Bieber and Cohen regarding Anne Frank!

MONDAY, APRIL 15, 2013

Plus what Mandela said: By most accounts, Justin Bieber said a dumb thing about Anne Frank when he visited the Frank house in Amsterdam.

At the Washington Post, Alexandra Petri sees his comments as very dumb. But Richard Cohen has expressed a different view:
COHEN (4/15/13): Bieber has been excoriated for making what has universally been considered a narcissistic gaffe. But it was nothing of the sort. Maybe out of ignorance or maybe out of innocence but surely out of insight, he treated Anne as the 14-year-old girl that she was. Her room, until she and her family went into hiding, was plastered with photos of celebrities. She was not a saint and not angelic but rather a teenager trying to come to grips with her blossoming sexuality, among other things. She would have screamed for Bieber.
Anne Frank would have screamed for Bieber! By some unexplained miracle, Cohen always seems to know such things.

“Justin Bieber treated Anne Frank like a kid,” Cohen writes. “Where’s the harm in that?”

There isn’t any “harm” in that. But all day long, this flap has made us think about what Mandela said.

In 1994, Mandela spoke in Johannesburg at the opening of the Anne Frank Exhibit at Museum Africa. He didn’t call Anne Frank a kid.

He described her as someone from whom he had derived inspiration and encouragement. He said South Africa’s victory was hers as well.

In this passage, Mandela described the way he and his comrades had read Anne Frank's book while in prison. His full statement is well worth reading:
MANDELA (8/15/94): My own memories of the Second World War revolve around the hopes of black South Africans that the defeat of Nazism would not only bring about the liberation of Europe but also the liberation of the oppressed in our own country. This is what the ANC and its Youth League, the Communist Party of South Africa, the trade union movement and many other democrats sought to achieve. Instead, after the War, apartheid triumphed in our country.

Apartheid and Nazism shared the inherently evil belief in the superiority of some races over others. This drove adherents of these ideologies to perpetrate unspeakable crimes and to derive pleasure from the suffering of their fellow human beings. But because these beliefs are patently false, and because they were, and will always be, challenged by the likes of Anne Frank, they are bound to fail.

The victory of the democratic forces in South Africa is a contribution to this world-wide effort to rid humanity of the evil of racism. It is Anne Frank's victory. It is an achievement of humanity as a whole.

During the many years my comrades and I spent in prison, we derived inspiration from the courage and tenacity of those who challenge injustice even under the most difficult circumstances. As my colleague, Govan Mbeki indicated at the Port Elizabeth exhibition, some of us read Anne Frank's Diary on Robben Island and derived much encouragement from it.
In 1995, Mandela discussed these themes for a Dutch TV documentary. We think he said something quite striking. You can watch his full discussion here:
MANDELA (1995): I read the diary before I went to prison. But reading books at that time was something totally different from reading that same book inside prison, especially that of Anne Frank, because we identified with her in the situation which we were in. And therefore the lessons of that tragedy sunk more deeply in our souls and also encouraged us in our situation because if a young girl of 13 could take such militant action then we could follow the same example.
Do you believe what Mandela said? Do you believe that he “identified with” Anne Frank, a teen-aged girl, while he was in prison?

For ourselves, we are inclined to believe what he said. We believe that Mandela had and has a very large and insightful soul, the kind of soul that lets a person find himself in others.


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  2. I think it also matters than Anne Frank was an unusually articulate and thoughtful and well-read 14-year-old (even as she shared with every other 14-year-old all the stuff that comes with being a 14-year-old girl in the modern world). So, yes, a Justin Bieber might have played a part in her imaginings, but a minor part. Her imaginative world was richer. What makes her special as a 14-year-old: the way, to some extent on behalf of all 14-year-old girls, she was able to register even in a private diary the thoughts and fears and insights that could sustain Mandela and his comrades in prison.