It happened today - December 10, 2015

In Edgar Allan Poe’s famous story “The Purloined Letter,” the amateur sleuth C. Auguste Dupin baffles the police by discovering a missing document cunningly hidden in plain sight. I confess to considering Poe a mediocre and melodramatic writer. But I frequently wish we had Dupin in public debate.

For instance, on December 10, 1977, Soviet authorities arrested four dissidents at a peaceful rally against political oppression and intimidated many others into skipping the event… on United Nations Human Rights Day. Now you know what I think of the UN, which is that it should be disassembled brick by brick and hurled into the East River. It is absurd that such a coterie of dictators and half-legitimate regimes should prate on about human rights in between one-sided resolutions condemning Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East.

More generally, I consider pious bleating about human rights no substitute for engaged citizens willing to defend them, which is what brought us Magna Carta, the Glorious Revolution, self-government in the United Province of Canada and so on. To a considerable degree, thinking proclaiming an international day of do-goodery on this or any other subject constitutes effective action distracts us from many hard realities. But I digress.

The key point is that by their actions the Soviet authorities showed beyond rational doubt that they did not share Western conceptions of human rights, indeed, were actively and resolutely hostile to them. Which did not stop large numbers of supposedly enlightened people from suggesting a moral and geopolitical equivalence between the United States and its NATO allies and the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact slaves. And, unsurprisingly, the effort of declaring good and evil to be equivalent quickly, perhaps instantly, led to effectively preferring evil, to blaming America first in Cold War confrontations and quarrels.

Perhaps on reflection I did not digress above. The specific inability to see that arresting dissidents on human rights day means you despise human rights is actually intimately connected with a habit of thinking that ignoring unpleasant realities makes them go away.

It doesn’t. Instead they remain hidden in plain sight, as they once did with Hitler and do today with ISIL. If only C. Auguste Dupin were here to spot the significance of their brazen declarations and actions that they hate and despise us and everything we stand for. It’s right there in front of us. Whatever can it mean?