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Free Speech, Iran—and Carols

Dear Friends,

Even liberal societies place limits on free speech, writes Frank Fukuyama this week. Frank has interesting things to say about Elon Musk — who describes himself as a free-speech absolutist — and the complexities of our free-speech debate in the internet and big-platform era. You can read Frank’s piece here (Opens in a new window). Read the 2020 White Paper (Opens in a new window) authored by the Stanford Working Group on Platform Scale, chaired by Frank. I’ll mention as well a 2020 essay (Opens in a new window) by contributing editor Martha Bayles in Jay Tolson’s Hedgehog Review titled “Taming the Furies — Free Speech in a Fractured Republic.”

I’ve neglected it until now, but I’ve just purchased Timothy Garton Ash’s 2016 book (Opens in a new window) Free Speech: Ten Principles for a Connected World. I’m re-reading Jonathan Rauch’s book (Opens in a new window), The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth. I’ve also just come across an interesting December 1990 essay (Opens in a new window) by Martin Amis bearing on his conversation with Salman Rushdie. This was a year after Iran’s Supreme Leader pronounced his fatwa against Rushdie.

We’re envisaging a free-speech symposium in early 2023. First, though, editorial board member Patrick Chamorel is writing for us about George Bensoussan’s account of being sued in France in 2017 for “incitement to racial hatred.” At the heart of the matter was, ostensibly, a 2015 radio interview and an assertion by the Holocaust historian about Muslim antisemitism.

There’s otherwise much to commend. “Will Generation X’s preference for technocratic governance create an opening for future authoritarianism?” That’s a question raised in a piece (Opens in a new window) by young Chilean researcher and novelist Sascha Hannig Núñez. Our young contributing editor Tom Koenig reviews (Opens in a new window) this week Jacob Grumbach’s book on how parties are transforming state politics. Tom shares concerns about democratic backsliding, but comes out in a different place than the author, a (young) political scientist at the University of Washington.

Meanwhile, veteran scholar John J. DiIulio pushes us to think about Donald Trump’s future. Trump faces legal battles and competition from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. We’re witnessing, perhaps, the beginning of Trump fatigue in media and with some voters. But what if the former President starts to lose the white working class? John’s worked through arithmetic and sees Trump’s grip loosening. His essay appears tomorrow.

America and the World

Editorial board member Roya Hakakian was in our pages this week with an interview (Opens in a new window) on Iran. Roya continues to make the important and compelling case that today’s protest movement is broad-based and serious. We need to muster the energy, creativity, and resources to help from the outside. The Persian service of RFE/RL continues to do its part. Keep an eye on their work (Opens in a new window) for great reporting and videos in English and Farsi. We publish today a piece (Opens in a new window) by Shay Khatiri on what Iranian protestors are up against. We need to overcome misperceptions in the West. Iranians struggle against secret police networks and a regime that is armed to the teeth.

Nima Rashedan joins us by Zoom on December 15 at 12 noon ET. He’s a close observer of fissures within the Iranian regime. On Ukraine, we just hosted Ukrainian MP for Odesa Alex Goncharenko for a Washington salon and former defense minister Andriy Zagorodnyuk for a Zoom discussion. Former finance minister Natalie Jaresko has agreed to join us next.

Next week, we publish John Connelly on Ukraine’s national identity, Jorge González-Gallarza on Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá (1952–2012), and Gustav Jönsson on Xi Jinping. Today, we’ll turn to relevant history: At 12 noon ET (Opens in a new window) Iulia Joja moderates a Zoom discussion with Will Inboden on Will’s new book, The Peacemaker: Ronald Reagan, the Cold War, and the World on the Brink.

On Music

I’ve been asked to share a holiday play list. I’ll do so next week. For now, here’s (Opens in a new window) our friend Paul Kroeger from Texas A&M singing an aria from Handel’s Messiah. Paul spent several years performing with regional opera houses across Germany. Today, when he’s not focused on political science and governmental studies, he’s busy working as a volunteer shipping demining equipment to Ukraine.

Here’s a bit more to whet your holiday appetite. I love guitarists John Fahey and Leo Kottke. Here’s a fantastic (Opens in a new window) rendition of “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.” And from Kottke, timeless Bach (Opens in a new window). With different strings, you can listen to the same Bach, but in a different way (Opens in a new window).

Here’s (Opens in a new window) a fun version of the Ukrainian “Carol of the Bells.” I’ll have more choral music next week plus opera, a request from our friend Goncharenko, a regular reader of this letter. I’ll share Christmas operas and a less familiar oratorio from Handel. After Messiah, the Baroque master turned to writing music about Hanukkah.

As for carols, here’s (Opens in a new window) Yo-Yo Ma and Alison Krauss with the “Wexford Carol.” Here’s (Opens in a new window) a favorite of mine, a wonderful Spanish carol called “Riu Riu Chiu.” There’s even a version (Opens in a new window) by the Monkeys. Not too shabby. The song, which dates back to the 16th century, is a so-called villancico — a popular poetic and musical form at the time. The repeated syllables of the refrain were apparently intended to remind of a nightingale. “Riu” is “river” in Catalan. This is music with an addictive rhythm and such perfect flow. Here’s a haunting, captivating rendition for guitar (Opens in a new window).

More next week.

My best,


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