Thursday, April 10, 2008

How it changes us

The scenes from the Olympic torch event in San Francisco provide the perfect microcosm, if you will, for everything that is wrong with the world’s intensifying engagement of Beijing in spite of — or rather thanks to the conscious ignorance of — its abysmal track record on human rights. In July last year, I published an article, “Olympic Games for the hollow men,” in which I warned against the danger of international cooperation with China on intelligence matters, how doing so could make the world’s intelligence agencies complicit in the targeting of various legal dissident organizations and repression of individual liberties. Sadly, there is no reason to believe that such cooperation did not occur, or does not continue to occur.

While it is understandable, following the — how shall I put it? — rambunctious torch relay events in London and Paris earlier this week, that the City of San Francisco would increase security to ensure an orderly event, the measures yesterday teetered dangerously close to becoming a reflection of how Beijing acts at home, which turned the run into an uncharacteristically muscular display of force, what with the runners being protected by a large “amphibious” vehicle and hundreds of baton-wielding police. Slant the eyes a little and you’d think we were back in Beijing.

But the change also occurred at a different, perhaps even more fundamental, level: Fearing protests, the event organizers used the tool of secrecy — changing routes and venues — that is diametrically opposed to the very spirit of the event, which should be one of oneness and openness. Decisions were made undemocratically in a city long known for its vociferous support for civil liberties. This was strikingly reminiscent of the policy in China of focusing on an end goal without heeding for a second the impact this might have on people or the environment — and arresting those who point a finger at all the ugliness. rather than stop an act altogether, the state marches on, like a feral machine (or an "amphibious" vehicle), making its way in the throng, pushing aside, crushing all in its way.

When Beijing’s authoritarian system begins spreading like a disease, when in order to accommodate it we change who we are at home, how we act, there is real reason for concern. Let us hope for further disruptions down the road, and less restrictive measures by the organizers in the cities to come.

No comments: