Monday, March 31, 2008

Tibet: mice against monsters

The riots in Tibet have received many column inches in the last few weeks, but much less coverage on the Green and left blog-o-sphere. Half the blogs that have posted on it have either descended into academic micro-arguments about the nature of Tibet in the 1950's (as if the protesters' demands include access to time machines) or simply rerun the lines of Western "pro-Tibet" governments vs pro-Chinese mouthpieces.

The riots began on March 10th (the 49th anniversary of the first independence uprising) when peaceful independence marches were smashed off the streets by the state. The protests escalated into violence and rippled out into other areas (including Beijing and neighbouring countries like Nepal). The protests became riots with wide spread looting, fighting with state forces and attacks on immigrant Hans.

There have been some hilarious contributions to the debate defending the actions of the Chinese authorities. One line is that Tibetans are better off living within the bounds of China's thriving economy than they were under feudal Tibet prior to the invasion. False choice, bad conclusion. The Tibetan economy is better than it was fifty years ago so the Chinese government has the right to kill and torture those who want to voice a legitimate political opinion? It's better in Wales now than it was fifty years ago, will any protest there be caricatured as wanting to reintroduce dripping sandwiches and pit accidents?

Another line is that to support the demands of the protesters is to support ethnic cleansing of the Hans. Well, firstly Hans became victims of attack after the repression began - in other words when the Chinese government cut off access to passive resistance those with nothing turned on the nearest identifiable targets weak enough to harm - those people that were associated with the occupation of Tibet in the minds of many native Tibetans due to long term demographic manipulation by the Chinese state. Now, these attacks are quite wrong, but they stem from a real grievance and we need to understand where any anti-Hans racism may come from.

Mark Steel was particularly good on this the other day when he lambasted the Morning Star for its attempts to blame outside agitators (in this case the Dalai Lama) "So Tibetans are defying a powerful army because they've been brainwashed by a 72-year-old with glasses who presumably chants his orders up a mountain, and as they echo round the valleys his followers stare into the distance and say robotically "Orders – from – master – must – get – crushed – by –tank."" As if anyone needs to be told to hate oppression. Frankly the claims that it was bjork who started it all off seem plausible in comparison.

Of course wealth, power and oppression has many critics, but it also has many admirers, and not just the more stale minded leftists. Like Yahoo and MSN for instance, who are helping the Chinese authorities root out the "most wanted" of those who oppose them, just as Google have been helping the CIA.

The simple truth is that if you're with those who roll their tanks over the heads of the poor then you've chosen the well trodden path of complicity with dictatorship. It's time to rethink.

Some warn of the "danger" of the young turning away from the holy messages of peace that the Dalai Lama advocates. Some shake their heads that the some Tibetans are turning towards violence. Let's be clear on this violence is the only answer. There are no other paths left open to those who want a more democratic society. The authorities have done everything they can to head off every avenue of peaceful resistance. They've succeeded, so it's the time for looting, stone throwing, bomb making, and baby eating until more peaceful options open themselves up again.

The Dalai Lama is a self aggrandised distraction in this entire process - the real people of Tibet are not the Dalai Lama and their concerns are not identical to his. Now obviously I've never had much time for spiritual leaders, but he is the self proclaimed leader of the government in exile elected in the... oh no.. hold on... enthroned as Tibet's absolute ruler in 1950 (age 15) although in fairness to him he now calls for a democratic system for Tibet, not a return to feudalism (despite what some on the left seem to think).

Some have criticised the way he has taken millions from the CIA when his interests and theirs coincided. It's something that's worth bearing in mind, but when there were those resisting in Afghanistan against the Russian occupation my support for that struggle was not contingent on them refusing aid from the CIA, nor was my support for Solidarity negated by the fact they were assisted by the West and the Catholic Church. People have a right to resist their repression no matter where that fits into global realpolitik, and I certainly don't give a shit about the Chinese system of government coming under threat.

Anyway, the Dalai Lama's views on Marxism, for instance, seem at odds with his CIA-loving image on the left. "Of all the modern economic theories, the economic system of Marxism is founded on moral principles, while capitalism is concerned only with gain and profitability. Marxism is concerned with the distribution of wealth on an equal basis and the equitable utilization of the means of production. It is also concerned with the fate of the working classes—that is the majority—as well as with the fate of those who are underprivileged and in need, and Marxism cares about the victims of minority-imposed exploitation. For those reasons the system appeals to me, and it seems fair… The failure of the regime in the Soviet Union was, for me not the failure of Marxism but the failure of totalitarianism. For this reason I think of myself as half-Marxist, half-Buddhist."

I don't support him but let's not accept the fascist caricature that some seem keen to paint either. Then we have Mr Galloway who, in the Daily Record said “From the outset the American right and their pathetic echo chambers here have been determined to wreck China's Olympic Games, or at least to diminish them in the way the Moscow Olympics of 1980 were. Every button is pushed from China's supposed "occupation" of Tibet (in fact Tibet was always part of the Chinese motherland, and has been rescued from the mists of obscurantism under the demi-God Dalai Lama by the Chinese revolution) through its attitude to circus bears, the Falun Gong and its one-child policy.” Daily Record Feb. 18th (hat tip: yourfriendinthenorth). This makes me very sad. For someone who is so clear in his opposition to imperialism at home to be giving left cover to imperialism abroad flies in the face of any internationalism he may wish to claim for himself.

Any anti-imperialist posturing on the part of the UK, French or US governments is frankly bizarre, and people should be cautious of some of the Western organised Tibet solidarity movements - but consistent anti-imperialists should not allow the UK government's mouthings prevent them showing solidarity just as China's "opposition" to the Iraq invasion did not force the anti-war movement to hold fire... if that's the right phrase to use. Don't wave the CIA bogey man at me and think I'm not going to feel common cause with those who want to end dictatorship.

Some people seem so frightened of siding with the US that, even when they aren't they fear people might think they are, and start bending themselves into all sorts of odd shapes. Get over it, the US is the great Satan - but it doesn't make everyone else in the world little angels does it? There are a lot of fronts to fight on and the Tibet people are on one of them, don't let your opponents define your thought for you.

I don't care either way about the Olympics in China or Britain - these things are enormous, pompous wastes of resources designed to glorify nations I hate and promote a tedious athletic ideal I abhor. They bulldoze local communities in favour of their international prestige and then want to be thanked for doing so. They puff themselves up and feel so proud of their hegemonic monuments and grand spectacles of national unity. No, have the Olympics in the Faroe Islands with the only events the three legged race and international standard badger tossing, I don't care a bit for them.

You know I'm a great fan of dialogue - but to get to the table the Tibetan resistance will have to earn Chinese respect. Whilst China relies on Tibetan water they could try to cut off that supply, but whilst Tibet is peripheral to the Chinese economy all they will have to fight with is that very willingness to fight - and I find that willingness admirable to the highest order.

Unfortunately that violence will be messy, as every violent revolt has been throughout history. When Toussaint L'Ouverture, Spartacus or Ned Ludd took themselves into the fray it was not as left leaning liberals but as those fighting for their lives and liberty. There is only one set of people who can avoid further bloodshed, and that is the Chinese Government by taking the boot off the neck of those they oppress and letting them breath. If you support that boot don't cry fake tears when people get hurt.

An independent government, whether or not the Dalai Lama led it, would be moving forwards towards the modern world and greater democracy. A victory in Tibet could and should open up a space in the rest of China and give inspiration to others whether they be in Burma, Iraq, Nepal or Luton.

China is an imperialist state. It acts like imperialism, it walks like imperialism, it leaves dead bodies and helps itself to stolen territory just like imperialism. When people protest for the ability of the individual to live their own life, it is the very the definition of tyranny to send in a trigger happy occupying army to crush those desires.

One of the most amusing arguments I've seen during this debate is that because journalists can't get in and we don't have accurate information on the situation we don't know if the Chinese government is being nasty and whether the protesters are all that nice really - well perhaps the fact that we don't have any information because of the Chinese Government's efforts to suppress all media on the subject might just be a slight hint don't you think on what the situation might be... hmmm tricky.

This situation isn't simply about independence its about justifiable rage. There is an online petition you can sign to "end the violence" if you like - but if the repression doesn't end then I'm holding out for more.

This post is brought to you via suggest a topic for the Daily (Maybe), thanks to Weggis for the suggestion.


Graeme McIver said...

Yes, I agree with all your article I think, apart from your caring what George Galloway thinks. Nice one.

Jim Jay said...

I have to say I took ages over this worried that people would find this quite offensive.

I include the Galloway quote becuase its the clearest statement from someone on the left of support for the Chinese regime.

I have to say I found that quote utterly jaw dropping.

ModernityBlog said...

very good post :)

Anonymous said...

Thankyou for bringing the words of George Galloway to my attention.

Well done Mr Galloway, spot on!

By the way, the picture you have of the bleeding protester is from India and those are Indian policemen.