Rabkin Book Review Carried in Weekly Standard

Professor Jeremy Rabkin has written a review of Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky's third book, Defending Identity, that appeared in the August 25 edition of The Weekly Standard.

One of Sharansky's main concerns in  Defending Identity, says Rabkin, is the way progressive opinion, even among human rights advocates, has focused negatively against the United States and Israel in recent times, resulting in a weakening of the political coalition of democracies by the refusal to distinguish imperfections in generally democratic countries from governments resting entirely on repression.  Sharansky further argues, Rabkin tells us, that people of strong identity are the people most ready to fight for their freedom, and that those who have "democracy without identity" are not able to resist those who possess "identity without democracy," thereby falling into a pattern of appeasement.

Who Are You? The Weekly Standard, August 25, 2008. By Jeremy Rabkin.

"In The case for Democracy Sharansky emphasized that the longing for freedom is universal because everyone would prefer to live in a free society rather than a 'fear society.' Here he acknowledges a large complication: Individuals don't just want to feel safe; they want to feel connected to something larger than themselves. They want to defend their 'identity' as well as their personal safety.

"So he criticizes the tendency among human rights advocates to demand public neutrality toward religion in ways that end up stifling religious identities. He criticizes the French law prohibiting women from wearing veils in French schools. He criticizes American liberals for worrying so much about 'separation of church and state' that they end up suppressing or marginalizing the public expression of religious views. Restricting people in the name of human rights will repel potential allies in the cause of freedom.

"Sharansky's deeper point is that people of strong 'identity' aren't just potential allies. They are the people most ready to fight for their freedom. They are the people with the most courage, and he gives several examples from his prison experience. The prisoners most likely to resist intimidation were Pentecostals, Ukrainian nationalists, and so on. Their very particular commitments gave them very particular reasons to resist Soviet tyranny.

"By contrast, those who are only for human rights are often unprepared to take risks for their cause. Campaigns for 'peace' in the 1970s and '80s tended, as he notes, to advocate appeasement of the Soviet Union-and were, for that reason, encouraged and nurtured by the Kremlin (at least in the West). In a somewhat similar way, Sharansky protests, the cause of human rights has been hijacked at the United Nations by Islamic states, who subordinate all other concerns to their campaign against Israel. Western human rights advocates have accommodated this perverse priority rather than lose access to international forums or risk unpleasant confrontations with Islamist organizations."

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