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Jewish World Review July 29, 2003 / 29 Tamuz, 5763

Nat Hentoff

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More truth in Tony Blair than Bush war critics | Since British Prime Minister Tony Blair spoke to Congress on July 17, the omnivorous 24-hour news cycle — with its distracting car chases and celebrity sexual offsides — has buried and blurred his essential message to Americans and the United Nations about the rights of humankind around the world.

Passages of Blair's speech should resound in future histories of this period, as have Winston Churchill's since the days of the second World War. As George Orwell said, when a writer or speaker's thinking is clear, so is his or her language.

Blair's words passionately transcended the jockeying for power (chronic to so many of our politicians across the spectrum) and were especially refreshing amid the cynical, self-interested shadow play over the 16 words in President Bush's State of the Union address last January.

As the churning Democratic aspirants for the presidency vie for whom can most capitalize on that handful of enticing words, and the still elusive weapons of mass destruction, Blair spoke like an authentic world citizen:

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"Can we be sure that terrorism and the weapons of mass destruction will join together? Let us say one thing: If we are wrong, we will have destroyed a threat that, at its least, is responsible for inhuman carnage and suffering. That is something I am confident that history will forgive."

As Iraqis sift through the shards of the hundreds of thousands of murdered corpses in Saddam Hussein's mass graves, Blair spoke plain truth: "There is a myth that though we love freedom, others don't; that our attachment to freedom is a product of our culture; that freedom, democracy, human rights, the rule of law are American values or Western values; that Afghan women were content under the lash of the Taliban; that Saddam was somehow beloved by his people; that Milosevic was Serbia's savior."

"Anywhere, any time ordinary people are given the chance to choose, the choice is the same: freedom, not tyranny; democracy, not dictatorship; the rule of law, not the rule of the secret police."

Blair's speech was the first — to my knowledge — where a world leader has so undiplomatically aimed at the dysfunction of the United Nations, which allows so much in human suffering around the world. He declared:

"We need to say clearly to United Nations members: 'If you engage in the systematic and gross abuse of human rights in defiance of the U.N. Charter, you cannot expect to enjoy the same privileges as those that conform to it.'"

That is not enough, however. Blair should go on to specify what "privileges" should be denied to the Sudan, China, Cuba, Syria, Libya and other U.N. members, such as Zimbabwe, who terrorize their own people.

Cathy Buckle, who has been chronicling the relentless brutality by which Robert Mugabe rules in Zimbabwe, wrote in her July 12 letter on about a recent speech by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan:

"(He) said that democracy was not just about winning elections. He said it was about abiding by the rule of law, obeying your own courts and not oppressing and abusing your own people. Strong words from Kofi Annan, but they are just words because he and the U.N. have still not found the courage to actually name names, and should be utterly ashamed."

Along with hundreds of thousands of black Zimbabwean labor leaders, feminists, students, teachers, low-income farm workers made jobless by Mugabe's disastrous land "reforms" — and the many black citizens who have been tortured by his police — Buckle, a white who is as resilient as the black Zimbabweans are insistent on awakening the world's conscience, adds:

"People are dying in Zimbabwe, because of incompetent governance, at the hands of common criminals who hide behind their political affiliations. (They are dying) from no chemicals with which to treat water, and from just plain and simple empty bellies."

But Annan, the Nobel peace laureate, does not speak out. Meanwhile, President Bush appears to believe South African President Thabo Mbeki that "quiet diplomacy" is working. Buckle writes that a new law in Zimbabwe penalizes those "who criticize our president or make a gesture as he passes in a convoy of security vehicles."

The Washington Times reports that the African Union has rewarded Mugabe for his crimes against his people by making him deputy chairman of that organization.

These African heads of state have disgraced themselves.

They would do well to consider the words of Tony Blair to Congress: "We are fighting for the inalienable right of humankind — black or white, Christian or not, left, right, or a million different — to be free ... free not to bend your knee to any man in fear."

But what does this mean in Zimbabwe?

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JWR contributor Nat Hentoff is a First Amendment authority and author of numerous books. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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