Monday, September 30, 2013
Rwandan Security Assaults Cooper Union Heckler In Front of Elie Wiesel---'Is This America?'
At the level of spectacle, I find hecklers entertaining---on TV. In person though I find them pretty obnoxious and have accepted that their ejection is now pretty standard.
So I had little complaint with security officers at a panel discussion at Cooper Union last night giving the 86 to a guy in his late twenties/early thirties who got up and heckled Rwandan President Paul Kagame. Along with “America’s Rabbi” Shmuley Boteach and Holocaust humanitarian Elie Wiesel, Kagame was appearing on a panel about preventing genocide, which was pegged to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s use of poison gas in August and to the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan slaughter. “Do the Strong Have An Obligation to Protect the Weak,” was the keynote question, with American reluctance to launch military strikes against Syria hanging in the air.
What I DO have a BIG problem with is the fact that the security officers who hustled him out of the Great Hall were Rwandans in Kagame’s security detail stationed around the room; that they roughed the guy up pretty badly, with at least one of them throwing a rabbit punch at the guy’s head, even though he wasn’t putting up much resistance; AND that they were allowed to do so even though the US Secret Service was there in considerable number, as well as security personnel from Cooper Union, owing to Kagame’s presence as a head of state in town for United Nations week. I was sitting in the press section not more than 20 feet from the violence. I was not the only one who thought the incident was handled excessively.
Kagame is rightfully praised for ending the Rwandan genocide, but since then, his regime has come under legitimate criticism for human rights violations in the Congo and other forms of repression in Rwanda itself, as Newsweek explained, asserting that Kagame really deserves “an indictment" instead of honors. Which was what the heckler was addressing, albeit loudly and rudely. (The fact that Kagame has become a darling of some on the far right of the pro Israel community, I’ll leave for another post.)
But to have Kagame’s thugs go after the guy so viciously, even as the Secret Service looked on, seemed to me totally unacceptable. “Is this America?” the guy shouted as he was being bounced out of the room. Hecklers are given to overstatement, especially after being punched in the head from behind. However shrill though, he had a point.