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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

GRAB THAT TORCH!

April 17, 2008

Jamyang Norbu
April 15, 2008

Last Monday morning as I was packing my toilet stuff for a trip to San
Francisco, my older daughter, Namkha Lhamo, rushed into the bathroom.
She had seen the anti-torch rallies in London and Paris on TV, and was
clearly excited. “Pala, Pala, are you going to steal that Olympic torch”
she demanded.

“Yeah, sure,” I replied, “but when I bring it back, I want you to share
it with your little sister.” I carried on in that bantering vein (which
I really shouldn’t) telling her that she could take it to school for
Show and Tell, and that when I died she could sell it on EBay for her
college fund. Earlier, she had expressed some doubts about the protests.
She had heard someone on National Public Radio saying that it was wrong
to mix politics with sports. So as I drove her to school that morning I
tried to explain where things really stood.

Countries have always boycotted the Olympics when it was in their
political interests to do so. America and the West boycotted the Moscow
Olympics when the Russians invaded Afghanistan. Then the Soviet bloc
states boycotted the Los Angeles Games in retaliation. China completely
boycotted the Olympics from 1948 to 1976, because of Taiwan’s
participation in the games. In 1979, the International Olympic
Committee, under pressure from China, declared that athletes could only
participate as representatives of “Chinese Taipei”, and not Republic of
China or Taiwan. If this isn’t politicizing the Olympics, what is?

In Beijing’s case one important reason for hosting the Olympics is,
without doubt, to rehabilitate its image; to reprogram peoples memories
about the past, especially the past concerning the Tiananmen massacre.
The regime has worked hard to brainwash Chinese (and some Western) minds
and in fact has been able to induce a kind of collective amnesia about
these events that were witnessed worldwide, even the famous image of the
young Chinese man who stood in the way of advancing tanks. His lonely
act of defiance astonished the world then, but incredible as it may
sound, the regime has managed to erase the “Tank Man’s” image from
Chinese memory. In a 2006 Frontline documentary film, a retrospective on
the events of ‘89, the filmmaker Anthony Thomas shows the iconic
photograph to undergraduates at Beijing University, the nerve center of
the 1989 protests; none of them recognize it. The students appear
genuinely baffled. Thomas concludes “… only one sensed that the photo
had something to do with the events of 1989, but the Tank Man meant
nothing to him.”

That is why, I am fairly certain, the torch started its global journey
from China at Tiananmen Square and, from what I gather, is going to end
its world relay there. A new set of more agreeable, even glorious,
images of the infamous square will replace the blood-drenched ones of
1989, in the consciousness of the world. Who is to say that this global
brainwashing exercise will not be entirely successful?

The purpose of the Beijing Olympics is only secondarily about sports,
and only remotely about world peace and harmony. In the case of Beijing
‘08 it is primarily a propaganda tool for the legitimization of a
repressive Communist/Fascist state. Hitler wanted the 1936 Olympics in
Berlin for much the same reasons. Even the Olympic torch relay, which
was invented and “planned with immense care by the Nazi leadership”, has
a fairly sinister story behind it. Read the BBC account, “The Olympic
Torch's Shadowy Past” http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7330949.stm ,
and the New York Times feature “The Relay of Fire Ignited by the Nazis”
at http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/14/arts/14conn.html?th&emc=th and
prepare to be disturbed.

To be fair, the Nazis hadn’t yet committed any of their major crimes
against humanity in 1936. The PRC, on the other hand, has probably
murdered more people to date (60-90million) than the total number of
those killed (roughly 72 million) in WWII, military and civilian,
including the victims of the Holocaust. Yet even at that early date
Germany had, away from the gaze of visitors, already built concentration
camps and filled them with Jews, Roma (gypsies), Communists,
homosexuals, socialists, labour leaders, Jehovah’s Witnesses, people
with disabilities, and others.

Present day prisons and Laogai camps in China accommodate a similar
variety of victims: Tibetans independence activists, Uighurs, Falun Gong
practitioners, Catholic bishops, pastors of underground Protestant
churches, lamas, mullahs, monks, nuns, labour organizers, democracy
activists, human rights lawyers, dispossessed peasants and the like.

Hitler was determined to use the Games to legitimize the Nazi regime and
to demonstrate German racial superiority. And nearly everyone went along
blithely with this propaganda exercise: international athletes, national
leaders, celebrities, religious leaders, intellectuals, artists,
journalists and tourists. The CBS correspondent William L. Shirer
reporting from Berlin that summer mentioned that the city was beautiful,
the weather balmy and the sky blue. In line with his personal obsession
with cleanliness the problem of pollution so concerned Hitler that he
encouraged industry to work toward the complete elimination of noxious
gases. Anti-pollution contrivances were already installed in a number of
factories in the Ruhr basin, and new plants were required to construct
preventive devices to avoid pollution of the waters.

Chinese leaders haven’t been as conscientious as the Fuhrer about such
things, but they have nonetheless been equally ruthless in making sure
the Olympic Games serve the interests of the Chinese Communist Party in
‘08 as it did the Nationalist Socialist Party in ‘36. For quite a while
now it seemed that Beijing would pretty much be allowed to do exactly
that without any fuss or bother. The Dalai Lama’s statement some years
ago that China deserved to host the Olympics effectively deflated the
efforts of those attempting to challenge China on this issue. Only a few
groups, notably the Students for a Free Tibet, attempted some dramatic
but small scale protests. But then on 10th March of this year, starting
from the ancient Tibetan capital, Lhasa, protests, demonstrations and
riots broke out all over Tibet, China and the world, and the rest, as
they say, is history.

When I was in San Francisco last week for the monster torch-relay
protests, it struck me how the motto of the Beijing Games “One World One
Dream” could have been a fitting rallying cry for the demonstrators.
Thousand of Tibetans from all over the United States and Canada (a few
even from India and Nepal), marched with their brilliant red, yellow,
white and blue national flags. The large contingent of SAVE DARFUR
students groups were distinguished by waves of green flags and green tee
shirts, while FREE BURMA was represented by a host of brown flags. The
blue and white flags of FREE TURKESTAN and the yellow and orange stripes
of the unexpected Vietnamese contingent were no less gloriously
eye-catching. In variations on the Students for a Free Tibet name,
individual protesters carried signs declaring: Bikers for a Free Tibet,
Humans for a Free Tibet, Taiwanese for a Free Tibet, Chinese for a Free
Tibet, Americans For a Free Tibet, Greens For a Free Tibet, Italians For
a Free Tibet, Armenians For a Free Tibet, Free Thinkers For a Free
Tibet, San Franciscans For a Free Tibet, Sentient Beings For a Free
Tibet, and in full camouflage uniform a solitary “Montagnard For a Free
Tibet”. This being Frisco we were also treated to a few Lesbians for a
Free Tibet, and A Queer Person for a Free Tibet.

Unlike the 11,000 Chinese counter-demonstrators, whose idea of “One
World” was presumably one dominated, if not ruled, by Beijing, and who
had been shipped in organized platoons, in chartered busses (with one
lunch box per person) paid for by the Chinese Embassy, the
multi-cultural, multi-racial, noisy but effective protesters on our side
were all there absolutely on their own initiative, time and money. The
one common thread that tied our disparate groups and people together was
our one sincerely and tenaciously held dream of freedom and peace.

At this stage of events no one really needs to be told that Beijing
doesn’t deserve the Olympics. But having the intellectual and moral
arguments lined up and made clear, as I have attempted to do here might,
it is hoped, contribute that little extra motivation, that oomph, to the
special person in the right place in Istanbul, New Delhi or Hong Kong to
reach out a little further than he might otherwise have done, and
grabbing that torch hurl it mightily into the Bosporus, the Yamuna or
Kowloon harbour.

Read this and other writings on my blog Shadow Tibet at jamyangnorbu.com
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