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The face of the enemy.


Who or what is the enemy in the appalling HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa? Is it the fearsome virus? Is it the squandering, corrupt governments? Is it the sunken mores that transmit the plague like wildfire? Or is it the political bete noir du jour of the cosmopolitan left?

It is a familiar enough spectacle: a hard-left transnational official denouncing the destructive extremism of the United States, which is itself apparently a theocracy bent upon the slaughter of millions in the developing world. In this case, the official is one Stephen Lewis, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa. While it’s de rigeur for American conservatives like me to denounce the likes of Lewis in such terms, his history makes it easy enough. It is, perhaps, unfair to note that he’s the father-in-law of Naomi Klein; but it is fair to note that as a leader of the Canadian New Democratic Party he was an active member of the Socialist International. It is fair to note that he helped found the fringe leftist media outlet IWT, a sort of Indymedia of television. It is fair to note that he authored the bizarre June 2000 “Rwanda Report” which blamed the 1994 genocide there in equal measure on the United States, France, and the Catholic Church. (The reality was rather different.) It is fair to note that during his 1995-1999 tenure as UNICEF chief, he steered that organization decisively to the left, to the point that the Vatican suspended its contributions, and the organization itself put forth decidedly pro-abortion themes. And it is fair to note that overwrought hyperbole is a regular feature of his press coverage, as evidenced by this 2003 hagiography from the Globe and Mail:

[G]overnments ignore him [in his role as the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa]. Rich nations commit pitiably small funds to fight the pandemic. Mr. Lewis pleads for intervention to stave off the total destruction of societies. No one listens. And this job, this role of latter-day Cassandra for the 21st-century plague, is driving him from despair into something approaching madness.

“What is driving me crazy, and making me emotionally unhinged, is that we’re losing too many people,” [says Lewis,] “….I wake up regularly in an absolutely incensing rage at not being able to break through.”

Of course, at the time this interview was given, it was well-known in the international AIDS community — and hence certainly to Stephen Lewis — that the United States government was shortly to announce the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the single most generous anti-HIV/AIDS effort by a single government ever. That same year, the United States asserted itself by orders of magnitude as the single largest funder and pledger to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. Let us be charitable and assume that Lewis was incompetent at his job, and did not know that the United States would shortly make a happy Cassandra of him. That having been done, why the hyperbolic attacks on American policy now?

The question answers itself. This is par for the course from the international development elite where America and AIDS are concerned. No effort is enough; no effort is in good faith. It is a form of obsessive paranoia that drives its sufferers to bizarre extremes; viz. one Stephen Lewis, an otherwise educated man who confuses an alleged indirect factor (abstinence, no less!) with direct causation. It is a pitiable phenomenon made the moreso by the fact that should the object of their ceaseless derision simply give up and walk away, the resultant human suffering might, for once, justify their endless screeds.

Stephen Lewis is in the news, but Stephen Lewis is not alone. He is a symptom rather than a cause — and the illness itself is deep-rooted and pervasive. Not a year past, I was in a small van hurtling across the sunstruck vastness of the Transvaal veld. With me were an American movie star, a British charity doyenne, and a hanger-on. We were all there, driven by our respective concerns for AIDS in Africa. The women in the car began complaining about how the Bush Administration makes NGOs receiving aid sign a pledge that they don’t support prostitution. The charity doyenne fumed, “That’s f—— ridiculous!”

“Why,” I asked, “do you think it’s ridiculous?”
“Because it just stigmatizes and denies aid to a whole class of people, and it’s an absurd precondition.”
“You don’t have to eschew prostitutes,” I said, “just prostitution. It’s not like you support that, right?”
“Of course we don’t support prostitution, Josh.”
“Does it deny aid to anyone or restrict your work?”
“Well, no.”
“Then why not sign it if it’s just pro forma?”

The movie star whipped around in her seat and barked, “Why don’t they ask them to sign pledges that they support gender equality? Equal pay for women? Education for women and little girls? Huh? Why?”

I could not see what that had to do with anything: but it illuminated the relevant mindset quite nicely. They don’t support prostitution, and they don’t support disease. They also don’t support the Bush Administration — or more specifically, their charicature of it — and that preening hate overrides all else. Who or what is the enemy in the appalling HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa? Well. What is the President espousing today?

Share  Posted by Josh Trevino at 3:14 PM | Permalink

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