Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Heroic Resistance in China

In a New York Times op-ed yesterday titled "Dangerous Arts," Salman Rushdie summarized the situation of outspoken artists and writers in China today, especially Ai Weiwei, who disappeared and appeared to have been arrested by Chinese authorities April 4. Rushdie (himself the target of a terrible campaign from Iran that lasted decades) says "The disappearance is made worse by reports that Mr. Ai has started to 'confess.' His release is a matter of extreme urgency and the governments of the free world have a clear duty in this matter."

Rushdie reminds us of historic persecutions of brave and outspoken artists, not mentioning his own experience:

"The lives of artists are more fragile than their creations. The poet Ovid was exiled by Augustus to a little hell-hole on the Black Sea called Tomis, but his poetry has outlasted the Roman Empire. Osip Mandelstam died in a Stalinist work camp, but his poetry has outlived the Soviet Union. Federico García Lorca was killed by the thugs of Spain’s Generalissimo Francisco Franco, but his poetry has survived that tyrannical regime."

"We can perhaps bet on art to win over tyrants. It is the world’s artists, particularly those courageous enough to stand up against authoritarianism, for whom we need to be concerned, and for whose safety we must fight...."

"When artists venture into politics the risks to reputation and integrity are ever-present. But outside the free world, where criticism of power is at best difficult and at worst all but impossible, creative figures like Mr. Ai and his colleagues are often the only ones with the courage to speak truth against the lies of tyrants. We needed the samizdat truth-tellers to reveal the ugliness of the Soviet Union. Today the government of China has become the world’s greatest threat to freedom of speech, and so we need Ai Weiwei, Liao Yiwu and Liu Xiaobo."

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