March 26, 2008

Why Tibet? Why Palestine? The Rational Choices of Protest

Dennis Prager draws attention to the differing treatment of Tibet and Palestine by the world: the Tibetans have been arguably more oppressed than the Palestinians and have behaved in some ways better than the Palestinians in resisting that oppression. Prager uses some rather extremist language to make his case- but some of what he says is true. Afterall anti-semitism is more prominent in the imagination of the world than anti-sinoism (at least the world excluding places east of Pakistan). Some of what he says is daft: apparantly the world's left dominates the world's media and politics, living with George Bush and Rupert Murdoch, I have to say I'm not sure I agree. Whenever I socialise with the 'left' they don't seem that happy that they are controlling the world- indeed there are reasons why rightwingers are happier with China than with Israel- to come back to Mr Murdoch, there is a market there whereas Israel is a much smaller and less economically important place.

But there is one reason that Prager completely misses and that is the rationality of protest. One of the most salient points made by George Orwell was that Gandhi would have been of little aid against Stalin: indeed one could say that for similar reasons the Dalai Lama hasn't succeeded against Beijing. But what Orwell said points to something really important- its politics not just political languages which govern the way that we respond to crises. The simple truth is there is not that much anyone can do to help Tibet. The government in China is a nasty despotic and tyrannical regime, it does not respond to persuasion and as a Westerner we can only hope that it falls swiftly. A protest in a foreign capital or a letter in a newspaper isn't going to hit the Chinese government, and isn't going to get through, given the censorship in China to the Chinese people. China's regime is opaque and hard to understand- but many of these cadres served the most murderous leader in world history- Mao Tse Tung, and participated in the regime that cracked down under Tianaman. The world's leaders have cravenly kowtowed to China over Tibet and Taiwan- but the truth is that we don't have much wiggle room with the Chinese- military threats and media tirades are unlikely to work so the West has put its hope in engaging with the Chinese and seeking to build a Chinese middle class which could at some point build an alternative regime. The hope with China is that economic growth will create the opportunity for a new regime to emerge, in stability, and that that regime will make progress towards solving issues like Tibet and Taiwan. The hope is that a Gorbachev or De Klerk will come to aid that movement. Its a long shot, but its quite possibly the only chance for the people of Tibet.

Israel though is a completely different case. Israel is a weak democracy. There are levers the West's governments and peoples can use to help the Palestinians that just are not available to us with the Tibetan situation. In my judgement we should not weaken Israel- that would isolate Israel as a uniquely bad country which is insane given the atrocities that others are committing. But that doesn't mean that protests and articles won't work in the Israeli context, Israelis consume the international media, they know what the view of other countries is of their position in the world. Fundementally the Chinese government is not open to persuasion, it is a semi-fascist despotism. The Israeli government is open to persuasion- just like say the American government is open to persuasion ultimately over Iraq. In that sense protesting about an Israeli occupation, even if its less worse than the Chinese occupation makes sense. There is a greater chance of your protest having an effect on Israeli policy because the Israeli government fundementally cares more about human rights than the Chinese government. Protests work best when they are directed at exposing actions that the governments concerned are themselves secretly ashamed of: the Israeli government has done some horrible things over the years, but in reality it is a different beast entirely from the Chinese government (and from many Arab governments.) It is a democracy with a free press and with free access to the global press. Prager is right what China is doing in Tibet (or for that matter what Russia is doing in Chechnya for that matter and we could go on) is worse than what is happening in Palestine, but ultimately because of the constitution of Israel's government and the exposure to international media of its population, thinking about persuading the Israelis through investigations and protests is worth while (whether those tactics work is a different matter). With China protesting about Tibet is likely to have about as much effect on the politburo as Gandhi might have had on Stalin.

This is a rough outline- but there is something here. The real reason why Mr Prager's point is true is that there is a chance of changing the Israeli public and hence the Israeli government's mind because of the nature of the Israeli regime- there isn't such a chance with China. If you really want an analogous case to the Palestinians which identifies the fact that the West treats them as a special case, you should look at another Middle Eastern democracy with a minority population- Turkey and the Kurds.


mohammed juhar said...

don't compare the brutality the israelis uses against palestinian & chinnese on tibetiens .china never use f-16 jets to attacks tibet towns, never had sieges that lasted for month after month never used tanks destroying houses to let people live in street never let the million tibetian starving. yes it is true that china has hard policy when it comes tibet but not like or compare to what the zionist colonialism do to the palestainain people the zionist colonialism is the distillation of the worest of the aparheidd in south africa, the holocaust and the french practice in alegeria.

noiblau said...

I'd really like you to look for a little bit of information about China in my blog. I do not say they are good, but more things should be considered I belive.

Phil A said...

Mohammed - When was the last time the Tibetan Liberation Front (if it has one) dropped rockets on Chinese Towns, or blew themselves up with a busload of innocent passengers?

As to what they may, or may not be doing, with tanks and soldiers - you don't know because of the news blackout.

Visit planet earth sometime.

Gracchi said...

Muhammad to compare the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the events of the holocaust just reveals your ignorance. The International Red Crescent estimates a couple of thousand Palestinians killed, in the HOlocaust six million Jews were killed- that's less than the numbers killed in Chechnya where about 100,000 were killed or than in the Congo where millions have died over the same period of time. You diminish your cause by denying other atrocities- and you need to learn some history and politics.

Thanks Noiblau I'll have a look.

Phil A the Tibetans are totally non-violent. The Palestinians are being oppressed but Mohammed needs to visit the planet Earth- I'd reccomend he starts reading about some other conflicts than Israel Palestine.

fike2308 said...

absolutely no comparison between the israeli regime and chinese. israel is much worse because it is backed by the most brutal regime in the world, the usa. if you want to examine other insane characters (other than israel) backed by the u.s., you can also look at bin laden and mr. husein. israels atrocities are largely suppressed by the western media, whereas every little thing china does it magnified 100 times and all over the media. why? because the west doesnt like competition. in the most recent assault on gaza, israel has even bombed the u.n headquarters. they use white phosphorous on civilians. most of the chinese civilisation is centred on the east coast, whereas tibetans live in the west. tibet by far is still dominated by tibetans whereas israel is overrun by jews and the rightful owners have become the minority. again, i dont see how you can even compare the two. now if you compared israel to sadam husein, then maybe you have a case there.