Wiesel slams Chinese over Xiaobo's treatment
Canadian Jewish News
MONTREAL — Elie Wiesel severely criticized the Chinese government for the imprisonment of dissident Liu Xiaobo, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize this month.
“I think the Chinese are crazy. They are a great country, I really respect the people, but why do they do that?… Liu should be immediately released and declared a national hero. Imagine the reaction of the world,” Wiesel said during a lecture at Concordia University on Oct. 19.
Wiesel, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, spoke in the main auditorium of Concordia’s downtown campus at the invitation of the Concordia Student Union (CSU). It was the same room where current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was scheduled to speak eight years ago before the event was cancelled because of a massive and violent demonstration.
CSU leaders at the time were among the opponents of the then-former Israeli leader’s presence on campus.
By contrast, Wiesel drew a near-capacity audience in the 650-seat hall, mostly students, and was given a respectful reception during his 45-minute lecture, including three standing ovations.
No reference was made in the opening remarks by CSU president Heather Lucas or Adrien Severyns, vice-president for external relations, to the 2002 episode. Wiesel himself hailed Concordia as “a great school.”
Answering selected written questions, Wiesel, 82, said he plans to organize some kind of protest on behalf of Liu, for whose safety he fears. “People all over the world should not rest until he is free,” Wiesel said, which brought the audience to its feet.
Liu was sentenced to 11 years last December after co-authoring a petition calling for political reform and respect for human rights in China.
Wiesel also defended the cause of Tibetan autonomy led by the Dalai Lama, whom he considers a close friend.
“The Dalai Lama has said he does not want political independence, but only cultural and religious autonomy. What does [Beijing] care for a small, God-forsaken province? [If it extended autonomy], China would have the respect of the world,” Wiesel said.
Wiesel’s only comment about the Middle East was that Israelis and Palestinians should meet face-to-face to talk peace.
“When two human beings meet, something happens,” he said.
Wiesel believes, “like everyone in Israel, even Sharon,” in a two-state solution.
“I think all the problems can be solved, including the borders and even Jerusalem, if they start with the small problems first. There’s already a lot of co-operation, economic co-operation, even co-operation on security,” he said.
Without referring to the Middle East, Wiesel said in his formal remarks: “I believe it is incumbent upon everybody to choose between the deadly war of adults and children growing up without fear, whoever those children are. When a child falls, we should run to him and not check his pockets for identification, just bring him to a hospital.”
And also, “I have difficulty living in a world where my hope is someone else’s despair.”
While Wiesel’s appearance was without incident, the campus group Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights issued a statement prior to his visit describing his views as “anti-Palestinian” and the event “partisan.” The student newspaper, The Link, reported that Wiesel had called the CSU “anti-Semitic” at the time of the Netanyahu debacle, without citing a source.
Wiesel’s lecture was only widely publicized less than a week beforehand.
He was invited in the context of the CSU’s first ever Peace Week. While free, attendance was by registration, and student identifications were carefully scrutinized before anyone was allowed into the auditorium and security was visible.
Most of Wiesel’s lecture was on the importance of memory and the danger of indifference.
He reflected on what he has tried to accomplish since the Holocaust.
If he had not devoted his life to teaching and writing, Wiesel thinks he would have been an orchestra conductor.
On the growing body of Holocaust-themed literature, Wiesel thinks that this is not a subject for fiction. “If a novel is about Auschwitz, it is either not a novel, or not about Auschwitz.”
He reiterated that he does not hold postwar Germans responsible for the Holocaust. “I never believed in collective guilt, whatever the situation or conflict, or in collective innocence. Only the [perpetrator] can be judged,” he said.
Young Germans should not feel guilty, he said. “We tell them they are victims, too, of their grandparents or the regime.”
Wiesel stayed on to sign his books for a long line of students.
At a reception afterward sponsored by David Azrieli, also a Holocaust survivor, Concordia president Judith Woodsworth spoke about what Wiesel means to her personally and, more particularly, to her late father.
Her family had been affected by the Holocaust and her father, whom she described as “a very modest man with a limited education,” admired Wiesel as a “landsman.”
When Wiesel won the Nobel, he tracked down Wiesel’s address at Boston University and wrote him a congratulatory letter. “You replied and he was very touched, and I still have that letter,” she said.
After Wiesel published A Jew Today, her father, who was ill, wrote, “My God, let Elie Wiesel live long and be well.” He passed away two months later in 1990.
Woodsworth gave Wiesel a copy of his letter to her father and of her father’s notes on A Jew Today, as a thank-you gift.
“My father would have been so proud that I was standing with you here today,” she said.
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