Oslo Freedom Forum is an eyeopener. So many courageous people. Unstoppable. So many fates.
People are indomitable. They will resist, they will fight for their survival, and sometimes they will fight for what is intangible: freedom and the right to be themselves.
All these stories of suffering and resistance also brings with it reflections on ourselves. A small country of five million people who do not have the luxury of being on the outside. Still Norway, and the West in general, still retains that feeling of being in the center, of have a surplus, not just of money, but of tolerance in endless supply.
But nothing is forever.
The Tibetan professor Lobsang Sangay put it eloquently: No empire has lasted forever. Communism is just a few decades old. Is it durable? Tibetan culture is as old as the Chinese. Its identity is as solid and rich. Tibetans may be only six million strong, but their sense of themselves are undiminished. 116 Tibetans have burned themselves to death. Some drink gasoline before alighting. This selfimmolation sounds horrible, but is it just desperation? They do not want to be at the mercy of the Chinese policy. And they demonstrate the powerlessness of the Chinese. Who is the loser in the last resort? Who is the strongest?
Some of these thoughts are quite shocking. If communities, countries and empires are brought low, not by brute force, but by their own mistakes, what is stopping us from falling into the same trap?
Bill Browder talked about Valdimir Putin and Sergey Magnitsky and the Hermitage Capital Fund. The new nomenclatura in Russia has been stealing from the companies they administer, and even taxpayers money, which mean they are stealing from the people, from the nation.
Such greed will in the long run impoverish a nation. Power built on greed is a feeble form of power.
Yet the Norwegian authorities are eager to cooperate with Putin’s Russia in the North, and reports of Putin’s ruthlessness sits uneasily with Norwegians. Putin may be bad, but not that bad.
When will Oslo Freedom Forum have Norway on the agenda? The platitudes that Norway is the most open, uncorrupted society etc. are just that – platitudes.
While attending the first session I got an email from a teacher who wrote at length about his problems getting a job in high school. His qualifications are good, yet he is never invited for an interview. He suspects it is because he has written under full name about subjects such as integration, the multicultural society, outside of the political correct parameters.
It affects him, his sense of himself as a social being, and his economic situation. But perhaps most of all: his situation is unrecognized. The media does not write about it, no politician will raise it. Even though most people who have participated in public debate knows that there is a tacit censorship at work: if you venture certain opinions under full name, you will be a marked man. Doors will close. Nothing will happen to you physically, but you will carry an invisible stigma.
This is a situation prevalent in most West European countries. In the internet age a small society like Norway is easy to control. That is why people write under pseudonyms.
Human Rights group might ignore this situation, but it is bound to affect them. The denial is undermining support for human rights. For every one that is affected by social sanctions, count hundreds if not thousands who get the message, by informal mediation. They know just by social osmosis what is good for them.
This silent suppression of free speech must necessarily lead them to ask if human rights is something that is only employed on behalf of The Other. An sense of resentment is born.
Human rights can only be sustained if the people feel that also their human rights are taken care of.
At the seminar today two women from the Middle East talked about how Western feminism is inapplicable in countries like Syria and Egypt.
Jenan Moussa from Syria told how she used to go unveiled. But things have changed. The atmosphere is different. Now she covers herself. Soraya Banghat from Egypt told of a similar development.
But their reports lead logically to followups: if Arab societies can refer to vested cultural interests and write islam into their constitutions, putting limits on womens freedoms, why cannot Western countries do the same, based on their cultural contexts?
But such an approach would torpedo the notion of unlimited tolerance. Is this notion really another form of supremacy, of elevating one’s own society on a higher level than others?
People in Norway take exception to women covering themselves, just like Syrias and Egyptians now follow an islamist wind, and think women should cover themselves. With a big difference: people in Norway are upbraided, admonished, rebuked by their own authorities for not being tolerant enough.
But people ask: why should we be tolerant of the intolerant?
If they have a legitimate cultural reason to advocate the veil, and impose their values on us, why shouldn’t we do the same?
The change that is affecting people of this world is making for a level playing field: what you expect of others you must practice yourself. You cannot have it both ways.