Maria and her family, who were intimately familiar with the Soviets, are outraged at this, for good reason: Gulags on Ellis Island: A dissonant note of moral equivalence at an exhibit on communist horrors.
But then, abruptly, the spell is broken, and in a dispiriting if not alarming way. “Brutal systems have played a prominent role in many countries, including the United States,” one of the exhibit’s last panels tells visitors. By itself, that one clause–“including the United States”–would be bad enough. But the panel continues. “Although slavery ended after the American Civil War, its consequences persist. The repercussions of the Holocaust in Europe and apartheid in South Africa reverberate even today. Similarly, Russians face the legacy of the gulag. How can citizens in these countries face up to the horrors of the past?”
Just as it is the small details of the Gulag exhibit that lead one to consider the depth of the deprivation its captives endured, it is the word “similarly” that so effectively undermines what has just been shown. After all, if the Gulag is “similar” to anything in American life or history, does it teach us anything about the Soviet Union–or about anything at all? “If you cannot distinguish between levels of evil, you are a cause of evil.” Such was the astute reaction of a man whose father spent a decade in the Gulag, when confronted with this moral equivalence in the paragraph above.
It is certainly true that learning about evils perpetrated in other times in other countries can too easily lead to a comfortable sense of moral superiority. That can, in its own way, undo what might otherwise be a teaching moment. All the same, however, things are not all the same. If the Gulag is interesting only as a means of turning a mirror on the injustices of our own penal system, it is arguably not interesting at all. The Gulag was, and is, a reductio ad absurdum of sorts of the Soviet system itself. It was where “counterrevolutionary” elements were sent to learn the virtues of work and of collectivism, but the lesson was predominantly that of man’s inhumanity to man. All prisoners were slowly starved to death, and those too weak to work were starved faster than the strongest. Thus the weak grew weaker and the strong stronger. The overwhelming impression at the heart of the Gulag exhibit is just this–that cruel and arbitrary power lay at the heart of a system that purported to redress inequalities but instead etched them in stone.
The Soviet Union tried throughout most of its existence to forcibly prevent its citizens from seeking freedom in the West. The rest of Ellis Island tells a very different story about a quite different country and system. It’s the story of a country that, for centuries, people have risked their lives to reach. No moral equivalence there.
Joanne Mandel’s book review of While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within (emphasis added)
The fruits of a long-standing commitment to political, academic and economic cooperation between the European nations and Arab governments resulted in Europe achieving a steady supply of Arab oil and open markets for their exports. In return, Europe welcomed unprecedented levels of Arab immigration and enthusiastically joined Arab efforts to de-legitimize American and Israeli interests in the Middle East. Mr. Bawers explains that this relationship with the Arab world gave Europeans a sense of security, believing that they would be safe from terrorist attack.
The European media played a central role in maintaining this fantasy. The author tells us that most Europeans have “been pumped full of America-hatred all [their] lives by teachers, professors, politicians, and journalists.” That is why they ‘know’ that America is plagued by severe poverty and extreme inequality and has no system for helping those in need. Likewise, journalists demonize Israel’s treatment of Arabs to a shocking extent. Coverage of the “Jenin massacre” is a prime example. The fact that it never occurred did not matter.
Meanwhile, in Brazil, João de Deus has a following, Is ‘John of God’ a Healer or a Charlatan?
At the blogs
TigerHawk can’t get the BBC’s World News home page, Technorati, or blogs hosted on Blogspot while in China.
From Spain, an ad (in Spanish, of course) about a talking post denting your car Linea Directa