Kathleen Parker

Nor does Gedmin's crew try to spread anti-Muslim messages, as some critics have suggested. That is, unless one considers it anti-Muslim to insist that women not be stoned or that gay teens not be hanged. Gedmin describes his own philosophy as "paternal libertarianism."

Otherwise, RFE/RL is a news organization like any other that reports on events and issues, including women's rights.

This is not pleasing to everyone. In Afghanistan, Taliban insurgents routinely attack radio towers and insist on equal time for their doubtless heart-warming message. In Iran, the government jams the signal, except between midnight and 6 a.m. (a money-saving strategy), and tries to intimidate the 40 Iranian correspondents, who live and work in Prague. The Iranian journalists often receive letters ordering court appearances and fines, followed by threats to confiscate family members' homes in Iran.

Last year, correspondent Parnaz Azima, a beloved Iranian scholar best known for translating Ernest Hemingway, was detained for several months when she returned to Iran for a visit.

The Iranian government finally released Azima, who holds dual U.S.-Iranian citizenship, but erected bureaucratic obstacles to prevent her from visiting her elderly mother. If she returns, in all likelihood, she would be arrested for such crimes as reporting on "sensitive" stories.

Azima, says Gedmin, is Iran's "worst nightmare": a woman with standing who refuses to play by the rules.

Keeping voices such as Azima's free and available to others is a continuing challenge as Congress weighs spending priorities. Relatively speaking, $83 million is peanuts, as is the sum total of $800 million (less than the cost of one stealth bomber) that America spends on all international broadcasting efforts.

Gedmin, who is one of the signatories to a 1998 letter urging President Bill Clinton to overthrow Saddam Hussein, is hardly a touchy-feely guy. But he appreciates that the war of ideas is best fought with the "weapon of the word."

Give that man six Apaches.


Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
 
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