May 25, 2005 | Huffington Post

Iraq: A View Worth Considering

By: Amb. Richard Carlson.

Natan Sharansky came by my office for lunch last week. As a reader of Arianna's blog you may not like what he had to say about the invasion of Iraq by President Bush, and its effect on the totalitarian and authoritarian governments of the mideast, but you should know it anyway.

Sharansky was as engaging, as outspoken and as intellectually energized on this subject as he was almost 30 years ago when he climbed up into the face of the fearsome security machinery of the Soviet Union and demanded simple human rights – freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, the freedom to travel.

The KGB ordered him to be quiet. He refused. They threw him into Moscow's notorious Lefortovo Prison and manufactured charges that he was a US spy. He spent 405 days and nights locked in a basement “punishment cell” undergoing threats and interrogation. They said to him,” If you don't shut up we will charge you with espionage. No one will support you. You have nothing to hope for. You have nobody to rely on. You are finished.” He refused to cooperate. He refused to stop talking about freedom. They charged him with treason. He was put on trial and sentenced to a brutal prison camp in the Siberian gulag.

Sharansky had been a mathematician. His close friend and human rights mentor was the Soviet physicist Andrei Sakharov who was exiled with his wife Elena Bonner for the same crimes committed by Sharansky, incessantly clamoring for freedom from the government. Sakharov was “a man who proved that with moral clarity and courage, we can change the world.” said Sharansky, who dedicated his compelling book “The Case for Democracy.” to Sakharov.

Sharansky's wife Avital, who had emigrated to Israel, waged a relentless one-woman campaign to free her husband. After nine years in the gulag she succeeded. Sharansky credits her and Ronald Reagan for his release. At the end of 1985, Mrs. Sharansky was picketing outside of the super-powers summit meeting in Geneva attended by both presidents Gorbachev and Reagan. Reagan pointed her out to Gorbachev. “You can keep saying her husband is an American spy, but my people trust that woman. As long as you keep him and other political prisoners locked up, we will not be able to establish a relationship of trust.” Gorbachev ordered the KGB to let Sharansky go. Within a month he had arrived in Israel where he worked as an editor and journalist, founded a political party, was elected to the parliament and went in and out of cabinet positions over the years.

Now Sharansky has resigned from his latest post in the Sharon cabinet because he opposes the planned removal of Jewish settlers and the military from the Gaza Strip. He thinks it will worsen the conflict with the Palestinians and get in the way of a possible peace settlement. He believes that Abu Mazen's leadership of the Palestinian Authority bodes much better for peace that did that of the treacherous Yasser Arafat.

You sit across from Sharansky as he picks at his salad and talks animatedly. You think about what he faced in the Soviet Union and how he and Sakharov and Eleana. Bonner and a few others helped push the Soviet system into the trash-can of history. And you wonder if you would have done the same? Would you have been able to do what Sharansky did? Would you have had the courage to stand-up to the darkest and most real of threats -unprotected by your friends or your money or your social status – and thumb your nose at the men with the truncheons and the thumb-screws? It's not a choice many of us would want to face. Agree with all of his specific views or not his life gives those views a moral heft worth consideration.


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