Natan Sharansky’s Fourth of July, and His Long Road to Freedom

On July 4, 1974, Natan (then Anatoly) Sharansky—who had spent the previous fifteen days in a Soviet prison—married Avital (then Natalia Stieglitz) in Moscow. The next day, Avital departed for Israel, but Natan was denied permission to leave the country and scant years later would be arrested on fictitious charges of espionage. It was not until 1986 that he was released, thanks to sustained pressure on the Soviet government from President Reagan, various members of Congress, and the American Jewish community. In a powerful interview with David Samuels, Sharansky describes his role in the refusenik movement and his wife’s activism during his imprisonment. He begins by explaining how he formed his sense of Jewish identity:

[As a child], I didn’t know anything about Jewish communities. I knew nothing about Judaism; I knew nothing about Jewish history, nothing about the Jewish religion. I knew very well that I was a Jew because that’s what was written on my parents’ ID cards, and there was a lot of anti-Semitism and discrimination—that’s all. . . .

I first realized that I had a history, a people, and a country in 1967, after the Six-Day War. For the Soviet Union, Israel’s victory in that war was a great humiliation. [As a result], Jews suddenly discovered that all the people around them, friends and enemies, Jews and non-Jews, connected this country with them. And so we wanted to understand what this connection meant. That’s when, in the underground, we started reading about ourselves and about our history in the books that were brought to us by American Jews. And we found out that we had such an exciting history, beginning with the Exodus from Egypt and continuing into the present.

There were Jews coming [to the Soviet Union at the time] from all over the world. They would say, “Oh, your father is from Odessa. My grandfather is from Odessa. We are family; we want to help you.” And we discovered there was the state of Israel, which also wanted to help us. So that’s how we discovered our identity, and that’s what gave us the strength to start fighting for our dignity and our freedom.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Avital Sharansky, History & Ideas, Natan Sharansky, Refuseniks, Ronald Reagan, Six-Day War, Soviet Jewry

 

Salman Rushdie and the Western Apologists for Those Who Wish Him Dead

Aug. 17 2022

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder and supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, issued a fatwa (religious ruling) in 1989 calling for believers to murder the novelist Salman Rushdie due to the content of his novel, The Satanic Verses. Over the years, two of the book’s translators have been stabbed—one fatally—and numerous others have been injured or killed in attempts to follow the ayatollah’s writ. Last week, an American Shiite Muslim came closer than his many predecessors to killing Rushdie, stabbing him multiple times and leaving him in critical condition. Graeme Wood comments on those intellectuals in the West who have exuded sympathy for the stabbers:

In 1989, the reaction to the fatwa was split three ways: some supported it; some opposed it; and some opposed it, to be sure, but still wanted everyone to know how bad Rushdie and his novel were. This last faction, Team To Be Sure, took the West to task for elevating this troublesome man and his insulting book, whose devilry could have been averted had others been more attuned to the sensibilities of the offended.

The fumes are still rising off of this last group. The former president Jimmy Carter was, at the time of the original fatwa, the most prominent American to suggest that the crime of murder should be balanced against Rushdie’s crime of blasphemy. The ayatollah’s death sentence “caused writers and public officials in Western nations to become almost exclusively preoccupied with the author’s rights,” Carter wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times. Well, yes. Carter did not only say that many Muslims were offended and wished violence on Rushdie; that was simply a matter of fact, reported frequently in the news pages. He took to the op-ed page to add his view that these fanatics had a point. “While Rushdie’s First Amendment freedoms are important,” he wrote, “we have tended to promote him and his book with little acknowledgment that it is a direct insult to those millions of Moslems whose sacred beliefs have been violated.” Never mind that millions of Muslims take no offense at all, and are insulted by the implication that they should.

Over the past two decades, our culture has been Carterized. We have conceded moral authority to howling mobs, and the louder the howls, the more we have agreed that the howls were worth heeding. The novelist Hanif Kureishi has said that “nobody would have the [courage]” to write The Satanic Verses today. More precisely, nobody would publish it, because sensitivity readers would notice the theological delicacy of the book’s title and plot. The ayatollahs have trained them well, and social-media disasters of recent years have reinforced the lesson: don’t publish books that get you criticized, either by semiliterate fanatics on the other side of the world or by semiliterate fanatics on this one.

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Read more at Atlantic

More about: Ayatollah Khomeini, Freedom of Speech, Iran, Islamism, Jimmy Carter