Friday, January 04, 2008

Dissidents and Scholars

A couple of months ago, Jeff Weintraub had a post on the Mearsheimer and Walt affair,  in the light of Walter Russell Mead's critique of them in Foreign Affairs.  This is a belated response, but I suppose it is never too late to repeat that it is necessary to be absolutely clear and unequivocal in support of open debate.  Most people support the idea of freedom of expression in principle,  but the hard part is to apply it in a consistent manner.  Back in January last year Amnesty's (UK) magazine and website were full of the abuses at that part of the island of Cuba, Guantanamo,  which the US has rented since 1934,  but did not find space to mention the other Cuba,  which is the state of Cuba:  in March 2003,  when most of the world's attention was focused on you-know-what,  77 political dissidents were arrested (*).  I thought of writing to Amnesty,  drawing on an essay of Orwell's from 1945,  but,  for one thing, I didn't have the time,  for another,  I couldn't quite find the killer quote.  Orwell's essay (a newspaper column, really) is worth reading nonetheless and here I have space to quote it at length (**). 
THE OTHER night I attended a mass meeting of an organization called the League for European Freedom [..] an organization [..] dominated by the anti-Russian wing of the Tory Party. [..]  More than half of what they said was justified, but curiously enough they were almost as anxious to defend our own coercion of Greece as to condemn the Russian coercion of Poland. [..S]uddenly black became white, and white black.  There was [..] none there,  apparently,  who could see that the forcing of quisling governments upon unwilling peoples is equally undesirable whoever does it.  It is very hard to believe that people like this are really interested in political liberty as such.
The trouble is that for years past it has been just as impossible to extract a grown-up picture of foreign politics from the left-wing press either.  [..W]hat difference is there between the russophile press and the extreme Tory press?  The one is simply the other standing on its head.  The News Chronicle gives the big headlines to the fighting in Greece but tucks away the news that ‘force has had to be used’ against the Polish Home Army in small print at the bottom of a column.  The Daily Worker disapproves of dictatorship in Athens,  the Catholic Herald disapproves of dictatorship in Belgrade.
To return to Mearsheimer and Walt, I blogged about this back in August.  As I made clear,  I did not find their arguments convincing.  That is not the point.  My views were based on the NYT's report on their upcoming book,  so I may have missed some subsequent developments,  but it was reported at that time that some pressure-groups had managed to bring about the cancellation of an event at the Chicago Global Affairs Council where Mearsheimer and Walt were to have discussed their views.

I had somehow or another got on the mailing list of an organisation called Scholars For Peace in the Middle East,  which featured heavily calls to oppose the British campaign to boycott Israeli academics.  I contacted them to ask them to distance themselves from efforts to deny Mearsheimer and Walt a platform. They declined to do so.

* Amnesty reported in AMR 25/001/2006 that 60 of the dissidents remained in prison.  They did subsequently focus on human rights in Cuba.

**  'As I Please', 26 January 1945


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