Moscow, Idaho is a small university town in Northwestern USA. Town’s population is 7000 during summer and 15,000 when the university is in session. Its original name in native language was Tatkinmah, the valley of green deer. Situated in the middle of town was a three story red building called Moscow Hotel. The main street along the hotel is Moscow’s main bazaar. One can walk from one end of the town to the other with ease and comfort, so there is no public transport or cab service in the town. It was a great attraction for hippies, artists, idealists and Jehovah’s witnesses. There was no visible political activism in town. The main centre of activism was Campus Christian Centre located in the midst of campus. It was a multi-denominational facility inhabited by a Lutheran, a Baptist and another Christian denomination. Quaker’s, a pacifist Christian Group, also held its services over there. University of Idaho (UOI) used to organise a Borah Symposium every year which provided a great platform for debate on extremely critical political issues. During my stay at Moscow, I attended two important symposiums, one on South Africa and the other on Central America. Another important event was a lecture by New York University’s Professor Gregory Rabassa who had translated Garcia Marquez’s ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ from Spanish to English, on “Translation as interpretation of culture”. Philip Habib US ambassador for the Middle East, who like US VP Candidate Sarah Palin was a UoI Alumni, also came to deliver a lecture.
During Borah Symposiums on South Africa, a whole group of supporters of apartheid visited UoI. I was teaching comparative economic system at that time and I invited one of the delegates, a priest from the Dutch Reformist Church to address my class. The priest enthusiastically invited me to visit South Africa. However, his interest rapidly waned as he heard my question to South African Ambassador during the seminar. During the evening session of the symposium, South African Ambassador participated in a panel discussion on apartheid in South Africa. During his presentation, he said, “Black tradition is a tradition of tyranny and violence. Wherever blacks are in power in Africa they have imposed dictatorial rule. They are morally irresponsible. If they are given the right to vote in South Africa, and they come to power through vote, they will abdicate democracy and establish a dictatorship. Therefore we cannot give them right to vote”. At the end of the presentation, I joined the queue to ask a question. On my turn I said, “I need the answer from the Ambassador only in yes or no”, “My question is that if blacks want to plead for reform in the system, and they are denied the right to do it through casting their votes, would the Ambassador recommend that they use the African way to reform the system, yes or no?”. Ambassador was speechless. Many troubling moments passed. The audience was all ears for a response. Finally, the moderator broke the silence. As the Ambassador was sweating, she said, “it seems he does not have an answer, let us move forward”. That was a jubilant ‘armed propaganda moment’ for me.
Borah symposium on Central America was also a wonderful symposium and a great learning opportunity for me, especially in understanding the bright and powerful side of American mind; American’s capacity to make a deal even under the most adverse circumstances. Key speakers at the seminar included El Salvador’s president Jose Napoleon Duarte, America’s former Ambassador to Guatemala Ambassador White and a bright, young and articulate second secretary of Nicaraguan Embassy in Washington D.C. During the panel discussion, Nicaraguan diplomat said that we want a resolution of political conflict in Central America through peaceful means; we have continuously invited military junta in El Salvador for a dialogue but they have always declined to participate. In response, Duarte said, “It is a bunch of lies.These guys are not serious about a dialogue. We joined them for a dialogue in Mexico City and the only offer they made was that if you leave El Salvador, we shall not kill you. It is ridiculous. They don’t want a dialogue. They use this offer for propaganda purposes”. Ambassador White’s response to this statement was fabulous. He said, “It does not prove that guerillas are not serious about dialogue. It only shows that they are tough negotiators”.(to be continued)