Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Bigoted response was shameful

If Taiwanese are to express their accumulated anger, they should learn to aim it in the right direction

The outbursts of anger some Taiwanese have directed at South Korea in the wake of the disqualification of Taiwanese taekwondo athlete Yang Shu-chun (楊淑君) at the Asian Games in Guangzhou, China, last week brought to the surface undercurrents that are certainly nothing to be proud of.

Not only was burning the South Korean flag, crushing instant noodles, hacking Web sites and throwing eggs at the Taipei Korean School misguided, these acts — with encouragement from some in the media — highlighted an underlying racism that does not put modern, democratic and pluralistic Taiwan in a favorable light. Such nationalistic bigotry, in fact, is the very poison that lies behind Beijing’s policy of isolating Taiwan and denying its people the right to a separate existence.

That some, though by no means all, Taiwanese would engage in such shameful behavior based on some subconscious hatred for another people makes the claims that Taiwan is a beacon of democracy in Asia ring hollow and, as such, it should be roundly condemned.

Yang’s mistreatment struck a nerve with many Taiwanese who otherwise tend to be apolitical and who have exhibited little or no nationalistic fervor. Whatever the trigger, to rally round the flag in time of crisis is not necessarily unhealthy, but to translate that energy spontaneously unleashed into acts of hatred against individuals, institutions or even entire countries that have nothing to do with the controversial decision is uncalled for.

My unsigned editorial, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.


Admittedly, the Yang controversy is symptomatic of the “Palestinianization” of Taiwanese, who far too often are treated by the international community as stateless second-rate citizens whose aspirations and grievances are conveniently ignored. From that perspective, the disqualification and the ensuing eruption of anger could be construed as a necessary outlet through which Taiwanese can finally vent their pent-up frustrations after being silenced for too long.

However, what is more difficult to comprehend — and which delineates a moral paralysis on the part of the international community — is the almost unanimous characterization abroad of the controversy as “unjust” and “sickening.” Though true, we need to ask ourselves why aren’t the same people, who are so readily offended by an underhanded decision at a sports event, using similar language when China prevents Taiwan from participating in international organizations, or threatens to use military force against it. How do we explain the mobilization of indignation over what remains a trivial event, while rampant injustice cannot even register in people’s consciousness, let alone translate into calls for redress, which would see Taiwanese installed as a full and equal participants in the community of nations?

Correction: I have been informed that WTF secretary-general Yang Jin-suk, whom my editorial refers to as South Korean, is actually Korean-American and a US citizen.

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