Baseball manager flailed for cheering Castro (and a word on Gunter Grass)
|Gatsiounis is author of Beyond the Veneer: Malaysia's Struggle for Dignity and Direction, and, most recently, Velvet and Cinder Blocks, a collection of politically-tinged short stories.He blogs at breaklines.wordpress.com|
APRIL 16 — A manager for a Florida baseball team has come under fire for allegedly saying he loves Fidel Castro.
I empathise with the nearly one million Cuban exiles who have escaped Castro’s ruthless reign of deprivation for the pastel sunsets of south Florida. But I can’t support the witchhunt calling for Ozzie Guillen’s suspension and resignation. It’s one man, one opinion. In America. Get over it.
No one — no one in the free world — has the right not to be offended. One has the right to choose to get offended. And that’s where it should end. But don’t expect the law to punish others for your choice.
If it’s any consolation, virtually no one outside of the chauvinistic cults of Marxism and anti-Westernism shares Guillen’s opinion. His remarks are not a threat. They don’t improve Castro’s or Cuba’s geopolitical prospects. They hurt Guillen more than anyone.
Guillen has a history of letting rip, saying for instance that Asian ball players are treated better than Hispanics because they’re given translators. Of a sports writer he said, “He’s a garbage. He’s always been a garbage. And he will die a garbage.” Of himself he’s said, “I’m the Charlie Sheen of baseball minus the drugs and the prostitutes.” On Thursday last week, he said of his post-game ritual, “I go to the hotel bar, get drunk, sleep. I don’t do anything else.” When actor Sean Penn said Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is not a dictator, Guillen tweeted, “Sean penn if you love venezuela please move to venezuela for a year. But rent a house in guarenas or guatire to see how long you last clown.”
With Ozzie, anything is possible. The man craves attention. The Marlins knew that in hiring him.
Of course they couldn’t have foreseen the Castro comments coming, from the manager of a team based in Little Havana no less. And the controversy could distract the team and hurt ticket sales. If the trend continues the Marlins would be justified in firing him. But not for voicing a political view that’s unpopular in South Florida. It’s not a manager’s job to agree with fan base accustomed to political correctness. He’s there to win games.
Reprimanding him for an unpopular opinion would be a form of censorship. Censorship is a step towards tyranny, and hey wasn’t it tyranny that those most offended by Guillen’s comments risked life and limb to escape?
Going a step further, Israel on April 8 slapped a travel ban on the German writer Günter Grass over a poem he wrote calling Israel’s nuclear programme a threat to world peace. Ironically, this is to lend support to Iran, a country that has unequivocally stated its desire to wipe Israel off the map and is pursuing its own nuclear arsenal.
Israel is understandably sensitive to the prospect, as are a good many countries in the Middle East.
But a travel ban? And charges of anti-Semitism?
Anti-Semitism is indeed at play in some criticisms of Israel; the “concern” with injustice serves as a veil. But I don’t detect anything anti-Semitic in the poem. You can judge for yourself here.
In it Grass does predict that he will receive the “verdict” of anti-Semitism and says this is why he has remained silent until now. This itself does not absolve the poem of anti-Semitism. But it does remind us that the charge of anti-Semitism is often misused to silence Israel’s critics. When you build settlements on occupied land and hold down a people with force, you’re deserving of criticism. Shielding such a force from criticism is a licence to evil.
There is much to disagree with in Grass’ poem. It reeks of the hypocrisy too often espoused by defenders of the so-called South in which they call authoritarian states to arms while posing as peaceniks. Grass’ poem calls for “peace” but then urges “Iranian nuclear sites to be authorised through an international agency.” As if that hasn’t been tried.
He fails to give a face or voice to the Iranian people, who are suffering under a fanatical regime that has ignored the economic toll its nuclear ambitions are incurring through sanctions.
But to bar Grass from travelling to Israel and accuse him of anti-Semitism is to divert attention from the poem itself, a poem that does nothing to help heal a region put on knife’s edge by Iran’s nuclear standoff.
Grass sought to clarify his poem’s intentions in an interview that weekend, saying he would have chosen the words of his poem more carefully, to “make it clearer that I am primarily talking about the [Netanyahu] government.” Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has taken a hard line on Palestine and Iran.
Tehran hinted on April 6 for the umpteenth time that it may be willing to compromise with world powers over the nuclear controversy.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.