China’s Overreaction Hurts Their Aims
I have never really been too energized about the cause of Tibet (worthy, no doubt, but just not one of my “pet” causes) and was somewhat ambivalent on the whole issue of the Olympics in China. On one hand, it would be nice to have the Olympics hosted in a place that was more representative of the values the Games are so frequently said to stand for, on the other hand it would be a bit hypocritical of me not to allow my televised sports entertainment to come from a place that already produces pretty much everything else I consume. Even the fact that China is taking this chance as an opportunity to show off its new-found wealth didn’t bother me — hosting and competing in Olympic Games has always been about nationalism, determining who has the best genes, the best doctors, the best coaches, and sometimes even the best athletes. However, the seemingly organized uproar that has been created by an apparently significant portion of the Chinese population at MIT and elsewhere to the vocal criticisms of a few semi-organized activists has managed to change my mind.
China has been somewhat criticized in the media on their Human Rights record recently. Regardless of any considerations regarding the appropriateness of the content or its timing (is any of the information that is coming out really new?), what is more significant is the reaction of Chinese people. Instead of just brushing aside the criticism, as mostly everyone seemed to be doing, or taking it at face value, recognizing the reality and merely stating that they were taking steps to improve it, it seems that the criticism was somehow taken personally, as an offense to their integrity. It almost appears that Chinese people took on the role of what in my country is called the “offended virgin” — like a debutante about to go on a coming-of-age Ball to present her to society that suddenly throws a tantrum when someone notices she is 8-months pregnant underneath the puffy green dress. The completely overblown reactions we have been seeing, from Facebook groups to seemingly endless Letters to the Editor in The Tech, from Beijing Olympics stickers on namecards to the attacks to the Duke student The Tech reported a few editions ago, are a proof of that. At least most Americans (or the ones I know, anyway) were able to distinguish international criticism of the invasion of Iraq from personal attacks on the U.S.A.
In an ironic way, the reactions to the cartoon published in The Tech demonstrate the validity of the points made by the author in a way he probably never thought possible. If a mere cartoon that isn’t even funny published in a small college newspaper is subject to this type of attack, what chance do more basic human rights stand?
U.S. Should Look At Own Ethics
We are witnessing the last stages of a great humanitarian tragedy, being acted out in one of the largest and most powerful countries on earth. A small ethnic group, poor in economic and technological prowess but rich in culture and tradition, is slowly being smothered. The group has succumbed to the overwhelming military force of a larger, more advanced nation. Much of their land has been stolen, and their culture has largely been destroyed. Their leader is currently engaged in a desperate attempt to gain independence for his people, but has little chance of success.
I am referring, of course, to the Lakota Sioux Indians, who on December 20, 2007 declared sovereign nation status in large sections of Nebraska, Montana, Wyoming, and North and South Dakota. So why bring up the struggles of Native Americans? Because of all the attention that has been given to the recent pro-Tibet protests. The parallels between the U.S. conquest of Native Americans and China’s actions in Tibet are enough to make any bleeding heart protester squirm. I am hardly an expert on Native American history, but I have studied enough to have a basic knowledge of America’s sad record in this area. And just in case you are inclined to argue that we have since made amends for our wrongdoing, I do not think having the right to own casinos can make up for widespread forcible seizure of land and destruction of culture.
Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that most of the negative things that have been said about China’s actions towards Tibet are true: that Tibet was indeed an independent country, that China launched a brutal invasion, that China has since ruled Tibet oppressively, and that Tibetan culture has suffered. What China has done can still hardly be called worse than what the U.S. has done to its native peoples (at least the Tibetans are still physically living on much of their ancestral land). In other words, unless these protesters are prepared to give virtually all U.S. territory back to the people from whom it was stolen, they should probably think twice about scolding the Chinese over Tibet.
Furthermore, mistreatment of Native Americans is hardly the only example of the U.S. abusing minority groups (slavery comes to mind). Nor has such behavior been relegated to a distant past. America continues to prosecute a vicious war on drugs that is infamously targeted more towards poor African Americans than rich white folks. Problems with race persist in other ways as well, such as our racially segregated inner cities or our ham-fisted approach to immigration.
Other Western anger focuses on China’s supposed complicity in the Darfur genocide. As the story goes, China is preventing serious action in Darfur in return for access to Sudanese oil. Again, there are uncomfortable parallels with America. During the Cold War, the U.S. all too frequently got into bed with bad guys for the sake of fighting communism. We gave Saddam Hussein much of the weaponry that we then had to fight against in 1991 and again in 2003. We funneled weapons into Afghanistan to aid the fight against the Soviets in the 1980s. Elements of the groups we aided then morphed into the Taliban, and we all know where that went. Saudi Arabia continues to be an American ally, even though a Saudi woman cannot seek help from the police even after her husband has shot her twice (see the article on page 64 of last week’s Economist).
I am in no way interested in excusing or justifying oppression. If the Chinese government is violating human rights (and it probably is, though it is hardly alone), everyone who values liberty should be saddened. I am also hardly anti-American. I am a native born white American male. I am intensely patriotic and proud of my country. But patriotism should not mean ignorance, and it certainly should not mean hypocrisy. If Westerners are serious about wanting to clean up the world, perhaps they should stop screaming at the neighbors and focus more on the mess in our own back yard.