Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Torture Relay Must be Stopped!

Okay, so Tibet is a cause that is particularly close to my heart - I grew up in a hill town near Dehradun amongst Tibetan exiles. My father worked with the exiles and my first memories are of hot momos, sonorous chants, and apparently boundless affection that distinguishes the community.

I saw His Holiness for the first time when I was three and yet that memory lives in my inner eye with a clarity that is inexplicable. I have seen him since on other occasions, wondering how he carries a burden greater than any leader of any people: the responsiblity not only for the welfare of Tibetans - both in Tibet and abroad - but also the leadership of a struggle against an enemy so implacable and greater that any resistance must appear hopeless. And beyond that he must also protect and care for the soul of his nation. Yet he does all this with grace and infinite compassion, with a laugh as innocent and infectious as that of a baby.

Which is why I went out on possibly the winter's coldest morning to protest the PR spectacle with which the totalitarian Chinese regime hopes to drown the voice of Tibet. And I was not alone: thousands of Londoners turned up, complete with dogs, children, families, to show theirs. For our stretch, the protesters were mostly middle-class professionals (this was Nottinghill after all) but extremely vocal. Perhaps that was a good thing because the police were well outnumbered had there been a real intent for disruption. Naysayers suggest that the scuffles have let down the cause of Tibet. Instead, imagine that only 35 of the thousands of people who lined 31 miles of streets were arrested today. If that doesn't shout out peaceful protest, perhaps the world should listen harder.

Another point that needs to be made: much has been made of how politics and sports shouldn't mix. Well, China began the mixing and today was no different. Chinese "thugs" (for that is EXACTLY what they were) formed the inner most security ring around the torch. They wore the pale blue uniforms of the Olympics, disguising themselves as "athletes." Yet these were steely-eyed trained security men, working with horrific cohesion as they pushed out protesters during scuffles and "protected" the torch with something approaching religious fervour. The spectacle of the generally polite and helpful Met shoulder-to-shoulder with thugs of a totalitarian state can only be described as an extreme theatre of the absurd.

So what was the point? Well - the message was sent out loud and clear from London today: China cannot sweep its brutal oppression and steady annihilation of the Tibetan people under the rug by mounting a PR exercise. Even when the PR exercise is worth 30 billion dollars.

What happens next? Well, the message needs to be repeated again and again until it penetrates the Chinese self-delusion. That means EVERYwhere the torch goes, the scenes from London today must be repeated. Go out on the street, fly the Tibetan flag that is banned in Tibet, shame those celebrities who feel that a minute of TV time is more important that human lives.

Simon Jenkins of the Times called for a "tunnel of shame" for the torch this morning. Lets make sure that the tunnel of shame grows right around the world, until China is forced to listen. This may be last real chance Tibet has - if we look away again, it will be too late. Jai Tibet! Jai Bharat!


  1. Well Sunny, the press, including the Guardian, seem to be against the protesters, but your message puts the other point of view most powerfully. You've got me convinced,

    Bill Phillips

  2. I don't think the Olympic Games should be banned just because of China's politics, because boycotting China or not, it will not change a thing. However, I think that the Olympics is an opportunity to inform and make people aware of the China's human rights records and the situation in Tibet.

    Also it's interesting to see, on a sort of related topic, that we protest against China, but why are we not raising our voices to companies outsourcing to China, or to business men dealing with Chinese companies and making money out there?

    The Olympic Games were initially an effort to gather the best athletes in times of peace or war and bring everyone together to enjoy sports and take a break from the fighting. And if even today we can take a break and bring a fraction of the world together in the name of sports, why not? Politics will always be there, whether good or bad....

    And also, I find it great that we are so so far away from China and Tibet and yet we shout and support the protesters. Fantastic!

    But we are not half as active when it comes to protesting against injustice and crime and politics that we should be protesting about as well, and things happening on our doorsteps....

    It's easy to criticize and condemn what is far away from us geographically, but we're not condemning political behaviour we should be trying to get more attention to.

    The IOC - international olympics committee - was surely aware of what was going on in China when they gave the Olympics to Beijing. I don't see or hear anyone protesting against them either.


  3. Thanks Bill.
    Thanks ES. Except there were protests when IOC gave Beijing the games, and for the past fifty years. Because the Tibetan cause has been a mostly peaceful one, people have ignored reason why China continues to kill, torture, "resettle," and "re-educate" Tibetans with impunity.
    As for sports and politics - why Moscow in 1980 but not Beijing 2008? Why Kosovo as a sovereign nation and not Tibet?