There’s an old joke that after being in China for a week you believe you can write a book. After being there a month, perhaps you can write a magazine article. After a year in China, you put your head down and mutter to yourself. The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.
I would hope the same kind of thing is happening to former NBA star Dennis Rodman after he made international headlines with his visit to North Korea (and made himself the butt of jokes with his ignorance about the country).
Others are mocking Dennis Rodman, but I hope he will come to Seoul before his next visit to North Korea. I would invite him to visit Mulmangcho, a school for North Korean refugee children (I’m the International Adviser to the school). We have 15 orphans and disadvantaged children who were rescued from China after their families or others helped them escape from North Korea. Some of them suffer from mental or physical problems after being beaten and starved in North Korea.
I would introduce Rodman to Prof. Park Sun-young, the founder of Mulmangcho who was a former member of the National Assembly. Rodman probably didn’t hear about it, but she staged an 11-day hunger strike last year when North Koreans captured in China were threatened with deportation. Rodman’s “friend for life,” Kim Jong-un, probably had them tortured or executed. Park knows many people who could give Rodman a fuller picture of North Korea’s gulags.
After that, I would take him to meet various poorly funded organizations here that aid North Korean escapees. Rodman could put his basketball skills to good use by organizing clinics or exhibition games here to raise money.
After he hears from scholars, activists and others aiding North Koreans, I would then introduce him to North Koreans who successfully escaped.
These are people who fled only with the clothes on their backs, under the threat of death. They lived their entire lives oppressed by the crime family that has ruled North Korea since the 1940s. North Koreans see family members publicly executed or tortured, they are punished for “wrong-thinking”, tortured for minor crimes, or executed for trying to escape.
If they manage to escape to China, they are illegal aliens targeted by modern-day slave-catchers who threaten to report them to police (resulting in deportation, and often torture or execution). They still aren’t completely safe in South Korea — North Korean refugees have been assassinated by North Korean spies.
Rodman called Kim Jung-un his friend. Dictators don’t need friends. It is people who are trying to escape to freedom who need friends, not criminals who issue “shoot-to-kill” orders against those people.
Shortly after former North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il died in December 2011, Reason magazine columnist Ira Stoll reminded us not to forget the dead dictator’s victims. I would suggest that Rodman remember his new friend’s victims.
Rodman spent a few days in North Korea, so he felt courageous enough to talk with his usual swagger about it. I would suggest he hear the other side of the story about North Korea by coming to South Korea.
After he has learned more about North Korea, he might put his head down and mutter to himself about being fooled by Kim Jung-un.
* * *
The writer is the international adviser to the Mulmangcho School for North Korean refugees, in Yeoju, Gyeonggi Province. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Korea Times link
linked by Booker Rising,
Update: I got a comment from Namsu who wrote: "Skillful use of the opening made by Dennis Rodman could grow into a significant diplomatic opportunity for the American Black Community."
I seriously doubt it, but anyway, here's an article from NK News: "The Black Panther’s Secret North Korean Fetish."