Very often the test of one's allegiance to a cause or to a people is precisely the willingness to stay the course when things are boring, to run the risk of repeating an old argument just one more time, or of going one more round with a hostile or (much worse) indifferent audience. I first became involved with the Czech opposition in 1968 when it was an intoxicating and celebrated cause. Then, during the depressing 1970s and 1980s I was a member of a routine committee that tried with limited success to help the reduced forces of Czech dissent to stay nourished (and published). The most pregnant moment of that commitment was one that I managed to miss at the time: I passed an afternoon with Zdenek Mlynar, exiled former secretary of the Czech Communist Party, who in the bleak early 1950s in Moscow had formed a friendship with a young Russian militant with an evident sense of irony named Mikhail Sergeyevitch Gorbachev. In 1988 I was arrested in Prague for attending a meeting of one of Vaclav Havel's 'Charter 77' committees. That outwardly exciting experience was interesting precisely because of its almost Zen-like tedium. I had gone to Prague determined to be the first visiting writer not to make use of the name Franz Kafka, but the numbing bureaucracy got the better of me. When I asked why I was being detained, I was told that I had no need to know the reason! Totalitarianism is itself a cliché (as well as a of pulverizing boredom) and it forced the cliché upon me in turn. I did have to mention Kafka in my eventual story. The regime fell not very much later, as I had slightly foreseen in that same piece that it would. (I had happened to notice that the young Czechs arrested with us were not at all frightened by the police, as their older mentors had been and still were, and also that the police themselves were almost fatigued by their job. This was totalitarianism practically yawning itself to death.) A couple of years after that I was overcome to be invited to an official reception in Prague, to thank those who had been consistent friends through the stultifying years of what 'The Party' had so perfectly termed 'normalization.' As with my tiny moment with Nelson Mandela, a whole historic stretch of nothingness and depression, combined with the long and deep insult of having to be pushed around by boring and mediocre people, could be at least partially canceled and annealed by one flash of humor and charm and generosity.
Question: Which Mediterranean government shares all of Ronald Reagan's views on international terrorism, the present danger of Soviet advance, the hypocrisy of the United Nations, the unreliability of Europe, the perfidy of the Third World and the need for nuclear defense policy? Question: Which Mediterranean government is Ronald Reagan trying, with the help of George Shultz and Caspar Weinberger, to replace with a government led by a party which professes socialism and which contains extreme leftists?If you answered 'the government of Israel' to both of the above, you know more about political and international irony than the President does.
The Aussies have spent so much time basking in the glory of the last generation that they have forgotten to plan for this one. It's just like the West Indies again; once their great names from the 1970s and 80s retired, the whole thing fell apart. The way things are going, the next Ashes series cannot come too quickly for England. What a shame that we have to wait until 2013 to play this lot again.
As he defended the book one evening in the early 1980s at the Carnegie Endowment in New York, I knew that some of what he said was true enough, just as some of it was arguably less so. (Edward incautiously dismissed 'speculations about the latest conspiracy to blow up buildings or sabotage commercial airliners' as the feverish product of 'highly exaggerated stereotypes.') took as its point of departure the Iranian revolution, which by then had been fully counter-revolutionized by the forces of the Ayatollah. Yes, it was true that the Western press which was one half of the pun about 'covering' had been naïve if not worse about the Pahlavi regime. Yes, it was true that few Middle East 'analysts' had had any concept of the latent power of Shi'ism to create mass mobilization. Yes, it was true that almost every stage of the Iranian drama had come as a complete surprise to the media. But wasn't it also the case that Iranian society was now disappearing into a void of retrogressive piety that had levied war against Iranian Kurdistan and used medieval weaponry such as stoning and amputation against its internal critics, or even against those like unveiled women whose very existence constituted an offense?