Motes and Beams (2008/04/13)

Free (Iraq and) Tibet

The "Free Tibet" campaign appears to be doing very well. I find this a little worrying.

To start with, I should say that I agree with their aims, methods, and philosophy. But that's not the point. There's obviously something strange afoot: if all the motives involved in the campaign and its publicity were purely humanitarian, then there would be a precisely analogous well-organised "Free Iraq" campaign, with celebrity supporters, well-publicised and generally positively reported protests, and some hesitant political approval.

After all, conditions in Iraq are presumably worse than those in Tibet (according to reasonable accounts, about 4% of the population of Iraq has died unnecessarily since 2003). Unlike Tibet, it's completely our fault. Also unlike Tibet, we can do something about it directly. Even if the whole British populace riots about Tibet, the Chinese government can merely point out that their people are displeased with our invasion of Iraq, which is rather likely to be true. They could remind us of the words in our local holy book.

I'm inclined to think that almost all the members of "Free Tibet" are blameless: the problem is that our journalists and politicians are hypocrites. For propaganda purposes, we are supposed to see China as vaguely suspect, and the UK as entirely wholesome. Our writers and leaders are quite happy to let this view inform their actions.

Unfortunately, reality has a well-known liberal bias, and refuses to match this fairy-tale. China have done great evil, but compared to the scale of the rapacity of the last few decades' wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, they may have been the most restrained of all the permanent UN security council members.

It reminds me of the Cold War, when American intellectuals spent all their time decrying brutal Russian imperialist incursions into Afghanistan, and Russian intellectuals spent all their time decrying brutal American imperialist incursions into South and Central America and the Caribbean. Both were completely correct on every point of fact, but they were using their time in an extremely stupid manner.

So, if anyone wants to protest the Olympic torch procession in 2012, let me know.


2008/04/15: My father emailed me a link to a critique of the recent behaviour of Western intellectuals in legimitising the war on Iraq. It's somewhat verbose, but the author's name, Jean-Philippe Deranty, more than makes up for this.