Amazing DC event. Huge Cato Institute dinner, 800 folks in the Washington Hilton ballroom in black tie, for the awarding the bi-annual Milton Friedman award. Amusing and occasionally profound speeches by CATO head Ed Crane (plenty of Greece mockery) and George Will. Republican country here, knowledgeable people with strong minimalist government views. I enjoyed the video snippets of Friedman on 1970’s talk shows, when he really was an iconoclast.
This year’s award was given to Akbar Ganji, an Iranian author and democracy activist who spent six years in prison, some of it in solitary confinement. The introductory video showed a cell, one room with a toilet in it. He was released and came to the West in 2006. He’s a green advocate, an anti-fundamentalist, but he’s sure not playing any neocon role.
For his speech, Ganji stood at the podium with his green headscarved wife while a translation from Farsi was read. If anyone was expecting an America good-- Islam bad discourse, they went away confused.
Here at the heart of his speech, was the core bit of advice: don’t invade, don’t bomb, and bring justice to Palestine.
Entirely oblivious of the complications of Middle Eastern politics, President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair were under the impression that by invading a country and occupying it they can bring democracy to it. In Afghanistan and Iraq all such delusions went up in flames and burnt out in smoke. Even President Bush himself, during the last year of his presidency, kept repeating that the United States cannot be allowed to be defeated in Iraq. Today, which American politician can guarantee a clear vision for the future of Afghanistan and Iraq after foreign forces leave? Even President Obama, who came to office promising to withdraw from Iraq, is today entangled in the messy aftermath of the US invasion of that country and cannot deliver on his promise. And yet, unfortunately, it seems that invading Iran still seems to be an option that this administration is taking under consideration.
The fact that people in the Middle East feel threatened by the United States and the West, and are thus inclined towards their enemy, namely the fundamentalist, is not entirely because of this history of US support for secular tyrannies or in reaction to the US-led invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. The one-sided support of the United States for Israel has exacerbated this situation. The gushing wound of Palestine is the most appropriate site for the worsening of the infection of fundamentalism. A just solution to the Palestinian problem, and the formation of an independent Palestinian state, next to that of Israel, is definitive to a reconstruction of the image of the United States and preparatory for a transition to moving from these destabilizing decades and towards a realization of democratic institutions in the region.
Not a word, not a single word, about “they hate us for our freedoms.” He was applauded, a standing ovation, though not thunderous. The conventional, neocon soaked, Republican mentality will give way slowly. Other think tanks, the Times, the Wash Post, the Likudnik hive will put out boatloads of words to shore up their big lie: Israel has nothing to with our problems in the MidEast, it’s the liberty of American women they can’t stand. But it’s hard to discount a man who spent six years in a Tehran prison, the price for fighting for human rights in his country. Bravo to Cato, for a gutsy and important selection.