Steinem crosses a border – and crosses a line

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Christine Ahn

Yesterday we began discussing a May 24 spectacle starring women’s movement hero Gloria Steinem, who led a group of about 30 activists in a “walk for peace” across the border between the two Koreas. Noting that Steinem had kept her mouth shut about the atrocities committed by the North Korean regime – including atrocities against women – we observed that her chief collaborator on this enterprise, Korean-American activist Christine Ahn, was even more disgraceful.

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Ahn and Steinem at a press conference

Who’s Christine Ahn? She’s head of a Bay Area-based group called the Korea Solidarity Committee. In the run-up to the border crossing, she criticized what she called the “Cold War mentality” that “has enabled Korea to remain divided” and maintained: “I am pro-peace. I am pro-engagement. I am pro-dialogue. I am pro-human rights.”

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Steinem in Pyongyang

On his blog, Washington, D.C. lawyer Joshua Stanton has provided a useful catalog of Ahn’s views: she’s “opposed human rights legislation for North Korea that funded broadcasting to North Korea, and that provided for aid and asylum for North Korean refugees, calling it an effort ‘by hawkish conservatives and Christian fundamentalists with the intention of bringing regime change in North Korea.’” She’s rejected the conclusion of an international team that found North Korea responsible for the 2010 sinking of the ROKS Cheonan, in which 44 South Korean sailors were killed. She’s praised the Kims’ wacky “juche” ideology for giving the North a “well organized and highly industrialized socialist economy, largely self-sufficient, with a disciplined and productive work force” free of “the stranglehold of the United States.” And she’s blamed North Korea’s Great Famine on George W. Bush, deep-sixing, as Stanton pointed out, “the fact that that throughout much of the famine, the U.S. was the largest donor to food aid programs in North Korea.”

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Steinem just after the border crossing, holding yet another press conference

Lizzie Crocker, in her Daily Beast essay on Steinem’s foray into Korean affairs, quoted Sue Mi Terry of Columbia University’s East Asian Institute as saying that Ahn “has a tendency to blame the U.S. and South Korea for all the problems caused by North Korea.” Terry also lamented the fact that Steinem, revered by millions as a heroine of women’s rights, seemed, like Ahn, to be deliberately overlooking Pyongyang’s monstrous treatment of women.

Terry wasn’t alone. In a Washington Post op-edAbraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Greg Scarlatoiu of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea roundly condemned Steinem’s stunt, pointing out that it “could only be undertaken with Pyongyang’s consent” and that “[i]f Pyongyang truly is interested in a peace gesture, it might start by releasing hundreds of South Korean POWs, now in their 80s and 90s, who were never allowed to return to their loved ones after the armistice.” Cooper and Scarlatoiu added:

We would urge Steinem and company to review last year’s scrupulously investigated U.N. Commission of Inquiry report, which determined that crimes against humanity have long been committed as a matter of state policy in North Korea. Those most vulnerable to these policies are North Korean women, and many are murdered by this merciless regime. In North Korea’s political prison camps and other detention facilities, starvation, humiliation and exploitation of women is rampant. Women have been subjected to medical and poison gas experimentation. They suffer forced abortions and can be coerced to witness the infanticide of their babies. Sexual violence is common.

We desperately need the voices of feminists protesting the murder, torture and exploitation of North Korean women by their own government. But any sanctioning of a peace march by North Korea can be nothing but human rights theater intended to cover up its death camps and crimes against humanity.

Shin Dong-Hyuk, North Korean defector and author of Escape from Camp 14, addressed the United Nations Human Rights Council. The United Nations Commission of Inquiry on North Korea formally presented its report to the Human Rights Council March 17, 2014. U.S. Mission Geneva/ Eric Bridiers
North Korean defector Shin Dong-Hyuk

Suzanne Scholte of the North Korea Freedom Coalition also had choice words for Steinem and her clueless comrades. “It is absolutely outrageous that they completely ignore the suffering of the North Korean people, especially North Korean women,” said Scholte. North Korean exile Shin Dong-hyuk, the only prisoner ever to have escaped from a top-level internment camp in that country, agreed wholeheartedly. “I wonder if these people understand the meaning of peace,” he wrote on Facebook. Later, he added: “There really wasn[‘]t much they could do in the name of peace in the first place. Instead, they decided to be quiet about the atrocities taking place and basically went there to praise the dictator.”

Amen. With her foolish actions in Korea, feminist deity Gloria Steinem has become what Ahn already was – namely, a useful stooge of the very first order, serving the propaganda purposes of the very worst (and most woman-oppressing) regime on the entire planet. 

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