Byline: Tina Brown
The heroes in--and behind--the headlines.
What makes a dissident? Vaclav Havel, the great Czech playwright and statesman who died earlier this year, wrote that some people have the souls of collaborators, and others the souls of resisters. Collaborators, he argued, aren't simply the active supporters of a system's oppressions. They are everyone who tacitly accepts injustice without a murmur. They confirm the system, fulfill the system, and validate the system; they are the system.
Last week, during the dramas surrounding the blind Chinese lawyer Chen Guangcheng, I attended the PEN gala, where every year writers and publishers honor resisters. It's a recognition of individual moral courage and a reaffirmation of the value of lighting the dark corners the oppressors prefer to keep concealed (while collaborators look the other way). At PEN we learned of the resister Ragip Zarakolu, a Turkish publisher who has been imprisoned for ventilating such taboo subjects as the repression of Turkey's Kurdish minority and the Armenian genocide. We were moved by the ethereally beautiful Ethiopian activist Serkalem Fasil, who wept as she told us of the ordeal of her husband, Eskinder Nega, a journalist silenced with a trumped-up "terrorism charge" and now facing a death penalty. She herself was behind bars for the birth of their child in 2006.
The world best helps resisters by not collaborating, by paying sustained attention to wrongs done to them. That's a sure thing when someone like Chen bursts into the headlines. He escaped house arrest by fooling his guards, climbing over eight walls, and reaching the U.S. Embassy in Beijing after a breakneck 300-mile drive. It was a thrillingly brave act, but we should have almost equal admiration for the network of activists who helped him, especially He "Pearl" Peirong, the woman who drove him. She was released Friday, but absent the world …