Thursday, April 24, 2008

No enlightenment for protesters

ANN ARBOR ‑- It’s not every day you see hundreds of people protest peace and harmony, so I was naturally intrigued.

Actually, I had trekked to the University of Michigan to hear the Dalai Lama opine on our imploding planet. Pope Benedict XVI was doing much of the same on Sunday as he made a pilgrimage of sorts to Ground Zero in New York.

But there was no time to meditate on spiritual serendipity as a scowling Chinese grad student almost knocked me over with his floppy, sloppily scrawled sign: “Dalai Lama – 50 years of CIA funding isn’t enough for you.” He was one of about 500 “dissidents” waiving Chinese flags outside the arena.

Now I have to admit, I’m always a bit shocked to see demonstrations by non-lefties. The unions, the hippies, - these guys are pros, coming armed with professionally printed placards, a killer sound system and even creepy lifelike puppets to make their point. They know how to set the mood of righteous indignation and usually throw a cool afterhours party to boot.

Within the choreographed affair, there are usually scores of sincere folks dedicated to largely admirable ideals and causes. They’re out there exercising their right to assemble and fighting the good fight while we’re at home catching up on soul-rotting episodes of “Paradise Hotel 2.”

But when your protest slogans essentially are, “We love torture” and “Murder rocks,” it kind of kills the vibe.

Look, the idea of blasting a spiritual icon who won the Nobel Peace Prize is somewhat disconcerting. But when you stop to consider that 1.2 million Tibetans have died since the Chinese invaded in 1949, it becomes mindblowing.

Some protesters were there solely in support of the summer Olympics in Beijing, which the Dalai Lama supports. The games have come under fire because of the Middle Kingdom’s abysmal human rights record, leading the world in executions (take that, Texas) and its brutalization of Tibet, which was bloodied by another crackdown last month.

But most were citizen-bots content to pass out colorful pamphlets promising “the beginning of wisdom” by telling the truth about Tibet, which was always a part of China, don’t you know? They do, for the state-run media tell them so. Oh, and that pesky, persistent violence in Tibet? Blame it on His Holiness in cahoots with the CIA, of course.

As someone who covers politics for a living, I know a snow job when I see one. These kinds of conspiracy theories sprout like fungus in a stale, stark environment, where the government maintains a closed system of information even while opening its markets.

China has threatened to ban Western outlets like CNN from the Olympics if they dare question the government. To gain access to the Chinese goldmine, Google surrendered and censored much of the outside world.

And many of these Abercrombie-clad protesters clutching their iPhones couldn’t care less. As long as they’re free to make plenty of yuan, why should they? And who are those uppity Tibetans to get in their way?

This, of course, is the mantra of Western companies, intoxicated by the prospect of paying Chinese workers three cents an hour to make Lead Dreams Barbie for our little ones to lick.

The most hilarious part of the brochure was when it stiltedly admonished, “Principles of Journalism require news organizations to commit loyalty to its citizens. The coverage should not be slanted for friends or advertisers and should represent all constituent groups in society.”

Nothing like being lectured on ethics by Big Brother. If journalists were to slant coverage to mollify our advertisers, I reckon we’d do nothing but puff pieces on how cheap plastic trinkets from Guangdong will save the world. Almost every major U.S. corporation has an operation in China, which happens to own about $500 billion of our national debt.

Media outlets, by the way, gave extremely sanitized coverage to the demonstrators, perhaps feeling it was in bad taste to point out China’s track record on murder.

Inside, the Dalai Lama spoke to more than 8,000 souls about the growing gulf between rich and poor and sustaining our planet. He touched barely touched on politics, except to say, “If you have a Green Party, I want to join it” (and not in the Ralph Nader sense).

The Buddhist leader also made light of his persona, chuckling, “There are people who believe I have some sort of healing powers - and that’s absolute nonsense.”

The saddest thing was, I didn’t see one protester venture inside to hear what the Dalai Lama had to say. Several yawned at the idea when I interviewed them, evidently content to scream outside and pass out propaganda rather than actually listen to the man and judge for themselves.

That’s flaunting the kind of flagrant ignorance a college campus is supposed to cure. Talk about some folks in need of enlightenment.


Xiaodong said...

I apologize for the chinese students there. As a chinese, I also think their behavior is very rude. They are just young kids and China is a young country, they don't really know how to do public relation. The protest is unmeditated, no governmental action. If you can read chinese, then you will know from some chinese BBS. It is totally organized by chinese students and the money is from donation. I know our country has a lot of problems, but, again, it is a young and very big country, please give us time to solve the problem by ourselves. Remember how did U.S. look like when he was just 60 years old. It took him more than 200 years to look like this. So, please be tolerent. Have you ever been to China? If not, welcome! If yes, welcome again!

Patrickandcarrie said...

Dear Susan J. Demas,

Your article, No enlightenment for protesters, mentions some shocking things. I have some questions for you.

Where does the number "1.2 million Tibetans have died since the Chinese invaded in 1949" come from? That is a big hunk of the population and the average life expectancy has increased.

You cast scorn on some accusations: "Blame it on His Holiness in cahoots with the CIA". Did the CIA arm his followers, like China claims? Can you verify this independently?

What are the differences in the lives of ordinary Tibetians; under the rule of the lamas compared to under Beijing's rule?


Patrick Hung

Susan J. Demas said...

Xiaodong, thank you for your kind words. I have not been to China but it is near the top of my list to visit.

Susan J. Demas said...

Mr. Hung, there's nothing shocking in my column about the situation in Tibet that hasn't been reported in countless media. A simple Google search can answer your questions.

Patrickandcarrie said...

Dear Ms. Demas,

That is true, on the Tibet issue, countless western media sources report the exact same thing. My questions were loaded. I was wondering if I could get a random western reporter to look beyond the one narrow point of view.

We both know that the Pro-Beijing media is very biased. However on the Tibet issue I see the Western press acting like the China Daily; blatantly reporting only one side and omitting any information that contradicts that view point.


Patrick Hung

Susan J. Demas said...

I already read your propaganda pamphlets and laughed. The State will be proud and surely reward your loyalty. No need to worry about those pesky dead Tibetans. Thanks for playing.