Pictures from the human-rights empire: a prose collage
(Obviously, this is art and not mere indolent piracy. Also, it is more properly described as a text montage. Duh.)
As for Egypt, a relative was born in Cairo to a reasonably prosperous Jewish family soon after WWII. This person remembers childhood fondly and speaks often of the greatness of “Old Egypt” as being quite the Liberal, Modern, Strongly Europeanized, and Cosmopolitan paradise. A place tolerant of innumerable intersections of art, commerce, ideas, culture, and even those from different ethnic and religious background.
And then came the war with Israel, and then the Free Officers movement, and then their coup and revolution against “Great King Ali”, and then the die was cast. The family stayed during Naguib’s reign as President, but when Nasser forced him out things began to deteriorate quickly, especially for European Christians and most especially for the formerly tolerated Jews. By the time of the Suez crisis, the writing was on the wall, and 15-year old rural rabble revolutionary conscripts were told they could steal what they wanted, rape who they wanted, and burn down their houses and farms and occupy and seize their lands. That should sound like a familiar pattern to us 21st century folk.
Leniency was being allowed to live and flee with only the shirt on your back to one of the few European countries chartering boat-lifts to save the lives of those in the forced exodus. My relative was a young child at the time, and the experience has never worn off.
And things are so much worse there now than they were in 1956.
A post, January 2011, from a literary surgeon in the new South Africa:
recently i was involved in a discussion with a guy that was explaining how we should understand criminals. the emphasis was on farm murders but we touched on murderers in general, rapists and child molesters. my point of view was that i did not understand them and felt that he was justifying their actions. in the end i was informed that i was smug. apparently that is the word for people that couldn’t see the point of view of the poor misunderstood murderers and rapists and molesters.
so smug is what i am, it seems. you see the fact is i can’t understand his beloved murderers. i just can’t. i also in my smugness wonder how he can, but i think i know.
it has to do with not being in the trenches. it has to do with not being faced with the blood and the tears and the guts and the screams… mostly the screams. it is probably easy to be nice and philosophical sitting snugly (not smugly apparently) in a nice air-conditioned office, philosophizing on the reasons people point a gun at people and pull the trigger. or worse…
the thing is i can’t forget. i am scarred. i remember the patient lying in a pool of his own blood, looking up at me and asking, beseeching even to tell him he is going to be ok. i remember wanting to tell him that it would all turn out just fine. i even remember wanting to hold his hand because his mother wasn’t there to take care of the emotional side of things. in the end i remember not telling him he would be ok because i wasn’t sure he would. i also remember not being the mother he needed in the last moments of his life because that is what it turned out to be. after we had plough through the blood and feces floating around in his abdomen, violated by the bullet fired from the gun of someone my friend feels i must understand, the patient died. he did not die well with his mother or wife holding his hand in love. he died alone in some icu ward with adrenaline being pumped into his veins and oxygen being pumped into his lungs with a scarred doctor who felt that his time may have been better spent holding the patient’s hand rather than pouring time and energy into a futile attempt to save his life. you see the reason i can’t see the side of the killer is that the killer is still alive and has the sentiments of my learned friend to feel for him. my patient is dead and there was no one next to his bed when he died. there is no one to state his case now. … the woman raped is difficult to examine. somehow you feel you are violating her again. you feel you are making the whole ordeal worse. they don’t resist. they are already broken. anyway, rape in our country is so commonplace, it may be the one area where i understand that my friend mat have sympathy with the perpetrator, but, sorry, i cannot. for me to examine those women tears me apart. it leaves me with a feeling that my own soul has been violated. that i am forced to do something because someone else destroyed a life. i refuse to see the point of that someone else. if that makes me smug, then smug i must be, but again i suspect i might be jaded.
a bullet can do a lot of damage. physically i think i might have been a witness to pretty much all of it, but there is another side to the story. i remember an old man, shot in his home when he tried to defend his wife from the killers that broke into their house in the early hours, people that my friend chooses to understand. we did pull him through, but not without a massive operation and the obligatory icu time. i remember when he came to me for follow up some time later. i was so proud that he had made it. but somehow he was the shell of the man he used to be. he was alive, but broken. his confidence was gone. he lived in fear. he felt helpless because he knew he could do nothing against the lead of the people who i hear from my friend i must understand and sympathize with. but who sympathizes with my patient whose peace has been stolen from him? the smug or the jaded?
recently i enjoyed my christmas eve over the open abdomen of a woman shot in her bed by strangers, strangers whom my friend has endless sympathy for. i did not enjoy my holiday period, but more than that, my patients didn’t either. hopefully my friend, while maybe enjoying a beer with the killers he understands so well had a really festive time. i do not understand him.
In comments, the author responds to an obvious question:
anonymous, there is no mayflower for me. i’m here to stay. despite what you think i do make a difference for the good to these people. it is interesting to me you would deprive them of that.
Sunday Times (South Africa), January 30, 2011, “Search for Mandela’s gun”:
The hunt for Nelson Mandela’s legendary lost gun has turned into a desperate plan to buy a suburban home which is “sure” to have it—before opportunists can buy it and hold the historic treasure “to ransom”.
However, negotiations to buy and demolish the house are stalled by a lack of cash. A South African pop singer known as JMaxx is the person living contentedly above the treasure.
In late July 1962, Mandela dug a deep “pit” on Liliesleaf farm—the Rivonia property where he often hid, posing as a labourer—where he buried 200 bullets and a Makarov pistol, which had been given to him by his military tutor in Ethiopia.
Nicholas Wolpe, chief executive of the Liliesleaf Trust, revealed that Mandela had led his friend Arthur Goldreich to a remote part of the farm and proudly showed off his gun—before “slapping his wrist” when Goldreich tried to touch it, saying “this is mine!”
Having once tried to pace out the directions from his mental treasure map, Mandela has twice indicated that the pistol now lies beneath one of the private properties which have since been built on the farm. […] He said he believed the gun had “real personal significance” for Madiba, who wrapped it in a bundle of plastic, foil and an army uniform, and placed it beneath a tin plate.
Brown Alumni Magazine, January 2011, “Tyranny Has a Witness”:
On a cold night last fall on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, the marbled lobby of the American Museum of Natural History had been transformed into the setting for a swanky cocktail party. More than 500 people had paid between $1,000 and $100,000 to attend. The museum’s giant barosaurus skeleton was aglow in purple light, and an hors d’oeuvres buffet featured dishes from around the world served up in copper and ceramic tureens. One cocktail waitress carried a bar chime around the room, sweeping it with a stick at regular intervals to wash the crowd with a sound like falling water.
The occasion was the first of fifteen Human Rights Watch “Voices for Justice” dinners, whose purpose is to honor “those who speak out where there is silence.” This year the nonprofit organization was honoring Egypt’s Hossam Bahgat and China’s Liu Xiaobo. It’s been something of a dizzying few months for Human Rights Watch, which is in the process of doubling in size after the billionaire philanthropist George Soros in September had given the group his largest single gift yet: $100 million.
For the past thirty years, the purpose of Human Rights Watch has been, according to its website, “to hold oppressors accountable to their population, to the international community, and to their obligations under international law.” Although it is based in New York City, Human Rights Watch has offices all over the world and is likely to have more soon, thanks to Soros’s gift.
The New York Times, February 3, 2011, “Gangs Hunt Journalists and Rights Workers”:
No news organization seemed exempt from the rage, which escalated as the week wore on. Whether from Western or Arab media, television networks or wire services, newspapers or photo syndicates, journalists were chased through the streets and had their equipment stolen or smashed. Some were beaten so badly that they required hospital treatment.
ABC News reported that one of its crews was carjacked on Thursday and threatened with beheading. A Reuters journalist said a “gang of thugs” had stormed the news service’s office and started smashing windows. And four journalists from The Washington Post were detained by forces that they suspected were from the Interior Ministry. All four were released by early Friday. But two of them, the paper’s Cairo bureau chief and a photographer, had been ordered not to leave a local hotel.
“It appears that journalists are being targeted by the Egyptian authorities in a deliberate campaign of intimidation aimed at quashing honest, independent reporting of a transformational event,” said The Post’s foreign editor, Douglas Jehl.
Aesop, trans. George Townsend (1869), Fable LXXVII, “The Trumpeter Taken Prisoner”:
A TRUMPETER being taken prisoner in a battle, begged hard for quarter, declaring his innocence, and protesting that he neither had killed nor could kill any man; bearing no arms, but only his trumpet, which he was obliged to sound at the word of command.
“For that reason,” replied his enemies, “we are determined not to spare you; for though you yourself never fight, yet with that base instrument of yours, you blow up animosity between other people and so become the occasion of much bloodshed.”
MORAL. An accomplice is as guilty as the principal.
APPLICATION. This fable may be illustrated by an amusing episode in English history. Baldwin, Archbishop of Canterbury, accompanied Richard Coeur de Lion to the Crusades. The prelate, taken prisoner in a sally by the Saracens, begged his liberty, and to be sent back to his sovereign, as being a priest, and not a soldier. They showed him the breastplate he had worn in the combat, inquired if that was the dress of a prelate or of a paladin, and held him a fast prisoner till he died a captive at Acre.
The English law acknowledges the same principle. “Qui facit per alium, facit per se.” He that makes another the instrument of his evil intentions, is himself guilty of the wrong committed. There is a very slight difference between the man who holds a candle to, or opens the door for, a thief, and the thief himself. He who blows the coals must expect to be scorched. He who prompts another, is equally responsible with him for the deed done, and must bear a like share in the merit or shame in the guilt or goodness of the transaction.
Woodrow Wilson, “War Message to Congress”, 1917:
Does not every American feel that assurance has been added to our hope for the future peace of the world by the wonderful and heartening things that have been happening within the last few weeks in Russia? Russia was known by those who knew it best to have been always in fact democratic at heart, in all the vital habits of her thought, in all the intimate relationships of her people that spoke their natural instinct, their habitual attitude towards life.
The autocracy that crowned the summit of her political structure, long as it had stood and terrible as was the reality of its power, was not in fact Russian in origin, character, or purpose; and now it has been shaken off and the great, generous Russian people have been added in all their naive majesty and might to the forces that are fighting forfreedom in the world, for justice, and for peace.
New York Times, editorial of February 4, 2011, “Egypt’s Agonies”:
Mr. Mubarak’s attempt to blame the opposition and foreigners for the mayhem … is patently absurd. He has ruled the country with an iron hand for nearly 30 years. Mr. Mubarak has lost the legitimacy to continue governing Egypt, but he has chosen survival over his people. He told ABC that he had to stay in office to avoid chaos. In fact, his continued presence ensures only more chaos and instability. […] The cost of the turmoil is being felt. Tourists are fleeing. The economy is paralyzed. Egypt and its people need a quick transition to an era of greater political and economic freedoms. The violence is making that transition harder.
Rudyard Kipling, Russia to the Pacifists (1919):
God rest you, peaceful gentlemen, but give us leave to pass. We go to dig a nation’s grave as great as England was. For this Kingdom and this Glory and this Power and this Pride Three hundred years it flourished–in three hundred days it died. … God rest you, thoughtful gentlemen, and send your sleep is light! Remains of this dominion no shadow, sound, or sight, Except the sound of weeping and the sight of burning fire, And the shadow of a people that is trampled into mire. … God rest you, merry gentlemen, and keep you in your mirth! Was ever kingdom turned so soon to ashes, blood, and earth? ’Twixt the summer and the snow–seeding-time and frost– Arms and victual, hope and counsel, name and country lost! … And who shall be next to fall, good sirs, With your good help to fall?
Philip C. Jessup, paraphrasing a State Department memo of May 6, 1952, excerpted in The Birth of Nations (1973):
The NEA-EUR memorandum stated that our strategic requirements in North Africa demanded political stability in that area. Political stability was currently threatened by the impasse between French colonial policy and the rise of Arab nationalism. As they stood at the moment, French intentions and the ambitions of the Arab nationalists were mutually exclusive. The continuing blandishments of the Communists left open the possibility that the nationalists of North Africa, though basically non-Communist, might as a last resort risk collaboration with the Communists if they felt it was hopeless to fulfill their aspirations by other means. Like considerations held open the possibility that, in the event of war or its apparent imminence, the nationalists might withhold their collaboration or even oppose the West until their demands were met.
Therefore, the memorandum concluded, the passage of time without settlement of the Franco-Tunisian (or Franco-Moroccan) issue, served Communist aims and was contrary to the national interest of the United States. This was clearly the adoption of a realistic rather than idealistic or moralistic policy. Probably no approach which was not realistic would have received Department-wide approval; it would hardly have convinced Secretary Acheson, and certainly would not have persuaded the French.