Bicycle Diaries: Hilter's torch

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11.4.08

Hilter's torch

and
China's shame


An editorial in The LA Times notes, The Olympic torch relay was invented by the Nazis:
According to historians, Adolf Hitler wanted to promote his belief in an Aryan master race by symbolically linking the 1936 Berlin Games to the ancient Greek gods and rituals, hence the carrying of the flame from Olympia to Germany. The first relay was chronicled on film by Hitler’s propagandist, Leni Riefenstahl.
And this from a former college student of mine who is working in Tibet:
Hi All,

An update on the situation here and to remind you that if you're so inclined and able to, please attend a rally this Monday (or at anytime!) to support Tibetans in their fight for greater freedom. There are vigils at lunch and i think in the evenings in many places, and if not please offer a minute of silence for them.

News from here is limited unfortunately. We foreigners are under lock down and surveillance and i've only been able to briefly meet and talk with friends. Some perhaps i won't be able to see again. One is now missing, probably arrested, and another is on the run - staying in the mountains and on the move. Many have had to face several interrogations - and these aren't people necessarily involved in protests but perhaps they are young, male and relatively well-educated. To make matters more frightening, now they are tracking phones to find those on the run, tapping many people's lines, and have also, by dint of having so many people in and around lhasa, effectively blocked off the most well-known escape route to india. And it's still very cold and windy here most days.

In the key areas of unrest its apparently worse. They've arrested all men aged between 15-60. They've closed the schools and most businesses have also shut. Last i heard the trucks were doing laps around the main streets and people said you couldn't move for the numbers of soldiers. Residents have been told that the army will be there until after the olympics. Every monastery has had at least several monks arrested - some where no protests have been known to have happened. (Possibly just a good time to get rid of a few recognised leaders or to escalate the fear already present?)

Minorities universities are keeping their professors at work on the weekend, everyone involved with anything regarding tibetan culture - monks, teachers, social scientists, students, doctors, etc - are having to attend lengthy patriotic lessons. NGOs are being forced to stop activities in these areas until after the olympics and are subjected to daily visits by the PSB. Some of them have had 70% of their planned activities cancelled.

Despite this there are on-going protests, most of which are small, go unreported and are immediately shut down. Most universities are having vigils and sit-ins, monks are continuing to protest peacefully - although inside monasteries as they are surrounded by soldiers and not allowed to leave. People say that they are not watching the olympics on their television and some people say that this rift will not heal, that this will be a long battle. While the government may have brought about a stability, it is because of suppressive tactics. If people felt that they wouldn't be arrested for protesting i think you'd see thousands protesting every day. Every night there is Tibetan dancing in our local square. Maybe 300 people come and form circles, dancing for about 4 hours, and the young men particularly are so active, dancing off tension and aggression, kicking and turning in a flurry of arms and legs, as if they are chasing a devil away.

What will become of this region (1/3 of china) if for six months it is under such fear and tight restriction?

Economically it will be devastated. No men to care for the animals and earn off farm income, not enough people to farm the land at this critical time of sowing, no additional assistance for the women and children, no movement to better pastures for the nomadic families, and it will miss out any tourists, particularly the thousands who will come to the olympics. Of course this has huge social and environmental impacts as well. Possibly no school, especially for all the thousands of teenagers now in custody. No recognition of the Tibetan views, no public discourse, so many people missing, no contact between the thousands of prisoners and their families. And no spring and summer cultural events - if they are held it will be under the most severest restrictions as it will be a very big match from which new protests may strike. And the ethnic divide is growing larger - tibetans are not eating at muslim restaurants and the normally at least cordial relations between Han and Tibetans has been changed to one of suspicion and antagonism. And this division is being fueled by the state media and on-line chat rooms. China said it has found a cache of arms at a monastery today! People who have only been told one version of their history cannot find any compassion for Tibetans, indeed find them incredibly ungrateful and are calling for death penalties for the rioters. And there is increasing rumours among Tibetans of Chinese agents dressed as Tibetans, possibly even as monks, and inciting greater rioting. Of course, there are intellectuals and people who do see both views, but their voices are also silenced.

Now Buddhist for centuries, Tibetans have lost much of their warrior culture but i think also that the young men are very tired of the current system and its preference for all things Han. Depending on how severe the fall-out is, this latest repression will only harden their feelings and heighten their desperation. As the touchstone for Tibetan religion and culture it is vital that the Big D and the Chinese government find a way forward that is both peaceful and sustainable. And only one side is refusing to talk. If the change doesn't come now it will come at a greater cost later. Tibet needs more autonomy and real equality for its people. In order to hold the Chinese state together the government needs to address the underlying issues. Only dialogue can address the needs of both sides.

Given this state's totalitarian nature it is absolutely vital that the international community and other nations put pressure on China to accept this dialogue.

China's support for tactics of large scale repression, secrecy and stoking blind nationalism are not part of its global commitment nor do they share anything in common with the olympic ideals. Its government must be held accountable for its actions both internally in places like Tibet and Xinjiang and externally in Burma and Sudan. China will only grow stronger and richer in the years to come and it will grow even less concerned with international opinion. This is an opportunity that neither China nor the world can fail to grasp. We cannot let this moment slip through our hands without giving our all to bring greater peace to the world.

Anyway, a bit of a long letter but thanks for reading! Please do what you can. "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

I probably won't write again for a few weeks at least as i'm off to the east. Please let me know if you want more information. Please forward this to others but take off my email address. Thanks and all the best...

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