Monday, May 15, 2006

Intellectuals and Tyrants

Ian Buruma argues for a Left that does more than fly flags from cranes for visiting leaders.
Last year a number of journalists, writers and showbiz figures, including Harold Pinter, Nadine Gordimer, Harry Belafonte and Tariq Ali, signed a letter claiming that in Cuba “there has not been a single case of disappearance, torture or extra-judicial execution since 1959 . . .”

[Cuban novelist Reinaldo]Arenas was arrested in 1973 for “ideological deviation”. He was tortured and locked up in prison cells filled with floodwater and excrement, and threatened with death if he didn’t renounce his own writing. Imagine what it must be like to be treated like this and then read about your fellow writers in the West standing up for your oppressors.
Isn't it amazing that intelligent people like Ali, Pinter, Gordimer and Belafonte can even think that there "has not been a single case of disappearance, torture or extra-judicial execution". Wouldn't it make a better case to argue it is not a matter of policy but if it happens those responsible are treated with due legal process? That stops your argument being trashed by a single counter example.

Discussing the Venezuelan leader Buruma writes
Chavez is the Latin American version of a new type of authoritarianism (Thailand’s Thaksin Shinawatra is the Asian version), built on a mixture of showbusiness, intimidation, paranoia, huge wealth, and public handouts to the poor. The ideal is democracy by referendum, stripped of messy party politics or independent courts.
In a line that won't please some people, Buruma likens Chavez to Berlusconi, in their appeal to populism.

Here's Buruma's conclusion
The left has a proud tradition of defending political freedoms, at home and abroad. But this tradition is in danger of being lost when western intellectuals indulge in power worship. Applause for autocrats undermines the morale of people who insist on fighting for their freedoms....But when democracy is endangered, the left should be equally hard on rulers who oppose the US. Failure to do so encourages authoritarianism everywhere, including in the West itself, where the frivolous behaviour of a dogmatic left has already allowed neoconservatives to steal all the best lines.
"We oppose our country's foreign policy." "He opposes our country's foreign policy." "Therefore we are batting on the same side." Such is the argument that passes for politics on the flag-waving left.

[Thanks to Harry's Place]

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