Books: Not for the beachbag

"Books: Not for the beachbag" Continued...

Issue: "The Man Behind the Duck," July 26, 1997

Two oddball chronicles of close encounters with oppression are vivid with detail and momentum, if lacking in Christian perspective. Troublemaker is Harry Wu's story of his most recent detention by Chinese officials two years ago. The Chinese dissident, now an American citizen, was imprisoned for 19 years before escaping to the United States. As an American he has made four clandestine trips back to China in order to document the extensive prison-labor system, or laogai, he came to know so well. The 1995 trip put him back in jail on spy charges. He was released two months later to help secure Hillary Clinton's attendance at the U.N. women's conference held in Beijing.

A self-described lapsed Catholic, Mr. Wu's first-generation research is still respected among evangelical China-watchers. Throughout the book Mr. Wu's documentation of Chinese abuses of laborers and religious believers is juxtaposed with the comforts he now enjoys at his California home. His day-to-day work of exposing Chinese prison conditions is broken, momentarily, by the offer of oranges from a neighbor's tree.

"For 19 years," he writes, "I never tasted fruit."

Srebrenica: Record of a War Crime puts Bosnia's ethnic cleansing into bloody relief with a dry recitation of the July 1995 massacre. How the U.N.-designated "safe area" in northeastern Bosnia became a mass grave for Muslim civilians is a still-unanswered question. It should remind Christians to steer clear of the world body in pressing their persecution agenda.

Authors Jan Willem Honig of King's College, London, and Norbert Both, a Dutch foreign policy analyst, rely on refugee accounts and the reports of U.N. soldiers stationed at Srebrenica to form a picture of what's wrong with U.N. peacekeeping operations. The multinational force at Srebrenica, mostly Dutch soldiers, ultimately could not protect the population to whom it was assigned; to do so violated the appearance of neutrality. Tens of thousands of Bosnian Muslim women and children became refugees, while their husbands and sons were tortured and executed.

Too much of Srebrenica is the tough chew of academic writing. Its content is nonetheless timely, with the United States bringing renewed pressure on Europe to prosecute Bosnia's war criminals. European allies, in return, are pressing the United States to extend its military presence in the region.

Implicit in any reading of persecution should be what William Bennett has called "a crisis of conscience."

The Empower America president, penman to books of virtue, and oft-mentioned contender for a Republican presidential nomination, confessed to a June meeting of leaders in the religious persecution fight: "I don't know whether I got into this because of my deep concern about the suffering and tragedy of others in other lands or because of my worries about this country."

Paraphrasing Walker Percy's lament that Americans don't know what to do between world wars, he asked, "Why is it that when we have so much we seem so unhappy about it? Why, at a time of tremendous affluence and abundance, does there seem to be so much sadness?"

Of the quest to raise awareness on persecution, Mr. Bennett told the group, "Here's a great national project uniting Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals. This is something very much worth doing."


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