Do we even need to ask?
North Korea is the world’s leading pariah state, discredited and despised for the savagery and ineptitude of its unhinged leaders, their social and economic incompetence, their cartoon-like bellicose outbursts, and their insatiable appetite for impoverishing their charge with their ‘military first’ fiscal profligacy. It’s the world’s most odious dynastic dictatorship, hovering over its deranged worshipful masses — a population either beaten into stupefied adulation of their masters by thought control and fear; the victims of some mass experiment in stage hypnotism; or, otherwise, themselves no better than their leaders.
At least, that’s the prevailing narrative now embedded in western consciousness.
And that narrative frames public policy at home, editorial policy in mainstream media of both colours, and the mindset of their readers. I’ve read reader comments in the Financial Times, without qualifying any distinction between government and people, that North Korea is, simply, ‘an affront to humanity’ that should not be tolerated. And unlike the victims of other flavours of xenophobia and exceptionalism, the North Koreans are almost entirely without a champion. In the West, government, press, and people find themselves in a rare condition of alignment: the only solution, it appears, is: The Final Solution.
And it disgusts me.
Let’s not forget how often we hear about ‘the hermit state’ — the government tour guides prohibiting journalists’ visibility of ordinary people’s ordinary lives. Yet we mysteriously hear about Kim’s administration feeding dogs to their people, and about Kim feeding his administration to the dogs. It apparently doesn’t warrant an explanation as to how journalists access intimate secrets about events surrounding the North Korean ruling cabal, yet can’t get access to mundane information about the mundane lives of ordinary people.
In a recent article in the Financial Times, celebrity North Korean defector Hyeonseo Lee is presented to readers as a channel providing unique insight into the inner world of her forebears. Readers come away with all of their prior assumptions unblemished. Not having visited North Korea for 20 years, and now replete with the full English of Gangnam-style cosmetic surgery procedures, I had to ask myself: Is Miss Lee a refugee from the most terrifying dungeon of humanity, or is she little different from any other émigré who’s made an arduous journey from a dead-end existence to a better life? And to help benchmark the distance of that socio-economic journey, how many Syrian refugees are presently queuing at Harley Street cosmetic surgery consultation rooms? What would Brexit voters make of it if they were?
The entire choreography of the anti-North Korean theatre, and all of its actors, combine to weave a narrative that differs from North Korean-style propaganda only in its sophistication. It frustrates me sufficiently that I’m prepared to risk being rude to Hyeonseo Lee to emphasise the point. During my lifetime, the dynastic dictatorship of the United Arab Emirates has sanctioned courts to sentence adulterous women to death by stoning, but the West is queuing to go do business with Dubai, or to go on holiday there — including HM Government, UK. Why? Because standards of living are better in UAE than North Korea? Might that not at least partly be attributable to more than fifty years of economic and diplomatic punishment of North Korea by the world’s superpower, which has proven as effective as it was designed to be?
Maybe Kim Jong Nam was murdered by the agents of Jong Un’s self-preservation programme. It seems perfectly possible. Maybe he was murdered by creditors after decades of propping up a gambling addiction in his adopted home of Macau, casino island of the East. That seems possible, too. Or, perhaps, it might transpire that he wasn’t poisoned by a Vietnamese woman wielding a rag — much like his uncle turned out not to have been fed to the dogs, after all. It’s hard to know, for those of us who are fans of Twelve Angry Men.
Most of the world east of the Mediterranean is as mystified by the West’s double standards on prejudice as the West is of popular North Korean support for the eccentric Kims. Why is their ruling family a laughing stock by dint of its three-generation dynasty alone, while a fifteen- to twenty-generation dynastic heritage alone is a badge of pride for ours? The Enlightenment might have won the West the modern race for living standards, but—doubtless to the chagrin of its pioneers—not for morality, nor for truth.