Saturday, June 24, 2006


The Immoral Clarity of Natan Sharansky [A book preview]
By Thomas Riggins

Roger Cohen of The New York Times recently reviewed The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror by Natan Sharansky (former anti-Soviet dissident and now member of the Israeli cabinet of Ariel Sharon) with Ron Dermer. With so many books floating around, it is prudent to check out the reviews to see which ones may be worth reading. If you have progressive politics, for example, a book raved about by National Review is probably full of right wing nonsense-- only to be read to see what the ultra right is up to, but most likely not for enlightenment.

New York Times reviews are usually more nuanced. Roger Cohen’s review was fairly balanced-- but one thing shines through from the direct quotes he presents, and that is the utter hypocrisy of Sharansky and his promoters. PA hopes to give a full review of this book in a future issue-- but here is a preliminary impression to alert anyone thinking of dropping a few shekels for this right wing screed.

The toxicity of this book is first indicated by the fact of its canonization in the Bush White House. Cohen says it represents the post 9/11 Bush World View. He also notes that everything Sharansky has to say he says in the first 40 pages of the book (this may be why Bush read it).The rest of the book (it has 303 pages) is basically repetition.

Basic to his argument, according to Cohen, is something Sharansky calls "The town square test" (which, by the way, both Israel and the U.S. would flunk.) Cohen explains what this test is by quoting Condoleeza Rice: "The world should apply what Natan Sharansky calls ‘the town square test’: if a person cannot walk into the middle of the town square and express his or her views without fear of arrest, imprisonment or physical harm, then that person is living in a fear society, not a free society. We cannot rest until every person living in a fear society has finally won their freedom."

How interesting. The same issue of the Times has a follow up article on the Ward Churchill vs. Hamilton College brouhaha. Hamilton College, in Clinton, New York, you might have read, canceled Churchill’s speech (too controversial) "citing security reasons, after professor Churchill drew more than 100 death threats and college leaders received warnings of violence" (read threats of alumni donations being canceled). And this is state sanctioned because the state failed to provide adequate security-- thus encouraging fear mongers and their terrorist activities. So lets clean up our own town squares before we prance around the world, killing hundreds of thousands of women and children, trying to clean up other people’s town squares.

And let us not forget that Sharansky is member of Ariel Sharon’s government which has created one of the greatest fear societies of the world through its illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Schoolchildren can’t walk to their schools without fear that Israeli forces will open fire on them. This naturally provokes Palestinian counter attacks which also, unfortunately, target civilians. Nevertheless, there have been three times as many Palestinians killed by Israel than Israelis killed by Palestinians. Sharansky himself lives in a fear society.

Still, he maintains, according to Cohen, the following propositions: 1) every one on earth can attain freedom, 2) democratic societies are nonbelligerent (this will come as a surprise to the Iraqis) this is the best basis for world security (along with not having oil), 3) fear societies look for foreign enemies as a way to maintain themselves and hoodwink their citizens (the Russians are coming).

So, let us ask as to #1-- what happened when the people of Central America, or the people of Haiti, or Chile attempted to attain freedom? What is facing the people of Venezuela and their democratically elected government? As to #2-- does anyone seriously believe the U.S. and Israel are nonbelligernt? I mean anyone who has access to the alternative media and doesn’t get all their information from TV. Ask the people of Cuba, or Iraq for that matter. Ask the Palestinians, or the people of Lebanon, or the Egyptians who is or is not belligerent. As to #3, Bush was reelected, if Ohio wasn’t stolen by rigged voting machines and voter intimidation, by fear mongering about foreign terrorists and other enemies-- Iran, North Korea, Cuba, etc. And Israel does the same-- all the Arab countries are out to get them, the whole world is anti-Semitic, etc. If this is the content of Sharansky’s book, his belief that the West is somehow putting his propositions into practice, its just stupid.

Nevertheless, he claims that you must follow his propositions in order to have "moral clarity." Cohen quotes him: "We must recapture moral clarity by recognizing that the great divide between the world of fear and the world of freedom is far more important than the divisions within the free world."

This from a leader in a terrorist state with its own supply of unsanctioned weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons. North Korea and Iran are outlaws, but its ok for Israel to have any weapons it wants.

He also has the cheek to write, "When it comes to promoting democracy and human rights across the globe, the values and interests of the free world are one and the same." This from a representative of a government which would not even to talk to Yasir Arafat, the democratically elected leader of the Palestinian people. Again it is the old story, "democracy" and "freedom" mean you agree with us.

Here is another example of "moral clarity." "Israeli counterterror strikes are meant to save innocent life and Palestinian terror attacks are meant the take it." Well, I’m glad that is cleared up. But why have "counterterror strikes" killed three times as many civilians as the "terror attacks." This is just Sharansky’s way of saying his side is totally the side of the good guys.

With respect to the Israeli attack on the West Bank town of Jenin (2002)-- basically a civilian refugee camp attacked by bulldozers and tanks in what can only be called an atrocity. Sharansky states the attack was "one of the finest examples in history of a democracy protecting human rights in wartime." This is the moral clarity of the Wehrmacht.

--Thomas Riggins is the book review editor of PA and can be reached at

1 comment:

Colette Amelia said...

Well this will be a real comment...great great great. I had to read this for a class and could hardly refrain from throwing the book because of the hypocrisy.