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Last Updated: Oct 27, 2009 - 9:33:43 PM

Why politics must now also become personal on Darfur and China by Anne Bartlett

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Why politics must now also become personal on Darfur and China



As the Chinese publicity machine ramps up into full gear with the Genocide Olympics approaching, so do the protests in cities worldwide. These protests aim to draw attention to the chasm between China s rhetoric about Olympic fraternity on one hand and the reality of their gross human rights abuses on the other. Recent days have witnessed a harsh crackdown on human rights activists in China and Tibet , who are now being summarily arrested and tortured. Darfur has also witnessed a degeneration of security over recent months as a result of the impunity afforded to the Sudanese government by China s unflinching support.   The time has now come to make politics personal on China and Darfur .


In recent weeks, mainstream T.V. stations have started to broadcast advertisements for the Olympic Games with little regard for the consequences for those living at the harsh end of China s abusive practices. We are encouraged to participate in the aesthetic feast of opening ceremony as if this act of viewing does not itself constitute a political position with regard to China . Asked to ignore larger questions of rights in preference to beauty, strength and agility, we are encouraged to put aside our differences to pursue lofty Olympic goals. Arguments continue to rehearsed often by those who ought to know better - that there is no place for politics in the Olympic stadium. This is despite the fact that the Olympics have, since ancient times, been a forum for dissent and political protest.

As consumers we can all make a choice not to watch the Olympics. We can choose not to boost the viewing figures for Chinese propaganda and can choose instead to use that time to engage in work that promotes human rights. This is a difficult ethical decision particularly in view of the individual athletes involved, but if one bears in mind the original sentiments involved in the establishment of the modern Olympics, there is clear precedent for this position. In 1863 Baron de Coubertin inaugurated the modern Olympics as means to allow men to adhere to an ideal of a higher life, to strive for perfection" and to create "a four-yearly festival of the springtime of mankind". Where I wonder in this vision was torture, abuse and murder?   Where in the vision of global fraternity should a sporting spectacle trump the right to life?

The responsibility for this situation falls neither on human rights activists nor the athletes concerned. It falls on the government of China and their morally deficient practices. It falls on the International Olympic Committee who in their haste to appoint China as custodian of the games, failed to step up to the mark and tackle China for its escalating abuses against its own people, the people of Darfur and the people of Tibet to name but a few. In the rush to create a veneer of acceptability for bad decision making and unethical practices, we are asked to develop temporary amnesia about the misery and havoc the Chinese government continues to create worldwide. Yet if the goal of the Olympics is to celebrate fraternity, then celebrate it we must in the beauty of its color, cultural diversity and difference without the jackboot of Chinese authoritarianism.

China must be made to understand that people of conscience worldwide do not support its brutality and oppression. Refusing to watch the opening ceremony and games will not diminish the value of athletic performance, will not constitute a boycott, but it will send a message loud and clear to Beijing that we do not value their propaganda and oppression. Refusing to buy Olympic apparel will hit the Chinese authorities where it hurts: in their pockets. These are personal steps that we can all take to make our views known. They do not require a protest permit or permission to congregate. What they require is a personal decision to stand up to the Chinese government and the International Olympic Committee; to tell them that fraternity, if it is to mean anything, must also mean human rights.

As I write this article, the government of Sudan continues its rampage of violence throughout Darfur . Emboldened by its Chinese partners and international community apathy, it now feels that it can pursue its scorched earth policy with absolute impunity. The government of Sudan feels that it can continue to pursue the campaign of slaughter and violence while hiding behind the coat-tails of its authoritarian partner. This display of brutality goes on unabated, while Chinese authorities continue to peddle the fiction that the Olympic Games demonstrate a commitment to an ideal of global mankind.

For those in Darfur , the triumphalist music, synchronized dancing and flag waving of the opening Olympic ceremony in Beijing will ring hollow. Much the same as the 1936 Olympics over which Hitler presided, the choreographed ceremony, its happy smiling faces and claims of brotherhood conceal a vile truth. Watching their villages burn, their children murdered and their lives destroyed, one wonders how a person from Darfur can process claims that politics should not intrude into Olympic fraternity. After all, where was that fraternity when they needed it? Where is our commitment to prevent a sequel to the 1936 Nazi Olympics?

Anne Bartlett is a Director of the Darfur Centre for Human Rights and Development. She is also an Asst Professor at the University of San Francisco . She may be reached at [email protected] or at [email protected]


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