Remembering Liu Xiaobo, Chinese Crusader for Freedom

The Chinese poet, literary critic, political thinker, and fearless dissident Liu Xiaobo—who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010—died last week while still under custody. He was imprisoned in 2008 for expressing opinions the Communist regime considered dangerous, and he had been arrested multiple times in the preceding two decades. In a 2012 essay, Simon Leys described his ideas and career:

After Mao’s death, universities were at long last allowed to reopen; in 1977 Liu joined the first group of students admitted again into higher education; . . . eleven years later, after obtaining his doctorate, he was appointed to a teaching post [at Beijing Normal University]. His original mind, vast intellectual curiosity, and gifts for expression ensured a brilliant academic career; quite early, he reached a large audience extending far beyond the classroom, and acquired the reputation of an enfant terrible in the Chinese cultural world. . . . Liu’s reputation as an original critic of ideas [eventually] brought him invitations abroad. . . .

While Liu was in New York [in 1989, teaching political science at Barnard College], the student [dissident] movement in Beijing continued to develop. . . . Liu sensed that a crisis would soon be reached, and he made a grave and generous decision: he gave up the safety and comfort of his New York academic appointment and rushed back to Beijing [to join the protestors at Tiananmen Square]. He did not leave the square during the last dramatic days of the students’ demonstration; . . . after martial law was imposed, he negotiated with the army in the hope of obtaining a peaceful evacuation of the square. . . .

At the [2010] Oslo ceremony, an empty chair was substituted for the absent laureate. Within hours, the words “empty chair” were banned from the Internet in China—wherever they occurred, the entire machinery of censorship was automatically set in motion.

Foreign experts in various intelligence organizations are trying to assess the growing strength of China, politically, economically, and militarily. The Chinese leaders are most likely to have a clear view of their own [considerable] power. If so, why are they so scared of a frail and powerless poet and essayist, locked away in jail, cut off from all human contacts? Why did the mere sight of his empty chair at the other end of the Eurasian continent plunge them into such a panic?

Read more at New York Review of Books

More about: China, Human Rights, Nobel Prize, Politics & Current Affairs, Totalitarianism

Israel Just Sent Iran a Clear Message

Early Friday morning, Israel attacked military installations near the Iranian cities of Isfahan and nearby Natanz, the latter being one of the hubs of the country’s nuclear program. Jerusalem is not taking credit for the attack, and none of the details are too certain, but it seems that the attack involved multiple drones, likely launched from within Iran, as well as one or more missiles fired from Syrian or Iraqi airspace. Strikes on Syrian radar systems shortly beforehand probably helped make the attack possible, and there were reportedly strikes on Iraq as well.

Iran itself is downplaying the attack, but the S-300 air-defense batteries in Isfahan appear to have been destroyed or damaged. This is a sophisticated Russian-made system positioned to protect the Natanz nuclear installation. In other words, Israel has demonstrated that Iran’s best technology can’t protect the country’s skies from the IDF. As Yossi Kuperwasser puts it, the attack, combined with the response to the assault on April 13,

clarified to the Iranians that whereas we [Israelis] are not as vulnerable as they thought, they are more vulnerable than they thought. They have difficulty hitting us, but we have no difficulty hitting them.

Nobody knows exactly how the operation was carried out. . . . It is good that a question mark hovers over . . . what exactly Israel did. Let’s keep them wondering. It is good for deniability and good for keeping the enemy uncertain.

The fact that we chose targets that were in the vicinity of a major nuclear facility but were linked to the Iranian missile and air forces was a good message. It communicated that we can reach other targets as well but, as we don’t want escalation, we chose targets nearby that were involved in the attack against Israel. I think it sends the message that if we want to, we can send a stronger message. Israel is not seeking escalation at the moment.

Read more at Jewish Chronicle

More about: Iran, Israeli Security