(And a good day to visitors from Ashley's bilgewater blog. If you have any intellectual respect for Mr. Tate, well, then you probably don't want to read this. But thanks for dropping by, anyway.)
From a recent submission to the comments section back here, we have "Ashley" from Georgia, standing there with this seriously peeved look on his face, arms akimbo, demanding to know why we on the Left would presume to speak of "crushing dissent" when everyone knows that only those on the Right have that privilege.
According to Ashley,
"Crushing dissent" is one of the nonsensical catch-phrases the angry left slings around rather freely these days when discussing the Bush administration. Attempting rational conversation with anyone who says such things is a rather futile pursuit and so I generally ignore them.
However, that same "nonsensical catch-phrase" is perfectly appropriate when wielded by those on the Right, as Ashley explains in detail here, apparently swallowing hook, line and sinker what might (and I emphasize might) very well be just an opportunistic urban legend. Ashley writes:
In 1996 North Korean soldiers building another empty highway for Kim Il Sung discovered a Bible and a list of 25 names while demolishing an empty house. Those on the list were identified as the members and leaders of a secret Christian church, which perhaps met in the house. Everyone on the list was immediately arrested at their workplaces and imprisoned...
You can read the rest, but let's pop over to the Sun, shall we, and see what it actually says (emphasis added):
Among the first-hand reports are eyewitness accounts of Christians' being executed for the underground practice of their faith.
The study recounts, for example, how in November 1996 in North Korea's South Pyongan province, a unit of the North Korean army was tasked with widening a highway connecting Pyongyang to a nearby port city. While demolishing a vacant house, soldiers found in the basement, hidden between two bricks, a Bible and a list of 25 names. Among the list were individuals identified as a Christian pastor, two assistant pastors, two elders, and 20 parishioners who were identified by their occupations...
Now, this may very well have happened, but I'm a little suspicious that, as I read it, all we have to go on are eyewitness accounts since (and how shall I put this diplomatically?) some of those on the Right have a bad habit of making shit up for sympathy's sake.
Recall, if you will, this myth of Iraqi soldiers, during the first Gulf War, taking Kuwaiti babies out of incubators and leaving them to die on the hospital room floor. Never happened but, as you can guess, it was great for the public relations value. (For various accounts, just Google on "kuwaiti babies incubators".)
Other parts of the North Korea story seem just a little ... well, odd. As recounted in the LA Times:
In a 1996 case, a tattered Bible and a notebook containing a list of names were discovered wedged between two bricks in the basement of a house that was about to be demolished to make way for a road expansion.
Five middle-aged men who were accused of running an illegal church were brought to an army compound. They were forced to lie on the ground and were crushed by a steamroller, said a 30-year-old North Korean defector, who added that he witnessed the incident while he was in the army.
In the first place, how is it that the Bible was so easily and accidentally discovered by a road crew? Was it that pathetically hidden? And what was with that list of names? If you live in a country in which Christian worship is punishable by death, doesn't it seem incredibly stupid to acquire a Bible, write down a list of local (secret) worshippers of the forbidden religion, then save the list with the Bible and hide that Bible so incompetently that it's eventually found? Were these people so dense that they had no idea that a highway was coming so that they could move the incriminating Bible elsewhere? (I mean, new highways don't just sneak up on people -- you can generally see them coming from a long way away, you know.)
Does any of this make sense? (And if you accuse me of being overly cynical and skeptical about such an obviously heart-wrenching story, I will respond with only one word: "Incubators.")
Perhaps the most annoying part of this story can be found in this passage:
Missionaries working along the border have tried creative means to get Bibles into North Korea: hiding them in sacks of rice or even floating them over the border with balloons.
Right. So ... Christians are mortified by the thought that simple possession of a forbidden Bible is enough to get one killed in North Korea, and their response is to ... do everything they can to get Bibles into the hands of those people. Does this strike anyone else as being somehow counter-productive and just a little stupid? Just asking.
AFTERSNARK: Stories like the North Korean one above are typically recounted to convince one that the teller is terribly, terribly concerned about religious persecution around the world.
This is bullshit.
These people are not concerned about religious persecution in general; they are concerned only with Christian persecution and they quite simply don't give a rat's behind about the persecution of anyone else.
If you need convincing, the next time you start hearing a tale of "religious" persecution, ask the teller if he or she can identify a single example, from anywhere in the world, of systematic religious persecution of a group that is not Christian, and watch the blank, confused look spread across their face.
The prosecution rests.
MAN, THIS STORY HAS LEGS: I guess the wankersphere has a whole new meme going on here as the National Post jumps in with both feet:
North Korea crushing churches
U.S. report: Commission tells of Christians executed in front of schoolchildren
U.S government report says North Korea is raising religious persecution to the same heights as ancient Rome.
While the Romans threw Christians to the lions for sport, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom says North Korea's leaders settle for snap trials followed by firing squads or simply crushing the heads of underground church leaders under a steamroller.
As I've already said, it's quite possible that these stories are true, but some of them are just setting off the faintest warning bells for yours truly. Like this one:
In another case, a woman told of being forced to witness the 1997 firing squad execution of a young woman and her father near where the Seong Cheon River runs into the Tumin River.
The young woman had been washing clothes by the river when she accidentally dropped a Bible she had hidden in her laundry.
After three months of interrogation, she and her father were put on trial in a marketplace, condemned as traitors and executed on the spot in front of an assembled crowd of schoolchildren and their teachers.
Accidentally dropped a Bible she had hidden in her laundry? That is so soap opera -- you know, like when exactly the wrong person walks into the room at exactly the wrong time to catch someone in a compromising position, or when someone picks up the phone at exactly the wrong instant to overhear the most incriminating conversation, or when someone opens, by accident, exactly the wrong piece of mis-addressed mail to learn that their wife is really their sister, or some such nonsense.
Did this actually happen? It's hard to say, but it sure makes for fine storytelling that someone just happens to be carrying around, in their laundry of all places, the very book whose discovery would result in their death, then just happens to drop it in plain sight of someone who turns them in for it. What stupefyingly bad luck, no?
I'm going to reserve judgment on all of this, but I'm going to be really interested in what happens if these stories turn out to be urban legends in the end. Will their retractions get the same kind of media coverage as the original claims?
Oh, come on. I don't even need to ask that question, do I?
(I'm seeing a press release: "We must invade North Korea and affect a regime change since its leader is a tyrannical despot who has committed hideous crimes against his own people." Man, that sounds familiar. I'm betting incubators will be involved somehow.)