Status of Women can now look forward to the assistance of the Iranians in fulfilling its worthy mission of promoting the welfare of the world’s women. Similarly, Iran will no doubt be eager to make itself useful in its new position on the UN’s NGO Committee, which is tasked with determining which NGOs are to be accredited by the UN. For years now tyrannical leaders have been seeking to use such positions of influence to drive out those NGOs that dare to publicize and criticize their shameful human-rights records. Iran’s ascent to a seat at this table is just another victory for the world’s dictators, hell-bent not only on tormenting their own peoples but also on ensuring that these crimes are kept far away from the world’s attention.

As for Iran’s newly found place in a forum supposedly devoted to women’s rights, this move would surely be deemed laughable if it weren’t also so tragic. The lot of women in Iran is particularly appalling. The mullahs’ regime there enforces one of the most draconian versions of Islamic religious law. Iran’s laws regulate everything from how women are to dress to the myriad areas of their lives that are to be governed by their husband’s consent. And women in Iran have fallen victim in large numbers to Iran’s liberal use of the death penalty, executed unsparingly for crimes ranging from adultery to drug-related offenses.

Not surprisingly, the monitoring group UN Watch has been particularly scathing in its assessment of these events. Hillel Neuer, the organization’s director, responded by announcing, “Today is a black day for human rights. By empowering the perpetrators over the victims, the UN harms the cause of human rights, betrays its founding principles, and undermines its own credibility.” The United States has similarly expressed its opposition to seeing Iran assume membership of these committees, just as administration officials have been compelled to protest Iran’s choice of one of the 1979 U.S. embassy hostage takers for its new envoy to the UN. But given that move, and if the administration really finds the thought of Iran sitting on a human-rights body so deplorable, then why does the U.S. government continue to legitimate the regime in Iran by continuing to push the line that President Rouhani is a moderate with whom it is advisable to negotiate?

There is little point in American officials protesting this kind of thing as long as the UN continues to remain what it has long been: a club for the dictatorships that dominate its membership. Some protest the disproportionate power of the UN’s Security Council and the five permanent members that dominate that body. Yet the real travesty of the UN is that in the General Assembly and throughout its maze of committees and bodies, it gives a vote to regimes that don’t even allow their own people the most basic right to vote in free and fair elections.

Surely international law and the human-rights norms these laws are supposed to protect will remain a mockery so long as countries that have nothing but disregard for human rights and the rule of law continue to have equal say in halls of the international community. If the UN ever wanted to get serious about human rights, it would start by not letting the criminals assume the position of judge and jury. 

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Does Kerry Think Al-Qaeda is a Human Rights Organization?

The State Department annual human rights report is a valuable tool but if compiled carelessly, it hemorrhages credibility. Alas, such is the case with the State Department most recent human rights report.  

In its most recent report on the United Arab Emirates, for example, diplomats are either on autopilot, simply cutting-and-pasting from previous reports without regard to new information, or they are purposely ignoring U.S. government designation both that some of their source material derives from an al-Qaeda front and that one of those whom they identify as an oppressed human rights activist is actually an Al Qaeda sympathizer if not activist.

The problem relates to Alkarama, a self-described human rights organization whose reporting the State Department, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International have uncritically incorporated into their reporting.  The problem is that the founder of Alkarama, according to the U.S. Treasury Department, is also an al-Qaeda financier. Most recently, Mourad Dhina, executive director of Alkarama, signed a letter of support for Moazzam Begg, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee who has since returned to terrorism.

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The State Department annual human rights report is a valuable tool but if compiled carelessly, it hemorrhages credibility. Alas, such is the case with the State Department most recent human rights report.  

In its most recent report on the United Arab Emirates, for example, diplomats are either on autopilot, simply cutting-and-pasting from previous reports without regard to new information, or they are purposely ignoring U.S. government designation both that some of their source material derives from an al-Qaeda front and that one of those whom they identify as an oppressed human rights activist is actually an Al Qaeda sympathizer if not activist.

The problem relates to Alkarama, a self-described human rights organization whose reporting the State Department, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International have uncritically incorporated into their reporting.  The problem is that the founder of Alkarama, according to the U.S. Treasury Department, is also an al-Qaeda financier. Most recently, Mourad Dhina, executive director of Alkarama, signed a letter of support for Moazzam Begg, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee who has since returned to terrorism.

Alas, Kerry (and the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi) chose to ignore the U.S. Treasury Department terror designation of Alkarama founder Abdul Rahman Bin Umair Al Nuaimi’s and take information provided by him uncritically to castigate the United Arab Emirates, a reliable U.S. ally. The latest human rights report, for example, continues to lend credence to Alkarama’s accusation that the detention in the United Arab Emirates of Ummah Conference founder Hassan al-Diqqi is without merit. It is a case I previously blogged about, here, in the context of some Human Rights Watch report. Diqqi is no political dissident, as the State Department suggests; he is a full-fledged terror supporter, as worthy of life in prison as American Taliban John Walker Lindh or blind sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman. Make no mistakes: There are human rights problems in the United Arab Emirates, but to cast Diqqi as a victim simply tarnishes any legitimate criticism.

Perhaps it’s time that Secretary of State John Kerry stops considering miles flown as a metric of success and actually pay attention to what is going on in his home office unless, of course, he actually believes that his organization should consider Al Qaeda-affiliated groups to be impartial and credible sources of human rights criticism.

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Not All Dissidents Are Heroes

Given the proclivity of dictators to label all of their domestic critics, no matter how non-violent, as “terrorists” it is understandable that there is not more outrage in the West over an attack by Uighur separatists in southern China who stabbed to death at least 29 people in a railroad station and wounded perhaps 100 more. That’s understandable, but wrong.

Let us grant that China’s policies in Xinjiang, the western province where the Uighurs live, are oppressive, even more so than in the case of the rest of the country. The Han Chinese who dominate the Chinese government have long discriminated against ethnic minorities such as the Uighurs and Tibetans. As the Washington Post notes:

Just as Chinese leaders try to control other religions, including Catholicism and evangelical Christianity, they have issued strict policies for Muslim Uighurs. They must use a state-approved Koran. The government manages mosques. And Uighur men who want government jobs have been forced to shave their beards; women are forbidden to wear headscarves.

When Uighurs try to protest such restrictions, or even agitate for independence for a new state of East Turkestan, the Chinese authorities react with the savagery typical of a police state, locking up dissidents. Little wonder, then, that some Uighurs are resorting to terrorism to fight back. But however understandable the reaction of the extremists, it is also unforgivable. The poor commuters slain in a railway station in Kunming are not responsible for their government’s polices; they are just innocent victims.

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Given the proclivity of dictators to label all of their domestic critics, no matter how non-violent, as “terrorists” it is understandable that there is not more outrage in the West over an attack by Uighur separatists in southern China who stabbed to death at least 29 people in a railroad station and wounded perhaps 100 more. That’s understandable, but wrong.

Let us grant that China’s policies in Xinjiang, the western province where the Uighurs live, are oppressive, even more so than in the case of the rest of the country. The Han Chinese who dominate the Chinese government have long discriminated against ethnic minorities such as the Uighurs and Tibetans. As the Washington Post notes:

Just as Chinese leaders try to control other religions, including Catholicism and evangelical Christianity, they have issued strict policies for Muslim Uighurs. They must use a state-approved Koran. The government manages mosques. And Uighur men who want government jobs have been forced to shave their beards; women are forbidden to wear headscarves.

When Uighurs try to protest such restrictions, or even agitate for independence for a new state of East Turkestan, the Chinese authorities react with the savagery typical of a police state, locking up dissidents. Little wonder, then, that some Uighurs are resorting to terrorism to fight back. But however understandable the reaction of the extremists, it is also unforgivable. The poor commuters slain in a railway station in Kunming are not responsible for their government’s polices; they are just innocent victims.

There is no cause to kill civilians to make the Uighurs’ case. They would be better off using non-violent protests even if such protests are likely to prove ineffectual against a one-party state. At least such protests will not result in violent retaliation against innocent Uighurs. This is one area where the U.S. can actually sympathize with China and foster better cooperation on what used to be known as the war on terror, while of course being aware of, and resistant to, Beijing’s desire to brand all dissidents with the “terrorist” label.

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Speaking out Against Injustice

Last month I wrote a piece urging Christians to speak out against the rising persecution of gays overseas, including (but not limited to) harsh new laws that were recently passed in Nigeria.

I was glad, then, that Russell Moore, President of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and Andrew Walker, Director of Policy Studies for the ERLC, wrote an article for Canon & Culture in which, while reasserting the orthodox Christian belief that sexuality is to be expressed within the one-flesh union of the marriage of a man to a woman, they also wrote that they believe “laws criminalizing homosexual activity to be unjust and an affront to the image of God embedded in all persons.”

Governments that “single out persons for harassment and fear of their lives represent, in our view, a State that has overstepped its bounds drastically and unjustly. And in our view, repressive regimes that target homosexuals fall into this category.” Messrs. Moore and Walker go on to say that as Baptist Christians, “our own history has shown us what injustice can happen when a state applies the Old Testament Mosaic code … to the civil state.” And they insist the church “should stand faithful both to a biblical vision of sexuality and at the same time decry laws—whether in Africa or the Middle East or Russia—that would mistreat homosexual persons.”

Some Christians, I suppose, might have a viscerally negative reaction to what Moore and Walker are saying, though it’s hard to imagine how one could justify such a thing. To do so would be a disfigurement of the Christian faith. The more likely reaction is to ignore the issue, to let others worry about it, to assume that speaking out against the persecution of gays overseas is an implicit embrace of the gay rights agenda.

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Last month I wrote a piece urging Christians to speak out against the rising persecution of gays overseas, including (but not limited to) harsh new laws that were recently passed in Nigeria.

I was glad, then, that Russell Moore, President of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and Andrew Walker, Director of Policy Studies for the ERLC, wrote an article for Canon & Culture in which, while reasserting the orthodox Christian belief that sexuality is to be expressed within the one-flesh union of the marriage of a man to a woman, they also wrote that they believe “laws criminalizing homosexual activity to be unjust and an affront to the image of God embedded in all persons.”

Governments that “single out persons for harassment and fear of their lives represent, in our view, a State that has overstepped its bounds drastically and unjustly. And in our view, repressive regimes that target homosexuals fall into this category.” Messrs. Moore and Walker go on to say that as Baptist Christians, “our own history has shown us what injustice can happen when a state applies the Old Testament Mosaic code … to the civil state.” And they insist the church “should stand faithful both to a biblical vision of sexuality and at the same time decry laws—whether in Africa or the Middle East or Russia—that would mistreat homosexual persons.”

Some Christians, I suppose, might have a viscerally negative reaction to what Moore and Walker are saying, though it’s hard to imagine how one could justify such a thing. To do so would be a disfigurement of the Christian faith. The more likely reaction is to ignore the issue, to let others worry about it, to assume that speaking out against the persecution of gays overseas is an implicit embrace of the gay rights agenda.

That strikes me as wrong on many levels. And while I am very wary of saying precisely what Jesus would do and say in the 21st century, we do know what he did say and do in the first century. Jesus was drawn to those in the shadows of society – the outcast, the despised, those who were powerless, wounded, reviled, and the object of scorn. And Jesus himself was a dispenser of grace, the healer of broken lives, an agent of reconciliation.

I understand that is not all Jesus was. Nor do I have any interest in pitting moral rectitude against love and welcome or turning faith into a crude instrument to advance a political agenda. And there are countless things that can lay claim on our moral attention – from aiding homeless shelters and crisis pregnancy centers to those rescuing orphans and restoring them to families and communities, from preventing religious persecution overseas to aiding those suffering from AIDS and malaria in Africa. There are worthy organizations like Best Friends, a school based character education program for girls that begins in the sixth grade and continues until high school; and the International Justice Mission (IJM), a human rights agency that brings rescue to victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and other forms of violent oppression. And there are of course countless acts of decency and kindness that occur every day that are unpublicized and help those who are suffering and need encouragement.

Few of us do this as much as we should; our energies and interests are directed elsewhere, inward rather than outward, most often toward increasing our own comfort and wealth and station in life. My point is that if we were able to free ourselves from preconceptions that sometimes distort our vision; if we were to see things not through the prism of ideology but rather through the prism of mercy and compassion; if we would begin to love as we have been loved, we would find ourselves moved to act against all sorts of suffering and injustices we now overlook. When I’ve come across such individuals in my own life — they tend to be rare — they have shown me what lives touched by grace can be like.   

We shouldn’t kid ourselves; taking concrete steps to redress injustice is far better than simply speaking out about it. But speaking out about it is better than not, which is why what Messrs. Moore and Walker have done is commendable.

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Liberals Ignore Palestinian Human Rights

Today’s New York Times featured a prominent news piece titled “In West Bank Settlements, Israeli Jobs Are Double-Edged Sword.” It engages in a good dose of disingenuous hand-wringing over its claim that employment for Palestinians, when provided by Israelis, is less a blessing and more a curse. This piece, and the outrageous attitude it propagates, warrants a full response of its own. But reflecting on this subject that the Times apparently deems so worthy of giving space to, it is difficult not to think of another story released yesterday, one that didn’t find its way into the pages of the Times. This concerns the single-edged sword–all curse no blessing–of Palestinian human-rights abuses against other Palestinians.  

Not of any concern to the mainstream media, it was left to Arab-Israeli journalist Khaled Abu Toameh to draw attention to the release of a report by the Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR) documenting human-rights abuses in Gaza and the West Bank. It highlights how last month alone stacked up a disturbing, yet not unprecedented, count of abuses against Palestinians, by Palestinians. Given the great focus on Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to establish a Palestinian state, one might have thought that the Palestinian Authority’s record on governance would be of some considerable interest to commentators.

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Today’s New York Times featured a prominent news piece titled “In West Bank Settlements, Israeli Jobs Are Double-Edged Sword.” It engages in a good dose of disingenuous hand-wringing over its claim that employment for Palestinians, when provided by Israelis, is less a blessing and more a curse. This piece, and the outrageous attitude it propagates, warrants a full response of its own. But reflecting on this subject that the Times apparently deems so worthy of giving space to, it is difficult not to think of another story released yesterday, one that didn’t find its way into the pages of the Times. This concerns the single-edged sword–all curse no blessing–of Palestinian human-rights abuses against other Palestinians.  

Not of any concern to the mainstream media, it was left to Arab-Israeli journalist Khaled Abu Toameh to draw attention to the release of a report by the Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR) documenting human-rights abuses in Gaza and the West Bank. It highlights how last month alone stacked up a disturbing, yet not unprecedented, count of abuses against Palestinians, by Palestinians. Given the great focus on Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to establish a Palestinian state, one might have thought that the Palestinian Authority’s record on governance would be of some considerable interest to commentators.

Yet, the Times follows the script as provided in the good liberal’s handbook; human-rights abuses are only of any interest when committed by the West (which includes Israel). Far more interesting, from the liberal point of view, is attempting to spin economic cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians as oppression worthy of critical concern and lament. The notion that there might be any positive aspect to the Israeli presence in the West Bank is simply beyond unthinkable for liberal dogma.

In contrast to the employment opportunities that so offend the sensibilities of the Times, the latest ICHR report reveals a horrendous record, not only on the part of Hamas in Gaza, but also by the supposedly moderate Fatah-led Palestinian Authority that controls the West Bank and is the recipient of huge amounts of international aid. The report documents how in the course of the last month ten Palestinians died as a result of anarchy, lawlessness, and misuse of weapons, while disclosing that the ICHR received 56 complaints about torture and mistreatment in Palestinian prisons. During January there were 85 complaints regarding arbitrary arrests, with many being related to politically motivated charges. The PA police force in Ramallah employed excessive force to shut down protests on several occasions; in one instance 60-70 protesters were wounded when policemen attacked them with clubs and stun grenades, while in another case the police used live ammunition to disperse stone-throwers.

One has to hope that someone at the State Department is taking note of all of this. With Kerry having pushed impetuously for a negotiation framework that initially sought to reach an agreement on the establishment of a Palestinian state within just nine months, Kerry might want to ask precisely what kind of state it is he is attempting to help establish. Apparently, one with a total disregard for the rights and welfare of its own people. And if the PA is treating its own people in this way, what kind of treatment can we expect them to show toward their sworn enemies, the people of Israel? Nor should anyone forget that, given the amount of aid the U.S. provides the PA with annually, including some $500 million transferred to the Palestinians back in May, it’s not as if the administration has no leverage to try and prevent these kinds of activities.

It is, however, doubtful that anyone at the Times will pay much attention to this report, or the many others like it for that matter. They, apparently, are far too busy cataloguing the host of horrors that come with Palestinian employment in Israeli businesses to trouble themselves with such trifles as unlawful arrest and torture. 

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Christians Should Speak Out Against the Rising Persecution of Gays Overseas

The New York Times published a story on Nigeria, whose president, Goodluck Jonathan, signed a harsh law criminalizing homosexuality throughout the country last month. As a result, arrests of gay people have multiplied.

The Times story begins with a young man being whipped 20 times on the courtroom bench, leaving him covered with bruises. It goes on to say that the Nigerian president’s national ban “has redoubled the zeal against gay people here and elsewhere… Officials here in Bauchi say they want to root out, imprison and punish gays.” It goes on to report this:

Homosexuality is illegal in 38 of 54 African countries, according to Amnesty International, and carries the death penalty in Mauritania, Sudan and Somalia, as well as Shariah-governed northern Nigeria. Recently Uganda’s president declined to sign a bill that carried a life sentence for gays, though he called them sick. In Senegal, where the press regularly “outs” gays, same-sex relations carry a penalty of five years.

It seems to me that there’s an opportunity for Christians both overseas and in America to condemn what’s happening–to do so in a manner that is well-considered and effective and doesn’t bend when it comes to upholding the dignity and rights of the human person. Even if the appeals fall on deaf ears, calling attention to and criticizing injustice is a moral requirement.

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The New York Times published a story on Nigeria, whose president, Goodluck Jonathan, signed a harsh law criminalizing homosexuality throughout the country last month. As a result, arrests of gay people have multiplied.

The Times story begins with a young man being whipped 20 times on the courtroom bench, leaving him covered with bruises. It goes on to say that the Nigerian president’s national ban “has redoubled the zeal against gay people here and elsewhere… Officials here in Bauchi say they want to root out, imprison and punish gays.” It goes on to report this:

Homosexuality is illegal in 38 of 54 African countries, according to Amnesty International, and carries the death penalty in Mauritania, Sudan and Somalia, as well as Shariah-governed northern Nigeria. Recently Uganda’s president declined to sign a bill that carried a life sentence for gays, though he called them sick. In Senegal, where the press regularly “outs” gays, same-sex relations carry a penalty of five years.

It seems to me that there’s an opportunity for Christians both overseas and in America to condemn what’s happening–to do so in a manner that is well-considered and effective and doesn’t bend when it comes to upholding the dignity and rights of the human person. Even if the appeals fall on deaf ears, calling attention to and criticizing injustice is a moral requirement.

One need not endorse same-sex marriage to believe that the rising tide of anti-gay legislation in other parts of the world is quite troubling, that gays deserve to be defended against persecution, and that the Christian church is one institution that might have some power, at least in some nations and in some circumstances, to make a positive difference. 

Quite apart from the moral merits of this approach, think about the witness it would signal to the world if Christians spoke out in defense of gays in Nigeria and elsewhere and why they deserve protection against imprisonment and violence. 

It strikes me that this is an easy call, that it’s clearly the right and decent thing to do. There are plenty of wounded travelers on the roads of cities all across the globe. The Christian faith is best served when its adherents choose not to pass on the other side.

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Alkarama Doubles Down on Al-Qaeda

I have written several times, for example, here, here, here, and here, about the extensive relationship between the Alkarama Foundation, a self-professed human-rights organization, and Western human-rights organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. In addition, the State Department has incorporated some reporting from Alkarama into its annual country human-rights reports.

The reason for concern is that the U.S. Treasury Department has determined that the organization’s founding president Abdul Rahman Omeir al-Naimi also happens to be an al-Qaeda financier. Here is the indefatigable Eli Lake’s article which broke the story.

In the wake of the scandal, Naimi said he would resign, but it was a bait-and-switch: He tendered his resignation, but Alkarama’s board did not accept it. Naimi then resumed his position. Alkarama tweeted me to call attention to their subsequent statement, “The Arab world needs bridge building, not terrorist listing.” Alkarama’s statement concluded, “If the U.S. wants to address the root causes of terrorism, it should avoid destroying the bridges which have been built between communities or taking the side of those attacking the rare fora – such as this organization – where tolerance, mutual understanding and exchange are made possible.”

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I have written several times, for example, here, here, here, and here, about the extensive relationship between the Alkarama Foundation, a self-professed human-rights organization, and Western human-rights organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. In addition, the State Department has incorporated some reporting from Alkarama into its annual country human-rights reports.

The reason for concern is that the U.S. Treasury Department has determined that the organization’s founding president Abdul Rahman Omeir al-Naimi also happens to be an al-Qaeda financier. Here is the indefatigable Eli Lake’s article which broke the story.

In the wake of the scandal, Naimi said he would resign, but it was a bait-and-switch: He tendered his resignation, but Alkarama’s board did not accept it. Naimi then resumed his position. Alkarama tweeted me to call attention to their subsequent statement, “The Arab world needs bridge building, not terrorist listing.” Alkarama’s statement concluded, “If the U.S. wants to address the root causes of terrorism, it should avoid destroying the bridges which have been built between communities or taking the side of those attacking the rare fora – such as this organization – where tolerance, mutual understanding and exchange are made possible.”

Such words seem nice, but they reflect a greater phenomenon among many Islamist movements: While many in the United States and the West assume that greater interaction breeds tolerance, often among the most ideologically-committed Islamists exposure to the West brings not bridge-building, but rather a greater understanding about how to speak to Westerners and liberals. If people say the right thing, too often the Western NGO community and diplomats assume those people mean it. Actions matter more than words, however, which is why the terror designation is so disturbing. Neither Naimi nor Alkarama have moved to address the evidence behind the designation. Let us be clear: financing a group, in any way, shape, or form that is committed to the violent eradication of the region’s states and which commits the most heinous terror atrocities targeting civilians does not advance human rights; it mocks them.

It is time for Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the United States Department of State to divorce themselves completely of Alkarama, and to withdraw and amend any reports which incorporated directly or indirectly information supplied by Alkarama. The old adage, “Garbage in, Garbage out” holds true. To continue to incorporate Alkarama research into these reports undercuts the entire corpus of those reports.

The situation gets worse, however. Readers of COMMENTARY need no reminder about the ineffectiveness of the United Nations Human Rights Committee. Alkarama now seeks observer status at the Committee. To do so would be to effectively grant al-Qaeda’s lobbyist a seat at the table. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon may complain about the criticism the UN receives from Americans, Canadians, and others. But should he allow this to continue, he will do more damage to the UN and its human-rights committee than any secretary-general since the UN selected former Wehrmacht officer Kurt Waldheim to be secretary-general. Then again, for the UN, perhaps such decisions are now par for the course.

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Why Does HRW Support the Ummah Conference?

I have written here, here, and here about the implications upon Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International of the U.S. Treasury Department designation of the leader of Alkarama because of his financing of al-Qaeda. In short, Alkarama was less a human-rights organization than a radical political organization dedicated to the promotion of an extremist religious agenda. Given what has now emerged regarding its former partner, any responsible leadership at Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International should temporarily rescind, review and, if necessary, reissue any reports absent the input from its flawed and politicized partner.

Alas, rather than restore credibility to its report, HRW especially seems to be doubling down on jihadi organizations. It has actively advocated on behalf of the Ummah Conference, and has described the organization falsely as political activists who seek to advance peaceful political reform, democracy, and human rights. The Ummah Conference is nothing of the sort, and HRW should be the first to realize that.

This past autumn, HRW issued a report documenting crimes conducted by Islamist militias inside Syria, among whom is the Ahrar al-Sham. The HRW condemnation was somewhat ironic considering that Ahrar al-Sham receives support from and coordinates with the Ummah Conference. Muhammad al-Abduli, an Emirati leader of the Ummah Conference, fought alongside Ahrar al-Sham in Syria until early last year, when he was killed by a Syrian government sniper. To defend the Ummah Conference, however, HRW has relied upon the word of Alkarama, its partner whose president now appears to have been working on behalf of al-Qaeda.

Back to HRW’s laundering of Ummah Council figures and activities:

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I have written here, here, and here about the implications upon Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International of the U.S. Treasury Department designation of the leader of Alkarama because of his financing of al-Qaeda. In short, Alkarama was less a human-rights organization than a radical political organization dedicated to the promotion of an extremist religious agenda. Given what has now emerged regarding its former partner, any responsible leadership at Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International should temporarily rescind, review and, if necessary, reissue any reports absent the input from its flawed and politicized partner.

Alas, rather than restore credibility to its report, HRW especially seems to be doubling down on jihadi organizations. It has actively advocated on behalf of the Ummah Conference, and has described the organization falsely as political activists who seek to advance peaceful political reform, democracy, and human rights. The Ummah Conference is nothing of the sort, and HRW should be the first to realize that.

This past autumn, HRW issued a report documenting crimes conducted by Islamist militias inside Syria, among whom is the Ahrar al-Sham. The HRW condemnation was somewhat ironic considering that Ahrar al-Sham receives support from and coordinates with the Ummah Conference. Muhammad al-Abduli, an Emirati leader of the Ummah Conference, fought alongside Ahrar al-Sham in Syria until early last year, when he was killed by a Syrian government sniper. To defend the Ummah Conference, however, HRW has relied upon the word of Alkarama, its partner whose president now appears to have been working on behalf of al-Qaeda.

Back to HRW’s laundering of Ummah Council figures and activities:

In its 2009 report, HRW accused the United Arab Emirates of singling out Ummah Conference leader Hassan al-Diqqi and suggested that Diqqi’s detention was an example of a “human rights defender and government critic fac[ing] harassment, including criminal charges.” What the report omitted, however, was Diqqi’s repeated calls for violent jihad. Certainly, photos of Diqqi with the al-Qaeda-sympathizing Ummah Brigade in Syria do not depict a man committed to nonviolence or democracy, nor did the fact that he had established a training camp for Syrian jihadist fighters. Human Rights Watch also omitted the fact that Diqqi had authored a book advocating for violent jihad in 2002.

Then, in a 2011 report, HRW targeted Saudi authorities for arresting Saudi-based Ummah Party leaders. HRW described them as “political activists.” Perhaps they are political activists, if advocacy for al-Qaeda and support for its affiliates in Syria will, as HRW describes Saudi Arabia’s Ummah Party’s mission, serve the “promotion of human rights, including free speech the right to peacefully protest, and promotion of women and civil society….”

It’s not surprising that Alkarama would advocate so fiercely for the Ummah Conference, and falsely attest to that group’s moderation to Alkarama’s partners in Human Rights Watch. Alkarama was founded by five like-minded individuals: Designated terror financier Abd al-Rahman Omar al-Nuaimi and Khalifa Muhammad Raban who, like Nuaimi, is a Qatari citizen, and three leaders from Algeria’s Ummah Conference affiliate. Indeed, Mourad Dhina, one of the Algerian Alkarama founders and Ummah Conference members, was the supervisor of the executive office of Algeria’s Islamic Salvation Front from 2002-2004. Readers should remember the Islamic Salvation Front as the front group for the Armed Islamic Group, one side of the Algerian civil war that engaged in gross violations of human rights and committed atrocities in the conflict that claimed perhaps 100,000 lives.

As a private organization, HRW can ultimately do what it wants, even if it loses credibility by corrupting human-rights reporting by enabling radical partners to inject political agendas into their reports, effectively rendering them into tools of propaganda rather than human-rights advocacy.

So too can the United Nations Human Rights Council, an organization which has made a mockery of its own mission, which in 2009 adopted an opinion against the United Arab Emirates for its arrest of al-Diqqi. (In 2010, Alkarama took credit for the UN opinion, showing how conscious their efforts are to use human-rights organizations to launder their own jihadist agenda.)

The problem is that many in the State Department, unaware or too lazy to read Human Rights Watch reports with a critical eye, effectively parrot the language inserted by Alkarama and other radical partners into annual State Department human-rights reports. Rather than get out of the embassy and investigate human rights on their own, U.S. diplomats charged with writing the Saudi chapter on human rights simply took HRW’s word for it when it came to the crackdown on Ummah Party leaders. In its 2012 human rights report, for example, the State Department wrote, “According to a Human Rights Watch citation of the request, they appeared to have been detained solely for trying to create a party whose professed aims included ‘supporting the peaceful reform movement.’” Make no mistake: Saudi Arabia can be guilty of tremendous human-rights abuses, but that does not mean those who are radical even by Saudi standards are any better. Often, they can be far worse.

Given Human Rights Watch’s rampant politicization across the Middle East from Morocco and the Western Sahara to the United Arab Emirates, perhaps it is time to mandate that the State Department cannot utilize any HRW findings or data until HRW restores its quality control and excises agenda politics from its reporting.

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Why Do Human Rights Groups Punish Access?

Human-rights groups are an important component of civil society, even if the best-known groups—Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International, Human Rights First, and various United Nations offshoots—corrupt their mission by conflating human rights with politics.

As corrosive a trend among human-rights organizations is their punishment of access. Simply put, the more open a society is to its critics, and the more access it grants outside observers, however tendentious they might be, the more human-rights organizations condemn them relative to societies which engage in large-scale abuse but slam the door to outside observers.

Much has been written about the disproportionate opprobrium reserved for Israel. Back in 2011, Alana Goodman observed:

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Human-rights groups are an important component of civil society, even if the best-known groups—Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International, Human Rights First, and various United Nations offshoots—corrupt their mission by conflating human rights with politics.

As corrosive a trend among human-rights organizations is their punishment of access. Simply put, the more open a society is to its critics, and the more access it grants outside observers, however tendentious they might be, the more human-rights organizations condemn them relative to societies which engage in large-scale abuse but slam the door to outside observers.

Much has been written about the disproportionate opprobrium reserved for Israel. Back in 2011, Alana Goodman observed:

In 2010, HRW published 51 documents on “Israel and the Occupied Territories,” more than on any other country in the Middle East. Compare that to the organization’s research on some of the most notorious human rights abusers — it published only 44 documents on Iran, 34 on Egypt, and 33 on Saudi Arabia.

Not much has changed. So far in 2013, HRW has issued 14 press releases condemning Israel for various policies or abuses, and six press releases condemning the Palestinian Authority or Hamas leadership in Gaza. All five commentaries HRW published bashed Israel, or called on other countries to take a harsher line toward the Jewish state.

Compare that with Jordan (nine press releases, and four commentaries, three of which called for more acceptance of Syrian refugees); Lebanon (nine press releases and two commentaries, both of which focused on Syrian refugees); or Qatar (two press releases and five commentaries). True, there was more focus on Egypt and Syria this past year, but comparing countries with coups and civil wars to the region’s only democracy underscores the point. So too does the fact that criticism of Saudi Arabia has increased as that kingdom has granted human-rights groups more access.

Israel is not the only country penalized by the access it grants outsiders. King Muhammad VI has steadily liberalized Morocco since taking the throne in 1999 after the death of his father, King Hassan II. Since that time, HRW has issued four reports critical of Algerian human-rights abuses (and a fifth critical of Algerian cooperation with the United States), while it has issued three times that number criticizing Morocco. Make no mistake: Algeria has a far worse human-rights record, with a downward trajectory while Morocco has acknowledged past abuses and worked—quite successfully in most cases—to overcome them.

Nor is it just the Middle East where this pattern exists. In the past five years, HRW has issued four reports about Colombia where human rights have steadily improved, but only two about Venezuela, where Venezuela’s socialist leaders have pushed human rights into the gutter. Likewise, over the past five years, HRW has issued one report about Belarus but five about Georgia.

The U.S. State Department is guilty of the same pattern when it writes its annual human-rights reports. Here, there is no better example than the discrepancy in how the State Department treats Morocco, a loyal and increasingly progressive U.S. ally, and the Polisario Front, an autocratic Cold War throwback which imprisons not only Sahrawi tribal members in refugee camps in the Western province of Tindouf, but also Mauritanians and Algerians it has captured in order to swell refugee numbers. The Algerian government and Polisario both have a policy of refusing to allow residents to return home to Morocco, which has welcomed anyone who wants to come (there are very limited family visits, but usually Polisario holds family members hostage to ensure that men and women return to their spouses and children rather than remain in Morocco). While historically, the U.S. Embassy in Rabat handled the Polisario camps, in recent years the U.S. Embassy in Algiers has taken over the responsibility. Herein lays the problem: The U.S. Embassy in Algiers is either unable to visit the camps, or unwilling to antagonize the Algerian government with which it must work for fear of making an issue of the camps. The end result is that the State Department annual human-rights report is hypercritical of Morocco, effectively punishing it for its openness, while giving the Polisario Front effectively a clean pass by omission.

That the lesson governments might take from the practices of both human-rights organizations and the State Department is that the way to a clean bill of health is to restrict access is unfortunate. Human-rights officials might enjoy hanging out more in Casablanca, Rabat, Tel Aviv, Tbilisi, and Bogota rather than spending their time being harassed by police and security services in Minsk, Gaza, Caracas, Algiers or Tindouf, but they are doing themselves and their organizations a disservice by taking the easy way out. Fortunately, countries like Israel, Morocco, Colombia, and Georgia seem committed to doing the right thing regardless of how their critics treat them. Still, that the pattern of punishing access exists is undeniable and should provide pause for the human-rights organizations, for the existence of such a pattern corrupts the end result and gives countries reason to dismiss all reporting as arbitrary and not based on set standards.

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It’s Time to Close the Camps

The last quarter century has been a time of great change across the globe, much of which has been for the better. The number of electoral democracies has grown from 69 in 1989 to 118 today. Despite Russia’s resurgence, the instability wrought by the Arab Spring, and the dangers posed by rogue regimes, the world remains far freer now than at any point in history.

How tragic it is, then, that so many tens of thousands remain effectively imprisoned in political concentration camps. North Korea, of course, is the world’s worst violator. According to the Guardian, the left’s flagship paper, up to 200,000 North Koreans remain imprisoned. CNN has detailed some of the ongoing horror in the six camps, and any report from the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea is worth reading. The Hermit Kingdom is not alone, though.

For decades, China has also maintained a series of “re-education through labor” [laojiao] camps. And while the Chinese government has recently promised to dismantle its network, actions ultimately speak louder than words.

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The last quarter century has been a time of great change across the globe, much of which has been for the better. The number of electoral democracies has grown from 69 in 1989 to 118 today. Despite Russia’s resurgence, the instability wrought by the Arab Spring, and the dangers posed by rogue regimes, the world remains far freer now than at any point in history.

How tragic it is, then, that so many tens of thousands remain effectively imprisoned in political concentration camps. North Korea, of course, is the world’s worst violator. According to the Guardian, the left’s flagship paper, up to 200,000 North Koreans remain imprisoned. CNN has detailed some of the ongoing horror in the six camps, and any report from the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea is worth reading. The Hermit Kingdom is not alone, though.

For decades, China has also maintained a series of “re-education through labor” [laojiao] camps. And while the Chinese government has recently promised to dismantle its network, actions ultimately speak louder than words.

The United States might have little leverage over China and North Korea, but low-hanging fruit which could be resolved with American diplomatic pressure does exist. The Mujahedin al-Khalq (MKO) is correct to castigate those who believe that the Iranian government or its militia proxies should enjoy an open season on group members. Opposing massacres is not synonymous with support for the group, however; it may no longer be a U.S.-designated terror group, but remains just as much an authoritarian cult. And while MKO spokesmen may castigate the Iraqi government and the Iranian regime, the real victims of the MKO lay within the group itself. Camp Liberty—the successor to Camp Ashraf—exists as much if not more to keep MKO members insulated from the real world and under the control of MKO leader Maryam Rajavi’s commissars than as a means of protection for group members.

Other camps exist in the Tindouf province of southwestern Algeria. Here, perhaps 40,000 residents of southern Morocco, Algeria, western Mali, and northern Mauritania languish in camps controlled by the once-Marxist Polisario Front, largely kept from returning home by the group’s political commissars and the Algerian government. During a recent visit to Dakhla, in Western Sahara, I had the opportunity to speak to former members who described not only their own escape from the camps, but the attempts by others who were forcibly returned to the camps, where Polisario authorities punished them for the audacity of seeking to return home rather than languish in camps 22 years after the war between Morocco and Algeria ended. Simply put, Polisario realizes that if the camps close, the gravy train of international assistance would end and the Polisario would lose its raison d’être.

The Polisario is not the only Cold War remnant stubbornly holding hostages. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia also engages in the practice, holding some prisoners for more than a decade. While some journalists parachute in and whitewash just what happens in FARC camps, it is hard to see “cultural programming” as anything other than an attempt at ideological re-education.

The Obama administration came into office seemingly committed to prioritizing human rights, never mind the debates about how best to guarantee rights, freedom, and liberty. The State Department became a revolving door not only for journalists, but for human-rights advocates, most notably Human Rights Watch’s Tom Malinowski and writer Samantha Power. Increasingly, however, it seems such figures are either window dressing for an administration so disinterested in human rights that it is willing to sanction political concentration and re-education camps or, worse yet, that these figures are so permeated by moral equivalency and skewed in their understanding of what universal human rights are that they are willing to normalize with the regimes, sponsors, and groups which engage in such practices.

Concentration camps and slavery (discussed in a previous post) are two phenomena that simply should not exist in the 21st century. That they do is a sad testament to the reality of regimes like North Korea’s, China’s, Algeria’s, Venezuela’s, and Cuba’s, and the choices which successive U.S. administrations–both Democrat and Republican–have made to not let such issues be stumbling blocks to engaging with the United States on other issues.

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A Call for Freedom in South Africa

President Obama has not always embraced the notion that he is the leader of the free world. Far too often, he has preferred to pose as a figure of the post-American era. He has been quick to apologize for America’s flaws and too besotted with multilateralism and multiculturalism to assert that the model of American liberty is right for the rest of the world. Nor has he been a consistent or even a particularly assertive advocate for human rights. Indeed, his predecessor’s freedom agenda, a sometimes flawed but still deeply principled effort to expand the reach of democracy and to topple tyrants, was something he often consciously rejected. He stood largely mute when protesters took to the streets in Tehran and seemed only excited by the rise to power of Islamist movements during the Arab Spring, a development that was no victory for freedom.

But today during his eulogy in South Africa for the late Nelson Mandela, the president did seize this unique moment to draw the world’s attention to that same freedom agenda that he has often spurned. Mixed in with amorphous calls for peace and the need to deal with inequality, he said this:

There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people. And there are too many of us who stand on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard.

While Obama must be considered as someone who has largely stood on the sidelines in the manner that he described, it was important for someone at the funeral to call attention, even indirectly, to the fact that the vast majority of African countries fit his description.

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President Obama has not always embraced the notion that he is the leader of the free world. Far too often, he has preferred to pose as a figure of the post-American era. He has been quick to apologize for America’s flaws and too besotted with multilateralism and multiculturalism to assert that the model of American liberty is right for the rest of the world. Nor has he been a consistent or even a particularly assertive advocate for human rights. Indeed, his predecessor’s freedom agenda, a sometimes flawed but still deeply principled effort to expand the reach of democracy and to topple tyrants, was something he often consciously rejected. He stood largely mute when protesters took to the streets in Tehran and seemed only excited by the rise to power of Islamist movements during the Arab Spring, a development that was no victory for freedom.

But today during his eulogy in South Africa for the late Nelson Mandela, the president did seize this unique moment to draw the world’s attention to that same freedom agenda that he has often spurned. Mixed in with amorphous calls for peace and the need to deal with inequality, he said this:

There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people. And there are too many of us who stand on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard.

While Obama must be considered as someone who has largely stood on the sidelines in the manner that he described, it was important for someone at the funeral to call attention, even indirectly, to the fact that the vast majority of African countries fit his description.

Nelson Mandela was, as both Max Boot and I wrote last week, one of the pivotal historical figures of the last century. His embrace of racial reconciliation and peace was crucial to his country’s future and set an example for the world. But one of the flaws in this truly great man’s public persona was his inability to discard the alliances he made during his struggle for freedom with despotic regimes. Mandela’s alliances with the Soviet Union, Communist Cuba, and terrorists like Yasir Arafat were marriages of convenience forced on him due to the fact that the Cold War left him without significant Western friends. But as Seth Lipsky wrote yesterday in Haaretz, the Soviets were no friends of freedom even when they were backing Mandela and his African National Congress. Unfortunately, though Mandela embraced democracies in power and sought to make his own country free, he was unwilling to drop these unsavory friends once in power. Thus, despotic regimes, like that of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, never lost South Africa’s support.

President Obama’s eloquent praise of Nelson Mandela largely did him and the United States credit. But he needs to take his own advice about speaking out against tyranny. If convention called for him to shake the hand of Cuban dictator Raul Castro at the funeral, he shouldn’t lose the opportunity to call for freedom in Cuba or to demand the release of Alan Gross, an American aid worker who remains imprisoned there. It is a shame that he did not do so. It should be remembered that while Mandela chose peace, he did not accept the continuation of tyranny; he ended it. When President Obama embraces détente with the tyrannical government of Iran and puts the issues of human rights and terrorism on the back burner, he gives the lie to his praise of Mandela. If, instead of seeking to empower rogue regimes, the president were to dedicate the foreign policy of his second term to a renewed freedom agenda, he would do much to burnish his own legacy as well as doing honor to the man he claims as his hero.

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Obama’s Iran Deal Left Pastor Behind

While the debate about the nuclear deal with Iran centered on the way it legitimized Iran’s nuclear program, some Americans were devastated by another element of the administration’s rush to create a new détente with the ayatollahs. The family of Pastor Saeed Abedini, an Iranian-born American citizen who has been imprisoned by the Islamist regime for religious activities, was shocked that Secretary of State John Kerry signed onto the accord without also securing Abedini’s release. As CNN reported last week, the 33-year-old pastor is in ill heath in a dangerous prison. Given that President Obama let it be known that he had mentioned the fate of the American jailed for his Christian faith in a phone call with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, it was thought that any deal with Tehran, especially one whose terms were so favorable to the regime, would also include Abedini’s freedom. But ten days after Kerry’s “mission accomplished” moment in Geneva, there is no indication that the Iranians have any intention of releasing Abedini.

But as bad as that makes the administration appear, an item first reported by Britain’s Daily Mail over the weekend makes the president’s decision to leave Abedini behind in his zeal for an Iranian deal look even worse. It turns out that the Mojtaba Atarodi, an Iranian scientist who was arrested in the U.S. back in 2011 for his work in trying to purchase equipment for the regime’s nuclear program, was set free in April of this year as part of the price paid by the U.S. for the start of the secret back-channel talks that led to the recent agreement. Along with three other Iranians involved in similar activity, Atarodi was sprung. According to the Daily Mail, in return President Obama got the negotiations he wanted as well as the release of two lost American hikers who were imprisoned when they strayed over the country’s border. But three Americans, including Abedini and retired FBI agent Robert Levinson and former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, remain in Iranian custody (Levinson disappeared in Iran and is unaccounted for). If the president has chosen to ignore the plight of these Americans who have been wrongfully imprisoned by a tyrannical regime and left them to rot in Iranian jails, then the U.S. embrace of Iran is even more disgraceful than even its most strident critics had thought.

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While the debate about the nuclear deal with Iran centered on the way it legitimized Iran’s nuclear program, some Americans were devastated by another element of the administration’s rush to create a new détente with the ayatollahs. The family of Pastor Saeed Abedini, an Iranian-born American citizen who has been imprisoned by the Islamist regime for religious activities, was shocked that Secretary of State John Kerry signed onto the accord without also securing Abedini’s release. As CNN reported last week, the 33-year-old pastor is in ill heath in a dangerous prison. Given that President Obama let it be known that he had mentioned the fate of the American jailed for his Christian faith in a phone call with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, it was thought that any deal with Tehran, especially one whose terms were so favorable to the regime, would also include Abedini’s freedom. But ten days after Kerry’s “mission accomplished” moment in Geneva, there is no indication that the Iranians have any intention of releasing Abedini.

But as bad as that makes the administration appear, an item first reported by Britain’s Daily Mail over the weekend makes the president’s decision to leave Abedini behind in his zeal for an Iranian deal look even worse. It turns out that the Mojtaba Atarodi, an Iranian scientist who was arrested in the U.S. back in 2011 for his work in trying to purchase equipment for the regime’s nuclear program, was set free in April of this year as part of the price paid by the U.S. for the start of the secret back-channel talks that led to the recent agreement. Along with three other Iranians involved in similar activity, Atarodi was sprung. According to the Daily Mail, in return President Obama got the negotiations he wanted as well as the release of two lost American hikers who were imprisoned when they strayed over the country’s border. But three Americans, including Abedini and retired FBI agent Robert Levinson and former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, remain in Iranian custody (Levinson disappeared in Iran and is unaccounted for). If the president has chosen to ignore the plight of these Americans who have been wrongfully imprisoned by a tyrannical regime and left them to rot in Iranian jails, then the U.S. embrace of Iran is even more disgraceful than even its most strident critics had thought.

It is possible that the three Americans will yet be ransomed by the administration as part of the follow-up negotiations that are supposed to come after the current agreement’s six-month period expires. There’s also the chance that Iran’s supposed moderates will reward the president for his appeasement of the regime by making a gift of these prisoners, perhaps before Christmas.

But no one who cares about their fate, or indeed about the lamentable state of human rights in Iran, could have taken much comfort from the answer given last week by National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden when asked why Abedini’s freedom had not been part of the deal. She dismissed the appeal by saying the talks in Geneva had “focused exclusively on nuclear issues.”

In other words, even though the president had already made a personal appeal for their release, by the time Kerry and chief U.S. negotiator Wendy Sherman sat down to dicker with the Iranians, there had already been a conscious decision made to abandon the effort to free the Americans.

Was it too much to ask that Abedini and the other imprisoned Americans be let loose before any sanctions relief was delivered to the Iranians? Apparently it was for Obama and his team, who handed over billions in frozen assets to the ayatollahs in exchange for promises but not a single prisoner. Though the impact of economic sanctions and the threat of the use of force that supposedly President Obama has not taken off the table should have given the U.S. leverage to get at least these Americans home, if not a better deal, in his zeal for an agreement at any price, the president left them behind.

Given the way President Obama first ignored and then downplayed Tehran’s crushing of dissident protests back in the summer of 2009, he has already demonstrated that human-rights issues simply aren’t on his agenda in talks with Iran. The human tragedy of the three imprisoned Americans as well as the countless Iranians who suffer at the hands of this despotic Islamist regime doesn’t appear to matter much to him when compared to his obvious desire for better relations with their jailers. The lives of Saeed Abedini and the others in Iranian jails may not seem so important to those who foster delusions about détente with Iran. But if they die in Iranian prisons, their fate should lie heavily on the conscience of this president and all who serve him.

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Iran’s Imprisoned Ayatollah Suffers Heart Attack

In July, I reported on the grave situation of Hossein Bourojerdi, one of Iran’s most courageous dissidents. Bourojerdi, who carries the honorific Shia Muslim title of “ayatollah,” is a veteran opponent of Iran’s ruling system of velayat e faqih, whereby Islamic jurists exercise total control over society and its institutions.

Bourojerdi was first incarcerated in 2006. At the time, hundreds of the ayatollah’s supporters valiantly attemped to stop him from being dragged out of his south Tehran home by the police. Since then, reports of Bourojerdi’s failing health have regularly surfaced. Now, Iranian human-rights activists have passed on the news that Bourojerdi, who is languishing in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison, began experiencing heart failure last Sunday.

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In July, I reported on the grave situation of Hossein Bourojerdi, one of Iran’s most courageous dissidents. Bourojerdi, who carries the honorific Shia Muslim title of “ayatollah,” is a veteran opponent of Iran’s ruling system of velayat e faqih, whereby Islamic jurists exercise total control over society and its institutions.

Bourojerdi was first incarcerated in 2006. At the time, hundreds of the ayatollah’s supporters valiantly attemped to stop him from being dragged out of his south Tehran home by the police. Since then, reports of Bourojerdi’s failing health have regularly surfaced. Now, Iranian human-rights activists have passed on the news that Bourojerdi, who is languishing in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison, began experiencing heart failure last Sunday.

Only after Bourojerdi coped with extreme pain and shortness of breath for a full day did the Evin guards finally escort him from his cell for what passes for medical attention, by which point the ayatollah had undergone a heart attack. “Not only was he not given any medication while at the infirmary,” noted the latest bulletin on Bourojerdi’s plight, “the prison authorities continued to refuse his family’s delivery of medication that he had been prescribed before.”

A few days before his heart attack, Bourojerdi sent a thunderous appeal to the United Nations General Assembly urging the international body to once and for all confront the issue of human-rights abuse by the Iranian regime:

I sit here, at the start of my eighth year of captivity; jailed by a religious dictatorship and charged with defending the freedom of thought, speech and expression and refusing to align with tyrants who forcibly lord over Iran… Has the time not come for your assembly to demand that these brutal totalitarians respond to how they dare to speak of Bahrain, Syria and Palestine, under the guise of sympathy, when they have plundered and stolen the wealth and national income of every Iranian, rendering them impoverished and putting them in the ultimate financial and economic crisis?

That time, of course, has not come. Bourojerdi’s missive passed unnoticed amidst all the cooing over the charm offensive launched by Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s new and–as we are endlessly informed–”moderate” president. While President Obama did, in his phone call with Rouhani, raise the continuing imprisonment of Saeed Abedini, a Christian pastor with American citizenship who has also been detained in Evin for the last year, the suffering of a Muslim cleric who has tirelessly advocated for the separation of mosque and state was deemed unworthy of even a mention.

But Bourojerdi’s case may yet receive the attention it warrants from an unexpected source. Ahmad Shaheed, the former foreign minister of the Maldives who presently serves as the UN’s “Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” has won plaudits from Iranian democracy activists for his forthright reports on the mullah’s human-rights abuses. Shaheed is certainly aware of Bourojerdi’s situation, having received a letter from supporters and family members of the ayatollah in 2011, in which they asserted that an “illegal ban” on prison visits was designed to compel Bourojerdi to confess to fabricated crimes.

In his most recent report, Shaheed carefully traced the regime’s repression of religious minorities, citing the predicament of Christians and Bahais who are especially vulnerable to legal charges of heresy and apostasy. Significantly, Shaheed concluded that:

There has been an apparent increase in the degree of seriousness of human rights violations in the Islamic Republic of Iran…alarming reports of retributive State action against individuals suspected of communicating with UN Special Procedures raises serious concern about the Government’s resolve to promote respect for human rights in the country (my emphasis.)

In other words, as well as refusing cooperation with UN nuclear inspectors, the regime is also criminalizing those who talk to the international body’s human-rights investigators. So far, Rouhani has given no indication that he will curb this intimidation. Indeed, his appointment of a hardliner with strong ties to Iran’s security apparatus, Mostafa Pourmohammadi, as the country’s minister of justice, does not bode well for Ayatollah Boroujerdi or any of the other activists that have run afoul of the Tehran regime.

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What China Fears

The battle between “idealism” and “Realpolitik” in the making of foreign policy is vividly on display now with regard to Egypt: “Idealists” (aka “neocons”) generally favor cutting off aid to the military regime which is slaughtering its own people in the streets; “Realpolitikers” generally advocate holding our noses and backing the generals as a better alternative to the Muslim Brotherhood. My purpose here is not to engage in the debate about Egypt per se (I will do that separately), but simply to point out that, although the U.S. cannot afford to stick to its ideals in each and every foreign-policy crisis (compromises do sometimes have to be made in the real world), when we deviate too far from our principles we lose what is arguably the most powerful weapon in our arsenal.

Evidence of this proposition comes, in a back-handed tribute, from none other than the reigning Communist emperor of China, Xi Jinping. His minions have just issued a memo, known in proper Orwellian fashion as Document No. 9, that warns Communist apparatchiks about the biggest threat to their rule. No, it does not come from the US 7th Fleet, from the American nuclear arsenal, or any other manifestation of American hard power in which Realpolitikers typically repose all of their faith.

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The battle between “idealism” and “Realpolitik” in the making of foreign policy is vividly on display now with regard to Egypt: “Idealists” (aka “neocons”) generally favor cutting off aid to the military regime which is slaughtering its own people in the streets; “Realpolitikers” generally advocate holding our noses and backing the generals as a better alternative to the Muslim Brotherhood. My purpose here is not to engage in the debate about Egypt per se (I will do that separately), but simply to point out that, although the U.S. cannot afford to stick to its ideals in each and every foreign-policy crisis (compromises do sometimes have to be made in the real world), when we deviate too far from our principles we lose what is arguably the most powerful weapon in our arsenal.

Evidence of this proposition comes, in a back-handed tribute, from none other than the reigning Communist emperor of China, Xi Jinping. His minions have just issued a memo, known in proper Orwellian fashion as Document No. 9, that warns Communist apparatchiks about the biggest threat to their rule. No, it does not come from the US 7th Fleet, from the American nuclear arsenal, or any other manifestation of American hard power in which Realpolitikers typically repose all of their faith.

Rather the peril that Xi warns about comes from seven subversive ideas starting with “Western constitutional democracy.” The others on the list include “promoting ‘universal values’ of human rights, Western-inspired notions of media independence and civic participation, ardently pro-market ‘neo-liberalism,’ and ‘nihilist’ criticisms of the party’s traumatic past.”

The New York Times reporter Chris Buckley, who obtained a copy of the document, writes that it warns cadres, “Western forces hostile to China and dissidents within the country are still constantly infiltrating the ideological sphere.” One Communist propagandist, implementing the document’s advice, told mining officials that “promotion of Western constitutional democracy is an attempt to negate the party’s leadership.”

The Communists are right—the Western ideals embodied, above all, in the Declaration of Independence are a big threat to the rule of anti-American dictators, whether in China or in other countries. Which is the best argument I have ever heard for why the U.S. should be doing more to promote those very ideals. Promoting democracy can be messy in the short-run and isn’t always possible in every circumstance but, in general, it is the best long-term bet for promoting American interests. In the case of China in particular, the U.S. should not be focusing simply on narrow economic or security concerns; instead it should be doing more to spread behind the Bamboo Curtain the subversive ideas which the Communist bosses fear so much.

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Putin’s Reminder: Politics Trumps Sports

The anger over Russia’s law banning pro-gay “propaganda” is growing as more athletes and fans have expressed their outrage about the prospect of the authoritarian government using next year’s Winter Olympics as a platform to sanitize Vladimir Putin’s regime. While there doesn’t appear to be much support for a boycott of the Sochi games, there’s little question that many athletes and a lot of the media in attendance will be looking to push the envelope on this prohibition and to embarrass their tyrannical hosts as much as they can, as today’s New York Times report on the latest twist in the controversy shows. In that effort, I wish them luck. More than that, I’m glad that by offending an extremely influential group within Western culture and the media, the Russians have reminded us of a truth that is often submerged amid all the hype that is showered onto international sporting events: politics should trump sports.

My only question is why this lesson was ignored when virtually no one paid attention to China’s egregious and massive human rights abuses during the 2008 Summer Olympics? And why didn’t anyone in the soccer universe (the world’s most popular sport) scream bloody murder when Qatar, which like other Gulf states is actually far more repressive than Putin’s Russia, was awarded the 2022 World Cup?

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The anger over Russia’s law banning pro-gay “propaganda” is growing as more athletes and fans have expressed their outrage about the prospect of the authoritarian government using next year’s Winter Olympics as a platform to sanitize Vladimir Putin’s regime. While there doesn’t appear to be much support for a boycott of the Sochi games, there’s little question that many athletes and a lot of the media in attendance will be looking to push the envelope on this prohibition and to embarrass their tyrannical hosts as much as they can, as today’s New York Times report on the latest twist in the controversy shows. In that effort, I wish them luck. More than that, I’m glad that by offending an extremely influential group within Western culture and the media, the Russians have reminded us of a truth that is often submerged amid all the hype that is showered onto international sporting events: politics should trump sports.

My only question is why this lesson was ignored when virtually no one paid attention to China’s egregious and massive human rights abuses during the 2008 Summer Olympics? And why didn’t anyone in the soccer universe (the world’s most popular sport) scream bloody murder when Qatar, which like other Gulf states is actually far more repressive than Putin’s Russia, was awarded the 2022 World Cup?

I love sports, but prefer the kind that doesn’t mix up nationalism with games. But most Americans, like sports fans everywhere, like our televised sports and we don’t like inconvenient human rights causes interfering with the fun. So perhaps many of us sympathized with Russian gold medal-winning pole-vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva’s plea that “politics” not interfere with the pageantry and the competition at Sochi. But in fact, the willingness of gays to speak up and not be put off by the desire of those who profit from sports to insulate their business from political consideration should set an example that should not be limited to Sochi.

The fact is international sports competitions are political almost by definition. The Olympics in particular are often used as PR photo ops for the host governments because the nationalism and the flag waving will always be used by regimes that wish to be viewed in a more positive light. The 1936 Berlin Olympics is the classic example. While we in the United States tend to only remember it for Jesse Owens’s triumph that disproved the Nazi theories about Aryan superiority, those games were actually an even bigger triumph for Adolf Hitler. The prestige and power of his government was enhanced by the world coming to his capital. It was one of many factors that led him to believe that the world would accept anything he did to groups he despised, like Jews, without causing much trouble–and he was right about that. That was also true 72 years later when the Chinese proved that you could be the world’s biggest human rights offender and hear hardly a peep of protest from the West when they ran their Olympics extravaganza in 2008.

Thus, I think the prospect of gay protesters disrupting the Games is an encouraging development. Rather than be sidelined by the impulse to not let such causes interfere with the bread and circuses, activists should do everything possible to promote their cause.

Governments that engage in massive human rights abuses should not be, as they have been many times in the past, allowed to use sports to burnish their image. But it shouldn’t stop there. The same activists and others should be prepared to do the same in the Gulf states that discriminate against Jews as well as gays when the soccer jamboree is held there in 2022, an event that will garner even more viewers. If not, we have a right to ask why.

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Samantha Power’s First Test

Samantha Power, the journalist and political activist whom President Obama nominated to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has yet to have her confirmation hearing. Power—with whom I went to college and who lived in the same dorm—grew to fame for her work in Bosnia, where she worked as a stringer and then penned a book on genocide. A committed internationalist, Power has promoted an expansive interpretation of United Nations legitimacy and international law, especially humanitarian law.

Fortunately, the United Nations now provides Power with her first test, one about which senators should question her in detail. Both Syria and Iran—two of the world’s human rights violators—are running for seats on the UN Human Rights Council. The Council—like much of the United Nations—has become a mockery of its declared principles, values to which Power claims to adhere. Given her professed commitment to human rights and her respect for the United Nations, it would be useful to hear how Power reacts: Condemnation of Syria and Iran might come easy. It’s one thing to pay lip service to condemnations of Third World dictatorships, but it’s another thing to do so at the expense of an institution which she places on a pedestal. Perhaps senators might ask Power how the United States could legitimize in any way–including by participation–in an organization whose achievements have more to do with whitewashing dictatorships than advancing human rights.

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Samantha Power, the journalist and political activist whom President Obama nominated to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has yet to have her confirmation hearing. Power—with whom I went to college and who lived in the same dorm—grew to fame for her work in Bosnia, where she worked as a stringer and then penned a book on genocide. A committed internationalist, Power has promoted an expansive interpretation of United Nations legitimacy and international law, especially humanitarian law.

Fortunately, the United Nations now provides Power with her first test, one about which senators should question her in detail. Both Syria and Iran—two of the world’s human rights violators—are running for seats on the UN Human Rights Council. The Council—like much of the United Nations—has become a mockery of its declared principles, values to which Power claims to adhere. Given her professed commitment to human rights and her respect for the United Nations, it would be useful to hear how Power reacts: Condemnation of Syria and Iran might come easy. It’s one thing to pay lip service to condemnations of Third World dictatorships, but it’s another thing to do so at the expense of an institution which she places on a pedestal. Perhaps senators might ask Power how the United States could legitimize in any way–including by participation–in an organization whose achievements have more to do with whitewashing dictatorships than advancing human rights.

When questions of morality arise, UN officials often hide behind procedure. Perhaps it is worthwhile asking Power what damage such traditions and procedures have inflicted on the United Nations, and both how and whether she will seek to reverse them. Not only UN effectiveness, but also American interests are at stake. If Power is not able to compel the UN to reform its myriad organizations, senators might ask whether Power would advocate diminishing funding for the UN by the budgets in question. If not, it might seem Power sees the UN much like her “Atrocities Prevention Board” and seeks more to posture than truly tackle human rights abuses.

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