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Joel C. Rosenberg has had a fascinating career over the past ten years. He worked for the Heritage Foundation in Washington DC as a researcher. He worked for Steve Forbes and Rush Limbaugh. He’s worked for Benjamin Netanyahu and Natan Scharansky. With his background in politics and communications, and his familiarity with the politics and the players in the Middle East, he decided to write a novel in 2000. The novel begins with a terrorist attack in which airplanes are hijacked and crashed into buildings in the US. The manuscript was completed and was being reviewed for publication in New York city when the deadly attacks on 9/11/2001 occurred.
In Epicenter, Rosenberg returns to non-fiction to provide readers with an update of the startling events unfolding in the Middle East – events which are no secret, but they are being overlooked and go unreported by the mainstream media. Rosenberg sees three remarkable developments occurring right now in the Middle East:
- There is an emerging alliance between Russia and Iran (Magog and Persia) which seems to be a fulfillment of biblical prophecy.
- Israel is experiencing unprecedented economic prosperity – and may be on the verge of discovering oil and gas reserves that will dramatically alter the economic realities of the Middle East.
- Muslims (Arab, Persian, Pakistani) are turning to Christ in record numbers.
Have you read about any of these in the news?
Rosenberg carefully documents what is going on and just as carefully seeks to analyze and understand what is going on in the Middle East from a biblical perspective.
This is a fascinating book. Without being sensationalistic, Rosenberg increases the reader’s understanding of what the future may hold in the Middle East.
For Father’s Day, my wife gave me a copy of The Reagan Diaries.
In the introduction, editor David Brinkley mentions that Reagan is one of only five presidents who kept consistent personal diaries. The other four were Washington, John Quincy Adams, Polk, & Hayes. That observation alone is remarkable, although understandable. Keeping a diary is a discipline – and presidents have way too many distractions. Keeping a diary is also a way of refining one’s own thoughts. Putting your ideas into words forces you to clarify and articulate what you mean. Keeping a diary also requires one to develop a certain facility with words – which Reagan had, but rarely gets credit for.
But I’ve digressed. I’ve only started the book, but I was immediately struck by an entry from April of 1981. By that point, Reagan had been in office for just over 90 days. He’d also been shot and spent several weeks recuperating from emergency surgery. There is a remarkable diary entry on April 23.
On April 23, Reagan sent a private note to the Soviet President, Leonid Brezhnev – and recorded the text in his diary. In the note, after agreeing with an observation Brezhnev made to him in an earlier note that substantive issues were best discussed face to face, Reagan raises only one issue. It is the height of the cold war. And he devotes 3/4 of his hand-written note to a plea to Brezhnev to release “the man Scharansky an inmate in one of your prisons.”
Reagan tells Brezhnev that, “I can assure you he was never involved in any way with any agency of the U.S. govt.”
The most remarkable part of the letter is Reagan’s offer to forgo any political benefit from securing Sharansky’s release: “. . . this is between the two of us and I will not reveal that I made any such request.”
Two years later, in July of 1983, there is a follow-up entry: “The Soviets are being devious about their promise to let Scharansky go. We’re going to hold them to it.”
Three years later, February 3 1986: “We have a deal to get him out of Russia. Last nite & this morning it was all over the news. I feared the publicity might queer the deal. Turns out the leak was from Moscow.
Finally, eight days later, on February 11, 1986: “1st news of the day ‘Scharansky freed by the Soviets.’ After years of imprisonment he was made part of a spy swap & allowed to rejoin his wife. We flew him to our base at Frankfort & an Israeli plane few to Tel Aviv. Later in day I received a call from P.M. Peres & Scharansky thanking us. I told them Kohl of W. Germany played a big part in putting this together.”
Even in his diary, Reagan refrains from claiming credit for what was accomplished. He does not write “Sharansky thanked me.” He writes “Sharansky thanked us.” And then he further shares the credit with the German Chancellor.
The point of all this: Sharansky is an important (but overlooked) figure in the course of the Cold War. He became a symbol of the Soviet Union’s intolerance of dissent and its denial of human rights. But he was also a person. His personal story inspires as an example of a courageous individual who doggedly refuses to compromise in spite of overwhelming odds.
Another point: Ronald Reagan was hardly an unsophisticated neophyte when it came to dealing with the Soviet Union. The story reveals his skills, but also the personal interest that Reagan took in Sharansky the individual. Reagan’s compassion for Sharansky is a revealing note on his character.
Final part of the story: A month after Sharansky’s release, he visited President Reagan in the White House. Here’s Reagan’s diary entry for that day, May 13, 1986 – about three months after Sharansky’s release:
Met with Anatoly Scharansky. It was fascinating to hear the story of his imprisonment by the Soviets. I learned that I’m a hero in the Soviet Gulag. The prisoners read the attacks on me in Tass & Pravda & learn what I’m saying about the Soviets and they like me.
Director, Schaeffer Study Center
and why is he important?
Last week, I wrote about President Bush’s speech in Prague at the invitation of José María Aznar of Spain, Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic, and Natan Sharansky of Israel (formerly the USSR). The President’s speech was magnificent. He made specific reference to the “defiance of Sakharov and Sharansky.” The events he was referencing occured almost thirty years ago. There are, undoubtedly, many who don’t know anything about the men the President was referring to – or anything about their “defiance.”
Bear with me. This is a tale worth telling.
Anatoly Sharansky was a mathematics prodigy from the Ukraine. Because of his outstanding talent and ability, he was admitted to the Moscow Physical Technical Institute, where he studied mathematics and computer science. Upon graduation in 1972 he took a position as a computer scientist at the state-run Oil and Gas Research Institute. Shortly afterwards, at the age of 25, he and his future wife Natalia Stieglitz (Avital) decided to emigrate to Israel and requested exit visas. Sharansky’s family had never forgotten their jewish heritage, and Anatoly was increasingly disenchanted with the failures of the Soviet Union. But emmigation from the Soviet Union was strictly controlled. Only a few hundred Jews were allowed to leave each year.
Avital’s request was approved, but Sharansky was denied permission to leave. The Soviet government informed him that he knew too many state secrets from his work at the Oil and Gas Research Institute. In 1974, the day before Avital left forever for Israel, she and Anatoly got married. Anatoly promised he would join her in Israel.
In 1975, the Soviet Union signed the Helsinki Accords. The Soviet Union signed it, because it guaranteed the current borders of all the states of Europe. But one of the ten points also committed all signatory nations to “Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief.” This clause, the Soviet Union had no intention of honoring.
In 1976, Andrei Sakharov and Yuri Orlov announced the foundation of a group called the Moscow Helsinki Watch Group. Along with them, among the eleven founders, was the 28 year old computer programmer, Anatoly Sharansky. The group’s purpose was to independently monitor the Soviet Union’s compliance with Article VII of the Helsinki Accords.
Sakharov and Orlov were famous scientists in Russia. Sakharov was known as the “father of the Russian atomic bomb.”
Because Sharansky was fluent in english, he quickly became the spokesman for the group.
The Soviet Union reacted immediately to crush the dissidents. Sakharov was too famous to be imprisoned immediately. He was eventually arrested and sent into internal exile, far away from Moscow, in the city of Gorky – which was closed to all foreign visitors and thus served the purpose of isolating Sakharov from contract with the western press.
Some of the other members of the Helsinki Watch Group were incarcerated for psychiatric evaluation and treatment. Orlov and Sharansky were arrested and charged with treason. Orlov received a ten year sentence. Sharansky was sentenced to 13 years.
In his final statement to the court in 1978, Sharansky said:
“Five years ago, I submitted my application for exit to Israel. Now I am further than ever from my dream. It would seem to be cause for regret. But it is absolutely the other way around. I am happy. I am happy that I lived honorably, at peace with my conscience. I never compromised my soul, even under the threat of death.
“I am happy that I helped people. I am proud that I knew and worked with such honorable, brave and courageous people as Sakharov, Orlov, Ginzburg, who are carrying on the traditions of the Russian intelligentsia [in defending human rights in the Soviet Union]. I am fortunate to have been witness to the process of the liberation of Jews of the USSR.
“I hope that the absurd accusation against me and the entire Jewish emigration movement will not hinder the liberation of my people. My near ones and friends know how I wanted to exchange activity in the emigration movement for a life with my wife Avital, in Israel.
“For more that two thousand years the Jewish people, my people, have been dispersed. But wherever they are, wherever Jews are found, every year they have repeated,‘Next year in Jerusalem.‘ Now, when I am further than ever from my people, from Avital, facing many arduous years of imprisonment, I say, turning to my people, my Avital, ‘Next year in Jerusalem.’
Due to the persecution of its members by the Soviet government, the Moscow Helsinki Group was silenced. It announced its own dissolution in September of 1982
Sharansky was to serve almost ten years in the gulag under terrible conditions. He was freed in 1986, due to the tireless efforts of his wife to organize support around the world and keep the pressure on the Soviet government. In the United States a large number of scientists voiced their support for Sharansky by joining a boycott of Soviet scientific exchanges and conferences. SOS (Scientists for Sakharov, Orlov, Sharansky), founded by Andrew Sessler and Morris Pripstein of the Lawrence Livermore labs eventually recruited 10,000 scientists who pledged to join the boycott.
In 1985, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev met for the first time in Geneva, Switzerland. Following that meeting, the Soviets agreed to release Sharansky, although they insisted that he be included as part of an exchange of convicted spies. On February 11, 1986 Sharansky walked across a bridge from East Berlin and West Berlin. He was met by the Israeli ambassador and immediately handed an Israeli passport. When he reached Israel later that day, (after apologizing for being late!), he and his wife spoke by telephone with President Reagan and thanked him for interceding on their behalf.
Sharansky went on to become active in Israeli politics. He was elected to the Israeli parliament and served in the cabinets of both Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Ehud Barak.
And of course, in 1989 – three years after Reagan secured the release of Sharansky – the Soviet Union collapsed.
In 2006, Sharansky wrote an eloquent endorsement of President Bush for the Wall Street Journal, calling Bush the “Dissident President.”
I’ll indulge myself by referring readers to one final anecdote that reveals much about Sharansky’s character – both his integrity and his faith. Sharansky insisted on celebrating Hannakuh, even in the Gulag. When the camp commandant confiscated his menorrah and candles, he declared a hunger strike – which was only resolved when the commandment allowed him to finish his celebration in the commandant’s office – with Sharansky insisting that the commandant join in by saying “amen” at the conclusion of the prayers. Read the full account here.
For a reasonably complete biography of Sharansky, those interested can start with the entry at Answers.com.
And for those who want to read a stirring account of perserverance and courage in the face of persecution, I highly recommend Sharansky’s memoir of his time in the gulag, called Fear No Evil: The Classic Memoir of One Man’s Triumph over a Police State.
Director, Schaeffer Study Center
And, predictably, its being ignored by the mainstream media. Before he went to the G8 summit, he spoke to a conference in Prague organized by President Havel and Natan Scharansky (more on them in another post).
One blogger, at the Jewish Review, named Bush our most eloquent president ever, based on this speech.
That blog entry is worth reading.
Commit an act of rebellion. Read Bush’s speech for yourself.
Read it slowly.
Imagine it being delivered out loud. Imagine how it must have reverberated with men and women who had been imprisoned and tortured for years in the cause of freedom.
And then, give thanks to God that he appointed George Bush to be president for eight years.
Director, Schaeffer Study Center
“Freedom is the non-negotiable right of every man, woman, and child, and the path to lasting peace in our world is liberty.” – George W. Bush
PS: Do I detect the hand of Tony Snow in the text of the president’s speech?