By PETER WORTHINGTON, TORONTO SUN
Who'd have ever expected it!
Billed by China as the "Journey of Harmony," the Olympic torch has proven just the opposite as it now has left San Francisco and is deep in South America.
What the travels of the torch have done, so far, is not excite the world over the Beijing Olympics in August, but alert the world to what China is doing to Tibet -- and has been doing for some 60 years: Oppression and cultural genocide.
As if piggybacking on the protests of Tibetan exiles, are those who resent China's fulsome support of Sudan's persecution of the sorry inhabitants of Darfur; the horrors imposed on pacifist Falun Gong victims who are not only imprisoned, but are said to have their organs "harvested" for sale to rich foreigners.Even Myanmar activists have joined torch protesters over China's support for the harsh military rule in former Burma.
TV news showed the violent protests in London and Paris. There was concern about what would happen this week in San Francisco, where a 10 km torch jog was scheduled -- the torch's only North American appearance.
For those who identify with the cause of Tibet and the Dalai Lama, San Fran was a classic example of authoritarian methods to avoid public reaction -- i.e. exposing China for what it is.
The route was packed with pro-China Olympic sympathizers, (Frisco has North America's largest Chinese community), every manner of anti-Chinese demonstrator, and a goodly number of just plain spectators.
Determined to avoid the embarrassment of protesters dousing the torch, civic authorities changed the route, shortened it, hid the first torch-carrier in a warehouse, then took the torch by bus to an empty street where a couple of relay carriers were ready for their few minutes of glory.
Here's how it went. The pair carrying the torch were encircled by eight or nine Chinese security people in blue track suits ("thugs" the Globe and Mail called them).
On each side of the torch-bearers were about 15 cops walking in a line, and on their flank were motorcycle cops, and on the outside, near the curb, were more cops marching along.
As the route changed, protesters with cellphones tried to anticipate where the torch would be, so as to display their opposition to China's expanding abuse of human rights, despite its promise to ease repression when it was awarded the Olympics.
Amnesty International says that China's human rights abuses are worsening as the opening of the Olympics approaches.
Whatever happens now with the torch, which will travel through every continent except Antarctica on its 137,000 km "Journey of Harmony" to Beijing, the damage done to China's reputation has been irrevocably exacerbated.
The torch protests have done more to alert the world about China's abuses than any formal boycott might have. The protesters are human, not political, but a political consequence now seems inevitable.
It is hard to see how U.S. President George Bush can attend the opening ceremonies, although there's no reason why he shouldn't attend the games. Germany's chancellor is not going, nor are the British or Australia PMs. Nor is Stephen Harper. The civilized world is getting its act together.
Even athletes are wondering how they can protest, without breaking Olympic rules.
Dennis Miller, comedian and social commentator, has suggested in the opening parade athletes wear the red cloaks associated with Tibetan monks.
That's too much to hope for, but it would be dramatic.What happens next is anyone's guess, but already the cause of Tibet has been advanced more than anyone might have thought. One shudders at what the security will be like when the games begin on Aug. 8.