Christine Ahn’s pursuit of global fame is having unintended consequences, mostly for Gloria Steinem. At Hot Air, Noah Rothman writes, “If women’s rights are also human rights, then North Korea is no friend to either.” He accuses Ahn and Steinem (and other “progressives”) of turning “a blind eye toward real abuses in order to support the cause of totalitarian statism.”
In The Daily Beast, Lizzie Crocker writes that Ahn “has long been uncritical of North Korea, a country that has some committed some of the worst human rights abuses on record,” and wonders how it could be that “this group of women has so far been mum on the violence occurring at the hands of the Kim regime in North Korea: executions, rape, forced starvation, and enslavement, according to a 2014 United Nations report on North Korea’s human rights abuses.” Crocker also prints this poignant quote from a North Korean refugee:
“It’s tragic that Pyongyang will allow a group of foreign women to cross the DMZ, but will not allow its own people to do the same,” says 32-year-old Hyeonseo Lee, who fled North Korea when she was 15 and currently lives in Seoul.
“All of us defectors are heartbroken that we cannot visit our hometown or meet our loved ones. So I hope these 30 brave women will ask the North Korean leadership to allow North Koreans to cross the DMZ as well.”
It’s not clear if Ms. Lee, who is brave, used the word “brave” ironically while referring to Ahn and Steinem, who lack the courage (or the inclination) to ask the North Koreans uncomfortable questions about women’s rights. Crocker also relates the weirdness of Ahn’s media strategy when asked difficult questions:
After agreeing to an interview by email on Tuesday, Ahn declined to answer a series of questions posed by the Daily Beast, referring a reporter to a Buzzfeed story before signing off cryptically, “Be on the right side of history!”
Steinem also declined to comment for Crocker’s article.
This unwanted scrutiny must be quite a come-down after the (metaphorical) tongue bath Ahn’s project received from this New York Times op-ed, which is labeled as a news story. The reporter, Rick Gladstone, does not betray the slightest hint of objectivity, or of having researched Ahn’s background or motives. He never mentions any of the findings of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry that inform relevant-seeming questions about how the North Korean regime treats women, or what Ahn and Steinem plan to say or do about that. Just to give you an idea of what Gladstone didn’t consider fit to print, or even to inquire about, here’s a quote from the COI’s report:
318. Witnesses have testified that violence against women is not limited to the home, and that it is common to see women being beaten and sexually assaulted in public. Officials are not only increasingly engaging in corruption in order to support their low or non-existent salaries, they are also exacting penalties and punishment in the form of sexual abuse and violence as there is no fear of punishment. As more women assume the responsibility for feeding their families due to the dire economic and food situation, more women are traversing through and lingering in public spaces, selling and transporting their goods. The male dominated state, agents who police the marketplace, inspectors on trains and soldiers are increasingly committing acts of sexual assault on women in public spaces. The Commission received testimony that while rape of minors is severely punished in the DPRK, the rape of adults is not really considered a crime.
Gladstone quotes a number of Ahn’s supporters, but not one skeptic or critic. Nor does he ask the most obvious question about Ahn’s objective — what’s the point of a peace treaty with a regime that can’t abide by an Armistice, five U.N. Security Council Resolutions, two agreed frameworks, a Leap Day deal, or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?
It is, on balance, some of the most biased, shallowest, and least objective reporting I’ve seen in the Times or anywhere else. Maybe I’ll write to the Times‘s Public Editor. Or maybe you will.
Ahn decries CNN’s “shameful” report, but takes some comfort in the sympathetic writing of one Kathleen Richards, writing at “The Stranger.” “The Stranger” turns out to be a blog I’ve never heard of, although it sounds much more like the name a truck stop serial killer would sign on the notes he leaves for the police on the bodies of his victims. Flippantly, Richards writes, “For some reason, human rights violations are considered unique to North Korea.”
Trigger warning, Kathleen: if you read this and have a soul, you may realize that you’re on the wrong side of history.
* Ms Kim Hye-sook described how the women who worked in the mines of Political Prison Camp No. 18 feared assignment to the nightshift, because guards and prisoners preyed on them on their way to and from work and rape them. None of the victims talked about their experience openly for fear of being punished. However, a number of female prisoners recounted their traumatic experiences to her in confidence. Another witness reported that the guards of Camp No. 18 were especially targeting teenage girls.
* A former guard in Camp No. 11 described how the camp authorities made female inmates available for sexual abuse to a very senior official who regularly visited the camp. After the official raped the women, the victims were killed.
As far as I know, human rights violations of this nature and scale, committed by government authorities against female political prisoners with impunity, really are unique to North Korea.
[North Korean defector Bang Mi-Sun shows scars she received in a North Korean prison camp. Via.]
Richards’ name didn’t ring a bell until an astute reader pointed out that she was also the author of this 2009 article in the Oakland East Bay Express. Yes, that Oakland East Bay Express, that alt-lefty rag with a room-temperature circulation that took up Ahn’s cause by writing, not about the substance of the criticism of Ahn I wrote on my blog, but about what I did for a living when I wasn’t blogging. Richards’s name didn’t ring a bell because at the time, she went by the name of Kathleen Wentz. Wentz/Richards distinguished herself by coming closer than anyone has ever come to being sued by me for libel when she implied — falsely — that I’d used the resources of my place of employment to investigate Ahn. (But no one reads the Oakland East Bay Express. What damages could I prove?) It was a rather ridiculous lie for Richards to tell, given that every quote by Ahn I’ve ever cited has been a matter of public record. It may explain why, six years later, Richards writes for something called “The Stranger.” Award one point to “there is a God.”
Anyway, just in case you believed Ahn when she described Richards as “[a] sane voice in the media,” without mentioning that Richards is actually Ahn’s longstanding associate and hack mouthpiece.
[But of course, all defectors lie. All 25,000 of them.]
The same astute reader also saw Ahn’s latest piece-o’work in the Puffington Host,* promoting her “peace” march, and caught that Ahn may have betrayed some T.M.I.: “After I returned from Pyongyang, I received the following confirmation from the DPRK mission to the United Nations.” Ahn then quotes the North Korean reply, expressing Pyongyang’s “full support” — surprise!
The North Korean reply lists a number of Pyongyang’s external propaganda front groups — “Korean Committee for Solidarity With World Peoples, the Democratic Women’s Union of Korea, the Committee for Overseas Compatriots of Korea and other related organizations” — that will
watch their every move, “render all necessary assistances to the event for its success” to commemorate the “70th anniversary of liberation and simultaneous division of our beloved country and nation.” Ahn’s handler expresses the hope that the march “will be a specially significant contribution to terminating the current status of war, replacing armistice with peace agreement, and thereby achieving permanent peace and reunification on the Korean Peninsula.”
That is to say, by her own admission, Ahn been in direct “correspondence or intercourse with” a “foreign government or any officer or agent thereof,” with the undisguised intent to serve as its agent of influence. If you’ve kept up with the Iran debate, you know by now that I’ve just quoted the Logan Act, an antiquated and constitutionally questionable law that a number of pundits and signers of a White House petition recently accused Tom Cotton and 46 Republican Senators of violating. I’ve already expressed the view that the senators should not have sent the letter in question out of deference to the President’s authority, despite my sympathy with the view that Iran is irredeemably mendacious, that the deal is vague and unfinished, and (to any person of average judgment) a license to nuke up. But hey, who’s up for prosecuting Christine Ahn for violating the Logan Act, too?
Not me. Reading further, the Logan Act also requires that the correspondent have the “intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States.” I’m willing to speculate that Ahn is chock-a-block with the intent to defeat the measures of the United States, but the idea of prosecuting any American for non-violent expression, however gargantuan an imbecile or a hypocrite she may be, offends the First Amendment. As for whether Ahn intended to influence the conduct of the North Korean government, I suspect that the opposite is more likely, assuming any influence was even necessary.
One point of raising this issue is to show that the calls to prosecute Senator Cotton were silly, politically motivated, and (if acted upon) unconstitutional. But if proponents of prosecuting Cotton would like to upgrade their position to merely silly and unconstitutional, let them call for Ahn’s prosecution, too. What I would be up for is repealing the Logan Act.
My other point is how remarkably open Ahn is about the directness of her relationship, coordination, and political cooperation with the government of North Korea. A case could even be made that Ahn should register under the Foreign Agents’ Registration Act. Whether that would advance any worthwhile goal that can’t be advanced by public debate is another matter.
When Ahn’s critics point out the illogic, hypocrisy, and repugnance of the views she expresses publicly, her defense is to cry, “McCarthyism!” If one defines McCarthyism as responding to the public harangues of anyone to the political left of David Gergen, we’re all Roy Cohn. But to the rest of us, what distinguishes McCarthyism from political debate is that the former is “unsupported by proof or based on slight, doubtful, or irrelevant evidence,” “mak[es] unfair allegations or us[es] unfair investigative techniques,” and usually is done with the intent to “restrict dissent or political criticism.” That’s a far cry from quoting a person’s own public statements, with hyperlinks to allow the reader to see each of them in context.
I oppose censoring Christine Ahn, and I certainly hope Seoul won’t be stupid enough to deny her permission to march. Rather, I’d like to see Ahn march to Seoul along a route flanked by some of the 25,000 North Korean refugees who’ve made it to South Korea, and who might want to express some views of their own. But peacefully, please.
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* with apologies to James Taranto