Sunday, May 04, 2008

One Last Thing: Trendy torch protests are a farce

Trendy? Hardly! If activists don't point out certain things...who will? Although Last raises some valid points, I think we can still make a difference.

By Jonathan V. Last The Olympic flame made its way around the Pacific Rim last week, bringing with it the fellowship and understanding that have been a hallmark of the Games throughout the ages. As the torch wended through the Korean peninsula, the Olympic spirit bloomed in Seoul: Wire services reported that 500 Chinese students threw rocks and bottles at a group of 50 anti-China protesters. Let the Games begin!

The Olympics are still weeks away and we're already knee-deep in farce. We saw Frenchmen moved to acts of physical courage as they tried to wrestle the torch to the ground in Paris. We saw the fuzz in San Francisco alter the torch route at the last minute, leaving would-be protesters blinking and befuddled. We saw torchbearer Herschel Walker joke that he'd like to see some drippy hippie try to take the flame away from him. Such a splendid sense of humanism. Ah, well, once a Cowboy, always a Cowboy.

Then we were treated to the spectacle of Barack Obama, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Nancy Pelosi talking tough. They want President Bush to teach China a lesson by boycotting the opening ceremonies in Beijing.

And people say Democrats are weak on foreign policy.

All of it - the protests, the torch tackling, the Democrats' demands - amounts to nothing more than moral preening at its worst: a gooey soup of vanity and fecklessness.

Start with the wellspring of the protests: Tibet. Under Hu Jintao, the Chinese government has treated Tibet atrociously, embarking on something like a campaign of cultural annihilation. It's deplorable and worthy of protest, boycott and much else. But it's hardly the worst example of Chinese misbehavior.

Why, then, have protesters seized on the Tibetan cause? Because it's a trendy star in the constellation of liberal Hollywood grievances. Richard Gere cares about Tibet, and for people who like taking to the streets to vent their outrage, that's enough.

It betrays, however, a disgraceful lack of seriousness. How is it that protesters so concerned with Chinese depredations in Tibet can be so carefree about Beijing's bullying interference with Taiwan, a nation perpetually threatened with forced reintegration with the mainland?

Does no one care that China maintains close links to brutal dictators such as Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe? In recent weeks, this relationship became undeniable when a ship carrying Chinese weapons for Mugabe was refused entry by South Africa.

You don't hear much from the protesters about China's one-child policy, a violation of the most basic human right. Imagine: This is a government that controls how many children a woman may bear and forces abortions on those who resist.

And what makes the Buddhist monks in Tibet more worthy of sympathy than the members of Falun Gong? In recent years, thousands of Falun Gong members have been killed and about 100,000 have been sent to work camps. There have even been reports - serious, though unconfirmed - that the Chinese government practices organ harvesting on captive Falun Gong members.

None of this, by the way, is to mention the treatment of Christians in China, who are forced into underground organizations. To take just one example, Freedom House reports that in July 2006, 50 members of a Christian church in Zhejiang province were arrested and their church demolished by government authorities.

Muslims don't have it much better, by the way. In the Xinjiang Autonomous Region, home to Muslim Uighurs, the government has forcefully restricted Islamic worship and teaching.

And all of that is separate from the garden-variety political repression that has relegated millions of dissidents to the Laogai archipelago - China's system of concentration camps that house and "re-educate" democrats, reformers, philosophers, academics, artists, priests, and other dangerous rabble-rousers. Tibet is not even the tip of the iceberg; it's just the only Chinese cause with celebrity spokesmen and cool bumper stickers.

Yet even faddish opposition to China would be welcome if it were accompanied by a firm resolve to act.

After all, if the protesters in Paris and San Francisco really wanted to influence Chinese behavior, they would organize boycotts of Google, Yahoo and other Western businesses willing to prostrate themselves at the feet of the Chinese government.

And if Democrats really wanted to send a message to China, there are substantive policies they could support: taking care of U.S. strategic-defense needs; standing openly and firmly with Taiwan; putting continued diplomatic pressure on China for religious and political freedoms.

Of course, none of that packs the same shot of self-satisfaction as torch wrestling and issuing news releases attacking Bush. No, the antics of the last few weeks will not be a cause of concern for the bosses in Beijing. Rather, they are likely to be interpreted in Beijing as a sign that the postmodern West lacks the seriousness and spine to mount meaningful opposition to the current regime.

OLYMPIC WATCH: Human Rights in China and Beijing 2008

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