Monday, April 07, 2008

Olympic torch sheds light on our similarities

The caption under this picture of Sunday's torch relay through London reads, "Police officers detain a demonstrator along the route of the torch relay in London." although a number of other things could've been written there.

The title of the article is Arrests, fights, jeering: Olympic spirit flickers amid the chaos, and the guys in the light blue and white tracksuits are members of the 20-strong Chinese torch bodyguard. You may not have noticed this kind of thing before, but Olympic torch guarding is now being considered as a demonstration sport for London 2012.
In Downing Street itself the torch was accompanied by 16 security guards and as many police officers, and Gordon Brown and the Olympics minister, Tessa Jowell, greeted it to a backdrop of chanting and the beat of helicopters overhead.

On a difficult day for Britain's own Olympic aspirations, Jowell conceded that the torch had brought an atmosphere of "threat and menace" rather than joy.
Perhaps this is fitting, as the Chinese have been delivering '"threat and menace"' to Tibet for the better part of a century. Maybe it's hard for people to get into the Olympic spirit of the Chinese-held games when the Chinese have spread so little of this spirit to their own people and neighbors. I believe living in Taiwan for the last decade, with a thousand missiles pointing at me, gives me license to mention this. (I'm being unfair though, when I got here there were only half that number of flying incendiary death-sticks set up across the Strait.)

There were some scuffles on the torch route between Chinese nationals and pro-Tibetan protesters that led to some great quotes in another article. Thousands protest as Olympic flame carried through London, which introduces us to Xiao Zhang and his buddy Hawk; Chinese nationals studying in London who defend freedom of speech in their free time.
Wiping blood from his chin, Xiao Zhang, a 25-year-old Chinese student, said he had been attacked after he and his friends had chanted "liars" at pro-Tibetan campaigners. "They grabbed my flag, my Chinese flag, and put it on the ground. I don't know who hit me."

His friend Hawk, 26, said: "The pro-Tibetan protesters kept shouting, so we shouted back. When you want to give an opinion, what should you do? Stay quiet? Of course not - in this country I am free to say what I want."

Asked if he could do the same in his native China, he replied: "Here is Britain - there is China. The point is they're different."
Or are they so different? The articles talk about 2000 police officers invited to the festivities, helicopters overhead, protesters corralled into protest pens and T-shirts and flags being confiscated,
Before the torch arrived police circulated among Tibetan demonstrators ordering them to remove T-shirts and confiscating Tibetan flags in an apparent breach of a promise from Met commanders that police would not intervene to prevent embarrassment to Beijing.

Yonten Ngama, a Tibetan who has been resident in the UK for four years, was ordered to remove a T-shirt scrawled with three slogans, 'China Stop the Killing', 'No Torch in Tibet' and 'Talk to the Dalai Lama'. "They didn't tell me why, they just said I couldn't wear it," he said. Police on the ground declined to comment on the reasons for confiscating the T-shirt.
Maybe England and China aren't so different after all. And isn't that what the Olympics is supposed to show us? Shouldn't it highlight our similarities and show how beneath the bleatings of our assorted propaganda ministries we're not really so different from one another. I think this is what the 2012 organizers are worried about.

The funny thing is, I don't remember hearing about any human rights protesters at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, and that was just four months and a day after Operation Enduring Freedom was launched against Afghanistan. It was also less than six months after the towers fell in Bush's Amerika, so anyone dumb enough to protest US human rights violations at that time in Utah is probably still enjoying an all expense paid holiday in sunny Cuba. I guess that old Olympic torch really can shed some light on how similar we all are. That's something we could all pay more attention to.

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