April 22, 2008
Tibet and Palestine: Hypocrisy of World Media
You have the gun and I have the guts
A Palestinian child confronts an Israeli soldier during a protest near Bethlehem on Friday. (EPA)
Like everybody else, I support the right of the Tibetan people to independence, or at least autonomy. Like everybody else, I condemn the actions of the Chinese government there. But unlike everybody else, I am not ready to join in the demonstrations.
I support the Tibetans in spite of it being obvious that the Americans are exploiting the struggle for their own purposes. Clearly, the CIA has planned and organized the riots, and the American media are leading the worldwide campaign. It is a part of the hidden struggle between the US, the reigning superpower, and China, the rising superpower — a new version of the “Great Game” that was played in Central Asia in the 19th century by the British Empire and Russia. Tibet is a token in this game. What is really bugging me is the hypocrisy of the world media. They storm and thunder about Tibet. It seems as if the Tibetans are the only people on earth whose right to independence is being denied by brutal force. But are not the Kurds in Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria entitled to the same? The inhabitants of Western Sahara, whose territory is occupied by Morocco? The Basques in Spain? The Corsicans off the coast of France? And the list is long.
Why do the world’s media adopt one independence struggle, but often cynically ignore another independence struggle? What makes the blood of one Tibetan redder than the blood of a thousand Africans in East Congo?
Again and again I try to find a satisfactory answer to this enigma. In vain.
Immanuel Kant demanded of us: “Act as if the principle by which you act were about to be turned into a universal law of nature.” (Being a German philosopher, he expressed it in much more convoluted language.) Does the attitude toward the Tibetan problem conform to this rule? Does it reflect our attitude toward the struggle for independence of all other oppressed peoples? Not at all.
If Immanuel Kant knew what’s going on in Kosovo, he would be scratching his head.
The province demanded its independence from Serbia, and I, for one, supported that with all my heart. This is a separate people, with a different culture (Albanian) and its own religion (Islam). After the popular Serbian leader, Slobodan Milosevic, tried to drive them out of their country, the world rose and provided moral and material support for their struggle for independence.
The Albanian Kosovars make up 90 percent of the citizens of the new state, which has a population of two million. The other 10 percent are Serbs, who want no part of the new Kosova. They want the areas they live in to be annexed to Serbia. According to Kant’s maxim, are they entitled to this?
I would propose a pragmatic moral principle: Every population that inhabits a defined territory and has a clear national character is entitled to independence. A state that wants to keep such a population must see to it that they feel comfortable, that they receive their full rights, enjoy equality and have an autonomy that satisfies their aspirations. In short: That they have no reason to desire separation. That applies to the French in Canada, the Scots in Britain, the Kurds in Turkey and elsewhere, the various ethnic groups in Africa, the indigenous peoples in Latin America, the Tamils in Sri Lanka and many others. Each has a right to choose between full equality, autonomy and independence.
This Leads us, of course, to the Palestinian issue.
In the competition for the sympathy of the world media, the Palestinians are unlucky. According to all the objective standards, they have a right to full independence, exactly like the Tibetans. They inhabit a defined territory, they are a specific nation, a clear border exists between them and Israel. One must really have a crooked mind to deny these facts.
But the Palestinians are suffering from several cruel strokes of fate: The people that oppress them claim for themselves the crown of ultimate victimhood. The whole world sympathizes with the Israelis because the Jews were the victims of the most horrific crime of the Western world. That creates a strange situation: The oppressor is more popular than the victim. Anyone who supports the Palestinians is automatically suspected of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.
Also, the great majority of the Palestinians are Muslims (nobody pays attention to the Palestinian Christians). Since Islam arouses fear and abhorrence in the West, the Palestinian struggle has automatically become a part of that shapeless, sinister threat, “international terrorism”. And since the murders of Yasser Arafat and Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the Palestinians have no particularly impressive leader — neither in Fatah nor in Hamas.
The world media are shedding tears for the Tibetan people, whose land is taken from them by Chinese settlers. Who cares about the Palestinians, whose land is taken from them by our settlers?
In the worldwide tumult about Tibet, the Israeli spokespersons compare themselves — strange as it sounds — to the poor Tibetans, not to the evil Chinese. Many think this quite logical.
If Kant were dug up tomorrow and asked about the Palestinians, he would probably answer: “Give them what you think should be given to everybody, and don’t wake me up again to ask silly questions.”