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Leftist Cacophony for Human Rights Grows Silent on the Beijing Massacre

June 11, 1989|ALAN M. DERSHOWITZ | Alan M. Dershowitz is a law professor at Harvard Law School and writes a column

As most of the civilized world reacted to the massacre on Tian An Men Square with horror and condemnation, there was a resounding chorus of silence from much of the extreme left, both American and international. On the Wednesday and Thursday following the weekend massacre, I had my associate call a number of those who are most vocal in condemning the United States, Israel and other Western democracies whenever they deviate in the slightest from the highest norms of human rights. Not surprisingly, several of these perennial democracy-bashers were unavailable for comment; they were indisposed, incommunicado, incognito, incoherent, in the bathroom or in Timbuktu.

But my associate did reach a fairly representative sample of the usually irrepressible and cacophonous left. Not a single one was prepared to condemn the Chinese government for shooting down and running over hundreds of unarmed students who died asking for democracy.

William Kunstler, who has repeatedly condemned the United States and our allies, had nothing to say about the Chinese crackdown. His office told my associate that he would have no comment. This is entirely consistent with Kunstler's long expressed policy of never condemning "socialist" regimes, lest his condemnation lend support to the "red-baiting" of the reactionary right.

FOR THE RECORD - Clarification
Los Angeles Times Saturday June 17, 1989 Home Edition Metro Part 2 Page 8 Column 4 Op Ed Desk 3 inches; 73 words Type of Material: Correction
A column by Alan Dershowitz (Op-Ed Page, June 11) stated that the National Lawyers Guild refused to condemn violence by the Chinese Army against the students, pending more information. Michael Cowan, executive director of the National Lawyers Guild, says thaton two occasions he personally stated to Dershowitz's associate that the guild condemned the use of state violence against nonviolent demonstrators in China and urged the Chinese government to abide by its constitution regarding the rights to free speech.

Similarly, Noam Chomsky, who immodestly describes himself as the defender of all underdogs, apparently does not consider unarmed students underdogs when they are supported by the running-dogs of the fascist right. Chomsky, who rarely lets a day go by without some joyful condemnation of Western democracies, and who has defended Holocaust deniers against charges of anti-Semitism, has been silent about China, according to his secretary.

The Palestine Liberation Organization, which does not hesitate to intrude in the internal affairs of Israel by violence, refused to take sides. Its United Nations delegation spokesperson told my associate: "It is an internal problem. We are not going to get involved."

The extreme-left press--the Guardian, the Workers Vanguard, the Revolutionary Worker and other Marxist weeklies--were busy trying to fit the events in China into their political orthodoxies. The Workers World Party condemned the students as counter-revolutionaries and commended the army for its decisive action. Even the Nation, whose June 12 issue must have gone to press before the massacre, was trying to figure out how to avoid crediting "Western values" for the students' desire for democracy. In a convoluted editorial, the weekly managed to argue that the student movement vindicated "Gorbachev's main thesis," rather than "imported Western values." The writer ignored the students' homage to the Statue of Liberty, their references to Patrick Henry and their repetition of American freedom slogans.

Finally, the National Lawyers Guild, which offers simple-minded, left-wing solutions to all capitalist vs. socialist conflicts, has decided that the Chinese situation "is too complex and too fluid" for immediate comment. It refuses to condemn the naked aggression of the army against unarmed students without "more information and discussion" about the student movement and its goals. I guess they are awaiting the arrival of the official Chinese newspapers, which now claim that no one except soldiers were killed in Tian An Men Square. The guild has adamantly refused to condemn Soviet political trials, but has issued repeated condemnations of American and Israeli "repression."

Most of these democracy-bashers were also silent about the recent gassing of more than 20 women and children by Soviet troops in Tbilisi, the use of poison gas against Kurdish civilians by Iraq, the systematic execution of entire villages by Syria and the attempted genocide of the Bahais by Iran. For these hypocrites, human-rights violations are committed only by the Western democracies they despise, never by the leftist tyrannies they support.

Nor does all the hypocrisy over human rights emanate from the extreme left. There is more than enough on the extreme right as well. Sen. Jesse Helms was quick to announce that the events in Tian An Men Square demonstrate that we cannot trust any communist government on any matter. Helms, who would be the first to call for lethal force if American leftist students had occupied the Capitol grounds in Washington, condemned the Chinese not so much for what they did, but for who they are.

This all goes to show that for many on the extreme left and right--who are more similar in this respect than they are different--human rights is a phony tactical device in their overall political campaign. They each selectively condemn human-rights violations when committed by their political enemies, and justify them--or are silent--when committed by their friends. The next time you read or hear condemnation of the United States, Israel or other Western democracies from the likes of Kunstler, Chomsky, the PLO and the National Lawyers Guild, remember their selective silence in the face of one of the most inexcusable human-rights violations in recent years.

Human rights will never become a reality until the world insists on a single standard of compliance, regardless of who are the perpetrators and who are the victims.

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