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

Recognizing a Palestinian State Won’t Help Palestinians, or Even Make Palestinian Statehood More Likely

While Shira Efron and Michael Koplow are more sanguine about the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and more critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, than I am, I found much worth considering in their recent article on the condition of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Particularly perceptive are their comments on the drive to grant diplomatic recognition to a fictive Palestinian state, a step taken by nine countries in the past few months, and almost as many in total as recognize Israel.

Efron and Koplow argue that this move isn’t a mere empty gesture, but one that would actually make things worse, while providing “no tangible benefits for Palestinians.”

In areas under its direct control—Areas A and B of the West Bank, comprising 40 percent of the territory—the PA struggles severely to provide services, livelihoods, and dignity to inhabitants. This is only partly due to its budgetary woes; it has also never established a properly functioning West Bank economy. President Mahmoud Abbas, who will turn ninety next year, administers the PA almost exclusively by executive decrees, with little transparency or oversight. Security is a particular problem, as militants from different factions now openly defy the underfunded and undermotivated PA security forces in cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm.

Turning the Palestinian Authority (PA) from a transitional authority into a permanent state with the stroke of a pen will not make [its] litany of problems go away. The risk that the state of Palestine would become a failed state is very real given the PA’s dysfunctional, insolvent status and its dearth of public legitimacy. Further declines in its ability to provide social services and maintain law and order could yield a situation in which warlords and gangs become de-facto rulers in some areas of the West Bank.

Otherwise, any steps toward realizing two states will be fanciful, built atop a crumbling foundation—and likely to help turn the West Bank into a third front in the current war.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian statehood