Posted by: Lister | April 7, 2008

Tibet Vs Palestine

Uri Avnery starts with a joke, to illustrate a principle:

“Hey! Take your hands off me! Not you! You!!!” – the voice of a young woman in the darkened cinema, an old joke.

[…] Immanuel Kant demanded of us: “Act as if the principle by which you act were about to be turned into a universal law of nature.”

It’s all to answer this question:

Why do the world’s media adopt one independence struggle, but often cynically ignore another independence struggle?

[…] Fringed by the Himalayas, they are located in one of the most beautiful landscapes on earth. For centuries, just to get there was an adventure. Their unique religion arouses curiosity and sympathy. Its non-violence is very attractive and elastic enough to cover even the ugliest atrocities, like the recent pogrom. The exiled leader, the Dalai Lama, is a romantic figure, a media rock-star. The Chinese regime is hated by many – by capitalists because it is a Communist dictatorship, by Communists because it has become capitalist. It promotes a crass and ugly materialism, the very opposite of the spiritual Buddhist monks, who spend their time in prayer and meditation.

When China builds a railway to the Tibetan capital over a thousand inhospitable kilometers, the West does not admire the engineering feat, but sees (quite rightly) an iron monster that brings hundreds of thousands of Han-Chinese settlers to the occupied territory.

And of course, China is a rising power, whose economic success threatens America’s hegemony in the world. A large part of the ailing American economy already belongs directly or indirectly to China. The huge American Empire is sinking hopelessly into debt, and China may soon be the biggest lender. American manufacturing industry is moving to China, taking millions of jobs with it.

Compared to these factors, what have the Basques, for example, to offer?

[…] The Chechnyans should have been in a better position. They, too, are a separate people, who have for a long time been oppressed by the Czars of the Russian Empire, including Stalin and Putin. But alas, they are Muslims – and in the Western world, Islamophobia now occupies the place that had for centuries been reserved for anti-Semitism. Islam has turned into a synonym for terrorism, it is seen as a religion of blood and murder. Soon it will be revealed that Muslims slaughter Christian children and use their blood for baking Pitta. (In reality it is, of course, the religion of dozens of vastly different peoples, from Indonesia to Morocco and from Kosova to Zanzibar.)

The US does not fear Moscow as it fears Beijing. Unlike China, Russia does not look like a country that could dominate the 21st century. The West has no interest in renewing the Cold War, as it has in renewing the Crusades against Islam. The poor Chechnyans, who have no charismatic leader or outstanding spokespersons, have been banished from the headlines. For all the world cares, Putin can hit them as much as he wants, kill thousands and obliterate whole towns.

That does not prevent Putin from supporting the demands of Abkhazia and South Ossetia for separation from Georgia, a country which infuriates Russia.

IF IMMANUEL KANT knew what’s going on in Kosova, he would be scratching his head.

The province demanded its independence from Serbia, and I, for one, supported that with all my heart.

[…] I would propose a pragmatic moral principle: Every population that inhabits a defined territory and has a clear national character is entitled to independence. A state that wants to keep such a population must see to it that they feel comfortable, that they receive their full rights, enjoy equality and have an autonomy that satisfies their aspirations. In short: that they have no reason to desire separation.

That applies to the French in Canada, the Scots in Britain, the Kurds in Turkey and elsewhere, the various ethnic groups in Africa, the indigenous peoples in Latin America, the Tamils in Sri Lanka and many others. Each has a right to choose between full equality, autonomy and independence.

THIS LEADS us, of course, to the Palestinian issue.

In the competition for the sympathy of the world media, the Palestinians are unlucky. According to all the objective standards, they have a right to full independence, exactly like the Tibetans. They inhabit a defined territory, they are a specific nation, a clear border exists between them and Israel. One must really have a crooked mind to deny these facts.

But the Palestinians are suffering from several cruel strokes of fate: The people that oppress them claim for themselves the crown of ultimate victimhood. The whole world sympathizes with the Israelis because the Jews were the victims of the most horrific crime of the Western world. That creates a strange situation: the oppressor is more popular than the victim. Anyone who supports the Palestinians is automatically suspected of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.

Also, the great majority of the Palestinians are Muslims (nobody pays attention to the Palestinian Christians). Since Islam arouses fear and abhorrence in the West, the Palestinian struggle has automatically become a part of that shapeless, sinister threat, “international terrorism”. And since the murders of Yasser Arafat and Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the Palestinians have no particularly impressive leader – neither in Fatah nor in Hamas.

The world media are shedding tears for the Tibetan people, whose land is taken from them by Chinese settlers. Who cares about the Palestinians, whose land is taken from them by our settlers?

In the world-wide tumult about Tibet, the Israeli spokespersons compare themselves – strange as it sounds – to the poor Tibetans, not to the evil Chinese. Many think this quite logical.

If Kant were dug up tomorrow and asked about the Palestinians, he would probably answer: “Give them what you think should be given to everybody, and don’t wake me up again to ask silly questions.”

There is some mention of Tibetan violence in the media. The Boston Globe:

Or, on a weightier subject, the Western press keeps referring to what happened in Tibet last month as “demonstrations,” which is a bit like saying there were demonstrations in Los Angeles after the Rodney King verdict. Chinese viewers, given coverage of burned-out Han Chinese stores and the Han Chinese death toll, have concluded that the outside media are in the tank for rioting Tibetan thugs.

[…] when the Dalai Lama rejected the idea of independence and lamented the violence in Lhasa, China denounced him as the secret instigator of the trouble – thereby closing any available rift between Tibetan moderates and radicals. With that, any chance of making the Tibet issue fade away was lost.

The BBC:

B Tsering is the president of Tibetan Women’s Association, one of five NGOs spearheading street protests in India. She says violent monks in Tibet at the start of last week’s protests were actually Chinese soldiers in disguise. But she admits that some Tibetans may have participated in violence later.

“We are not all holy, spiritual people, we are just ordinary folks. We are not all like the Dalai Lama. He genuinely and sincerely believes in non-violence, but sometimes the ordinary people get frustrated and angry.”

The frustration is not without reason, Mr Taklha says. “We have had six rounds of talks with China since September 2002, but there’s not been much headway. The last one in June-July 2007 was quite acrimonious.”

Most Tibetans here feel China is just buying time. And many believe the time is not on the Dalai Lama’s side. He is 72 now, so how much longer will be around? they ask.

So they feel this is as good a time as any to make a pitch for what is rightfully theirs. And some feel if some violence serves their cause, then so be it. “Violence grabs the eyeballs. The situation in Tibet has been breaking news for the last few days because of violence. The international community and media are paying us attention only because of the violence,” Ms Tsering says.

She says that her association stands for non-violence, but other Tibetans may not respect that position much longer. And this realisation is causing distress to the Tibetan leader.

JSF also posted on this and did a bit of googling to illustrate the different attitudes of the media to Tibet and Palestine.



  1. Gideon Levy also compares Tibet and Palestine.

    Citizens of a country that is entirely tainted by the occupation – a national, ongoing project that involves all sectors of the population to some extent, directly or indirectly – cannot wash their hands and fight another occupation, when a half-hour from their homes, horrors no less terrible are taking place for which they have much greater responsibility.

    […] There is absolutely no connection between rights and the means of protest, […] Moreover, in the first years of the Israeli occupation, most Palestinians accepted it submissively, with practically no violence. What did they get as a result? Nothing. The world and Israel cloaked themselves in apathy and callousness. Only when planes started being hijacked in the 1970s did the world begin to notice that a Palestinian problem even existed.

    […] Nowhere in the world today is there a region more besieged and confined than Gaza. And what is the result? The world calls to boycott the occupier in the case of China, while absurdly, with regard to the Palestinians, the world is boycotting the occupied entity, or at least its elected leadership, and not the occupier.

    […] German Chancellor Angela Merkel is boycotting the Olympic games but paid an official visit to Israel, where she spoke not one word about the shameful conditions in Gaza under Israeli occupation. Is there any other way to describe this, except a double standard?

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