The music director of the New York Philharmonic would like Americans to know they are in no position to criticize North Korea’s human rights record:

On the eve of the New York Philharmonic’s departure on an Asian tour that will include a visit to Pyongyang, its music director, Lorin Maazel, suggested that Americans are not in a position to criticize the North Korean regime, because America’s own record on human rights is flawed.

“People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw bricks, should they?” Mr. Maazel told the Associated Press. “Is our standing as a country — the United States — is our reputation all that clean when it comes to prisoners and the way they are treated? Have we set an example that should be emulated all over the world? If we can answer that question honestly, I think we can then stop being judgmental about the errors made by others.”

I think Nick Eberstadt had the best reaction to this:

“I guess I can respect the argument that art is enriching in its own right and art should be just judged for art’s sake, but it’d be a little bit harder to make that if the Philharmonic were going to Auschwitz, wouldn’t it?

BTW, in case you were wondering, Dvorak, Gershwin and Wagner will be on the program for the Feb 26 concert in Pyongyang. Said Maestro Maazel:

“I have always felt that music is a powerful language,” says Maestro Maazel, “in which those of us who are humane and intelligent can speak to each other, in defiance of political and cultural boundaries.”

Humane and intelligent. Hmmm…

(HT to Paul H)

UPDATE: Joshua at OFK calls Maazel “morally retarded.”

UPDATE 2: Over at his blog — and yes, he has one — Maestro Maazel answers his critics. Just not very well, IMHO:

Some folks seem to be missing the point about finger-pointers.

The United States of America has a reputation among nations as the primary defender against human rights abuses.
We have traditionally been a safe-haven for the persecuted, setting an example for other nations to follow.
We have, more often than not [do you like this addition?], occupied the moral high ground and are judged, and should be, by totally different standards than by those applied to countries without our tradition of respect for the individual [emphasis mine].

Our juridical system is based on the principle “innocent until proven guilty”. Much, much more is expected of us than of other nations. We Americans should indeed raise our voice against human-rights abuses outside our borders, but never give tyrannical regimes the opportunity to refer to abuses, real or alleged, committed by us.

By doing so, we would allow our primary position to be challenged and would become ineffectual in the struggle against these all-pervading abuses. No independent-thinking, non-fanatical, apolitical person (such as myself) would dream of equating our history with that of any of the tyrannical regimes presently abusing human rights in a systematic fashion.

Hmm… so we (i.e., Americans) should be judged “by totally different standards than by those applied to countries without our tradition of respect for the individual.”

Or, in other words, human rights abuses should be criticized only when they are committed by white people.

You know, when I read this in the Washington Times:

“Lorin Maazel’s comparison of America’s lawful treatment of its prisoners to North Korea’s unlawful mistreatment of theirs bespeaks a mind so befuddled and corrupted by the poison of multiculturalism that it should dishearten us all,” says Arkansas writer Paul Lake, poetry editor of First Things, whose new novel, “Cry Wolf: A Political Fable,” is due out in late spring.

I thought it was just a guy grinding his anti-multiculturalism axe. Apparently I was wrong.

Anyway, Maestro Maazel will have a wonderful opportunity to reconsider his comments on Feb 28, when the New York Philharmonic plays in South Korea, where people — despite lacking “our tradition of respect for the individual” — spent decades struggling against must less totalitarian regimes than the one in Pyongyang.

UPDATE 3: Commenter mjw got me thinking — as odious as his statement may have been, can we really expect much from a music director when even the Bush administration has all but forgotten the North Korean human rights issue? For a nuclear deal that’s blown up in their face?

Christ, it’s enough to make a man vote for Ron Paul…