The New Republic did itself no favors publishing this snide andgratuitous attack on former South African President Nelson Mandela("Half Nelson," December 18, 2006). The article quotes a letterfrom Mandela to Blood Diamond director Edward Zwick. Mandela hopedthat, in telling the story of Sierra Leone's civil war and the roleplayed by diamonds, the filmmaker would not send a message thatpeople should stop buying diamonds mined in Africa. "None of thismakes much sense," sneers Isaac Chotiner. Actually, it makes a lotof sense. These are the legitimate concerns of a deeply principledman--one who has devoted his life to the cause of a peaceful,prosperous, and justly governed Africa, from whose naturalabundance all its people--not just a small elite--may finallybenefit. If affluent consumers are persuaded to shun Africandiamonds because there have been instances--the exception, nowadays,not the rule--in which diamonds have been used to finance evil,Africa will find itself plundered of the very wealth it needs toput a permanent end to the misery depicted by Zwick. Not for thefirst time, the plunderers will be outsiders serving their owninterests while claiming to advocate on Africa's behalf.
U.S. Country Manager
International Marketing Council of South Africa
isaac chotiner responds:
Simon Barber makes a false distinction identical to one voicedfrequently by Mandela and the major diamond companies. There arevery few people calling for a boycott of African diamonds (this wastrue even during the worst days of Sierra Leone's civil war). Whatmany human rights activists, from the United States to Africa, werein fact advocating was a verifiable monitoring system that wouldprevent conflict diamonds from entering the world market andprotect the legitimate diamond industry. Why this would havecrippled Africa's economy, as Mandela and Barber would have usbelieve, is beyond my powers of comprehension (especially if we areto accept Mandela's claim that over 99 percent of purchaseddiamonds are conflict-free). Unfortunately, as it currently stands,such a policy is not in place, and there is no way to independentlyverify whether diamonds from a variety of African countries areclean. As for Barber's final comment, I'm sure the good anddedicated people at organizations like Amnesty International andGlobal Witness can respond to the statement that they are"plunderers ... serving their own interests." Their work deservesattention and praise, not cheap shots from the likes of Barber.
Iread with interest the review of my book, Confronting Iran, byProfessor Vali Nasr ("The New Hegemon," December 18, 2006). Whilegenerous in parts, I was struck by the main thrust of Nasr'scomments, which, to my mind, indicated either a misreading ormiscomprehension of my analysis. Nasr, for example, repeatedlymakes the point that I portray the Iranian leadership as"pragmatic, " even more "pragmatic than they themselves claim tobe." Since this book is fundamentally about the ideologies andmyths of confrontation (as outlined in the introduction), I fail tosee how he can come to this conclusion. Furthermore, as I note inmy own conclusion: "All the criticisms that have been applied tothe West can be applied equally to Iran, whose capacity for mythicconstruction and consumption traditionally outstrips anything theWest can offer." Professor Nasr is welcome to disagree with my viewthat all parties have been guilty of perceiving the other through acompounded ideological prism, but I do not think the text supportshis assertion that I view Iran as a "pragmatic" power. The booklists multiple examples of ideologically driven activities thathave harmed Iran's strategic interests--including, I should add,the hostage crisis. I am perplexed that he should suggest I haveargued that the United States bears the brunt of the blame for thehostage crisis. This is a very strange understanding of the text,which states categorically (in a paraphrasing of Talleyrand) thatthe seizure of the embassy was worse than a crime--it was amistake. To suggest that I have argued otherwise, as Nasr appearsto, indicates a very quixotic reading of the text.
ali m. ansari
Professor of History
University of St Andrews
St Andrews, Scotland
Department of corrections
In "Passions and a Man" (January 15), Emily Wilson incorrectlystates that Mantua is near Naples. We regret the error.