Monday, April 14, 2008

Reflections after the Rain on the Torch Parade

With a sleight of hand, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom staged the Olympic Torch parade without any ugly incidents but also left demonstrators and spectators alike unfulfilled. They showed up at one announced venue and the relay took place at another.

After seeing the riotous fracases that disrupted the parade in London and Paris, Mayor Newsom took the safer course by taking the torch bearers away from the incendiary crowd gathered to celebrate on the one side and to protest on the other.

Now as the torch winds it way through South America, Africa and Asia, western media will lose interest. Without the western media, the protesters have no reason to show up. The event will revert to its original purpose, namely a universal celebration of good will by the peoples of the world.

Among the disparate groups of protesters, each with a pet cause of their own—one even linked China out of Tibet with impeach Dick Cheney—the Tibetan protest won hands down for the most professional orchestration.

First a riot broke out in Lhasa a month earlier which the Chinese police was slow to respond and the incident got out of hand. The western media got hold of this news and promptly beatified the thugs into freedom fighters.

The German press was particularly creative--though Washington Post, CNN and other American media were not without distortions of their own—using photos of Nepalese police brutalizing civilians in Katmandu as stand-in for Chinese soldiers in Lhasa.

Our fearless Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi promptly flew to India on our taxpayer dollar to stand in solidarity with the Dalai Lama. Until then, the world had no clue that Dalai Lama could even contemplate instigating such violence as arson, looting and murder.

As if acting to be the matching bookend to Pelosi’s act, San Francisco supervisor Chris Daly sponsored a meaningless resolution, which Mayor Newsom ignored, pretending to align the City of San Francisco with the human rights for the 1.3 billion “hapless” Chinese.

Just as Nancy has plenty of national domestic issues to grapple with, and many accuse her of lackluster performance as Speaker, Chris has not done much for his home district either, one of the most run down in San Francisco. Both, however, are avowed champions of the downtrodden, so long as they live far away.

The negative publicity, however, aroused the normally placid community of ethnic Chinese living in the Bay Area. To show their resentment of seeing the source of their pride, the Olympics torch relay, threatened to be doused by the sputum of rowdy protesters, they galvanized and came to the parade by the bus loads.

They may have gone home disappointed, not seeing the actual passing of the torch, but at least they drowned out the noise of the vociferous few and let the world know that many in the Chinese American community are proud of a China that will host its first Olympics.

The Pelosis and Dalys in American politics like to posture that they represent the majority of Chinese Americans in their constituency. By the turn out, the community is saying, “Not so, we do not agree with their demonizing of China, and they do not speak for us.”

Indeed when Dalai Lama came to Seattle two days after the torch parade, he was greeted not just by his followers but also by a healthy turnout of detractors. More importantly, these detractors’ views got their share of media coverage.

The detractors pointed out that by “cultural genocide,” the Dalai Lama was referring to the roads and other infrastructure investments that Beijing has made in Tibet to improve the lives of the common Tibetan. In contrast, under the previous regime of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetans lived as slaves under the control of the few monks and the ruling class.

The Richard Geres of Hollywood have a Shangri-la image of Tibet untainted by reality. In their minds, Tibetans in rags, bent and toothless before middle age, living in mud hovels without the benefit of electricity represent the cultural purity of the golden age.

Perhaps now as the Tibetan activists make the rounds around the world, the contrarian views will also get heard and the world will learn of a more complete perspective of the real Tibet.

This will happen, of course, only if the media is fair and will look at different sides of the issue. The actual description of the riots in Lhasa seeped out due to outside witnesses that happened to be there at the time, so there is hope.

Perhaps Beijing will also learn a lesson. Namely, having western journalists roaming freely inside China, even if they view through funhouse lenses, is ultimately less damaging than barring them access so that they can only rely on their imagination soaked in predisposed biases.

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