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"Not You! You!!!" Tibet and Palestine

April 9, 2008

Counter Punch
Apri1 7, 2008

"Hey! Take your hands off me! Not you! You!!!"--the voice of a young
woman in the darkened cinema, an old joke.

"Hey! Take your hands off Tibet!" the international chorus is crying
out, "But not from Chechnya! Not from the Basque homeland! And certainly
not from Palestine!" And that is not a joke.

* * *

LIKE EVERYBODY else, I support the right of the Tibetan people to
independence, or at least autonomy. Like everybody else, I condemn the
actions of the Chinese government there. But unlike everybody else, I am
not ready to join in the demonstrations.

Why? Because I have an uneasy feeling that somebody is washing my brain,
that what is going on is an exercise in hypocrisy.

I don't mind a bit of manipulation. After all, it is not by accident
that the riots started in Tibet on the eve of the Olympic Games in
Beijing. That's alright. A people fighting for their freedom have the
right to use any opportunity that presents itself to further their struggle.

I support the Tibetans in spite of it being obvious that the Americans
are exploiting the struggle for their own purposes. Clearly, the CIA has
planned and organized the riots, and the American media are leading the
world-wide campaign. It is a part of the hidden struggle between the US,
the reigning super-power, and China, the rising super-power - a new
version of the "Great Game" that was played in central Asia in the 19th
century by the British Empire and Russia. Tibet is a token in this game.

I am even ready to ignore the fact that the gentle Tibetans have carried
out a murderous pogrom against innocent Chinese, killing women and men
and burning homes and shops. Such detestable excesses do happen during a
liberation struggle.

No, what is really bugging me is the hypocrisy of the world media. They
storm and thunder about Tibet. In thousands of editorials and talk-shows
they heap curses and invective on the evil China. It seems as if the
Tibetans are the only people on earth whose right to independence is
being denied by brutal force, that if only Beijing would take its dirty
hands off the saffron-robed monks, everything would be alright in this,
the best of all possible worlds.

* * *

THERE IS no doubt that the Tibetan people are entitled to rule their own
country, to nurture their unique culture, to promote their religious
institutions and to prevent foreign settlers from submerging them.

But are not the Kurds in Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria entitled to the
same? The inhabitants of Western Sahara, whose territory is occupied by
Morocco? The Basques in Spain? The Corsicans off the coast of France?
And the list is long.

Why do the world's media adopt one independence struggle, but often
cynically ignore another independence struggle? What makes the blood of
one Tibetan redder than the blood of a thousand Africans in East Congo?

Again and again I try to find a satisfactory answer to this enigma. In vain.

Immanuel Kant demanded of us: "Act as if the principle by which you act
were about to be turned into a universal law of nature." (Being a German
philosopher, he expressed it in much more convoluted language.) Does the
attitude towards the Tibetan problem conform to this rule? Does it
reflect our attitude towards the struggle for independence of all other
oppressed peoples?

Not at all.

* * *

WHAT, THEN, causes the international media to discriminate between the
various liberation struggles that are going on throughout the world?

Here are some of the relevant considerations:

- Do the people seeking independence have an especially exotic culture?

- Are they an attractive people, i.e. "sexy" in the view of the media?

- Is the struggle headed by a charismatic personality who is liked by
the media?

- It the oppressing government disliked by the media?

- Does the oppressing government belong to the pro-American camp? This
is an important factor, since the United States dominates a large part
of the international media, and its news agencies and TV networks
largely define the agenda and the terminology of the news coverage.

- Are economic interests involved in the conflict?

- Does the oppressed people have gifted spokespersons, who are able to
attract attention and manipulate the media?

* * *

FROM THESE points of view, there is nobody like the Tibetans. They enjoy
ideal conditions.

Fringed by the Himalayas, they are located in one of the most beautiful
landscapes on earth. For centuries, just to get there was an adventure.
Their unique religion arouses curiosity and sympathy. Its non-violence
is very attractive and elastic enough to cover even the ugliest
atrocities, like the recent pogrom. The exiled leader, the Dalai Lama,
is a romantic figure, a media rock-star. The Chinese regime is hated by
many - by capitalists because it is a Communist dictatorship, by
Communists because it has become capitalist. It promotes a crass and
ugly materialism, the very opposite of the spiritual Buddhist monks, who
spend their time in prayer and meditation.

When China builds a railway to the Tibetan capital over a thousand
inhospitable kilometers, the West does not admire the engineering feat,
but sees (quite rightly) an iron monster that brings hundreds of
thousands of Han-Chinese settlers to the occupied territory.

And of course, China is a rising power, whose economic success threatens
America's hegemony in the world. A large part of the ailing American
economy already belongs directly or indirectly to China. The huge
American Empire is sinking hopelessly into debt, and China may soon be
the biggest lender. American manufacturing industry is moving to China,
taking millions of jobs with it.

Compared to these factors, what have the Basques, for example, to offer?
Like the Tibetans, they inhabit a contiguous territory, most of it in
Spain, some of it in France. They, too, are an ancient people with their
own language and culture. But these are not exotic and do not attract
special notice. No prayer wheels. No robed monks.

The Basques do not have a romantic leader, like Nelson Mandela or the
Dalai Lama. The Spanish state, which arose from the ruins of Franco's
detested dictatorship, enjoys great popularity around the world. Spain
belongs to the European Union, which is more or less in the American
camp, sometimes more, sometimes less.

The armed struggle of the Basque underground is abhorred by many and is
considered "terrorism", especially after Spain has accorded the Basques
a far-reaching autonomy. In these circumstances, the Basques have no
chance at all of gaining world support for independence.

The Chechnyans should have been in a better position. They, too, are a
separate people, who have for a long time been oppressed by the Czars of
the Russian Empire, including Stalin and Putin. But alas, they are
Muslims - and in the Western world, Islamophobia now occupies the place
that had for centuries been reserved for anti-Semitism. Islam has turned
into a synonym for terrorism, it is seen as a religion of blood and
murder. Soon it will be revealed that Muslims slaughter Christian
children and use their blood for baking Pitta. (In reality it is, of
course, the religion of dozens of vastly different peoples, from
Indonesia to Morocco and from Kosova to Zanzibar.

The US does not fear Moscow as it fears Beijing. Unlike China, Russia
does not look like a country that could dominate the 21st century. The
West has no interest in renewing the Cold War, as it has in renewing the
Crusades against Islam. The poor Chechnyans, who have no charismatic
leader or outstanding spokespersons, have been banished from the
headlines. For all the world cares, Putin can hit them as much as he
wants, kill thousands and obliterate whole towns.

That does not prevent Putin from supporting the demands of Abkhazia and
South Ossetia for separation from Georgia, a country which infuriates

* * *

IF IMMANUEL KANT knew what's going on in Kosova, he would be scratching
his head.

The province demanded its independence from Serbia, and I, for one,
supported that with all my heart. This is a separate people, with a
different culture (Albanian) and its own religion (Islam). After the
popular Serbian leader, Slobodan Milosevic, tried to drive them out of
their country, the world rose and provided moral and material support
for their struggle for independence.

The Albanian Kosovars make up 90% of the citizens of the new state,
which has a population of two million. The other 10% are Serbs, who want
no part of the new Kosova. They want the areas they live in to be
annexed to Serbia. According to Kant's maxim, are they entitled to this?

I would propose a pragmatic moral principle: Every population that
inhabits a defined territory and has a clear national character is
entitled to independence. A state that wants to keep such a population
must see to it that they feel comfortable, that they receive their full
rights, enjoy equality and have an autonomy that satisfies their
aspirations. In short: that they have no reason to desire separation.

That applies to the French in Canada, the Scots in Britain, the Kurds in
Turkey and elsewhere, the various ethnic groups in Africa, the
indigenous peoples in Latin America, the Tamils in Sri Lanka and many
others. Each has a right to choose between full equality, autonomy and

* * *

THIS LEADS us, of course, to the Palestinian issue.

In the competition for the sympathy of the world media, the Palestinians
are unlucky. According to all the objective standards, they have a right
to full independence, exactly like the Tibetans. They inhabit a defined
territory, they are a specific nation, a clear border exists between
them and Israel. One must really have a crooked mind to deny these facts.

But the Palestinians are suffering from several cruel strokes of fate:
The people that oppress them claim for themselves the crown of ultimate
victimhood. The whole world sympathizes with the Israelis because the
Jews were the victims of the most horrific crime of the Western world.
That creates a strange situation: the oppressor is more popular than the
victim. Anyone who supports the Palestinians is automatically suspected
of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.

Also, the great majority of the Palestinians are Muslims (nobody pays
attention to the Palestinian Christians). Since Islam arouses fear and
abhorrence in the West, the Palestinian struggle has automatically
become a part of that shapeless, sinister threat, "international
terrorism". And since the murders of Yasser Arafat and Sheik Ahmed
Yassin, the Palestinians have no particularly impressive leader -
neither in Fatah nor in Hamas.

The world media are shedding tears for the Tibetan people, whose land is
taken from them by Chinese settlers. Who cares about the Palestinians,
whose land is taken from them by our settlers?

In the world-wide tumult about Tibet, the Israeli spokespersons compare
themselves - strange as it sounds - to the poor Tibetans, not to the
evil Chinese. Many think this quite logical.

If Kant were dug up tomorrow and asked about the Palestinians, he would
probably answer: "Give them what you think should be given to everybody,
and don't wake me up again to ask silly questions."

Uri Avnery is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He
is o a contributor to CounterPunch's book The Politics of Anti-Semitism.
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