Godwin’s Corollary: A Proposal for Chinese State Media

I’m beginning to wonder whether we should pass a corollary to the Godwin Law. As most of you probably already know, the Godwin Law is a rule of discourse that holds that one automatically loses any debate when one compares one’s opponents to Hitler and the Nazis. The corollary I propose would be that comparisons to al-Qaeda and Osama bin-Laden should likewise be considered an automatic loss.

I was inspired by this article from an official Chinese news source (is there any other legal variety?). It used to be that the Chinese government would compare Tibetan dissidents to gangsters, as if they were like the Sopranos, engaging in gang hits, illegal businesses like drug trafficking, prostitution, and the like. But the times, they are a-changing. Ever since at least 9/11, they’ve likened the dissident groups of East Turkestan (Xinjiang) to terrorists, and now it seems that they’ve decided to carry forward the same analogy to the Dalai Lama and the various Free Tibet organizations. See also here, here, here and here.

It’s disappointing, but perhaps not surprising, move in their propaganda. Interestingly, I frequently would try to argue with the Palestinian activist in my department by using the Dalai Lama and Tibetan dissidents as a counter-example. As he’d try to blame Palestinian terrorism on “Israeli oppression” sparking roosters coming home to roost, I’d ask him if this was so, why was it that we have never seen Tibetan Buddhists popping up in Beijing and suicide bombing elementary schools or pizza parlors? And he’d pause, not really having an answer, especially to my charge that this was despite the Tibetans being treated far worse than the Palestinians. At least Israel, after all, has agreed in principle to a Palestinian state, something that would be virtually unthinkable for the Chinese government. Admittedly, population may have something to do with that. If there are over a billion Han Chinese, and only between 5 and 6 million Tibetans, the Chinese government isn’t going to have to worry about a demographic timebomb the way that the Israelis might. Still, the point remains. Tactically, the Tibetans haven’t engaged in anything resembling the Palestinian terror movement. And ironically enough, the Chinese government has typically supported the “righteous cause” of the Palestinians, though I guess it’s debatable as to how much they support Hamas and Hizbollah.

As a philosopher, I cannot help but subject the argument presented in the Chinese propaganda piece to a little analysis. I probably should give them credit – at least it’s an argument at all, instead of baseless, over-the-top assertions like we normally get. Here’s the way that Liu Xiaosi puts it:

As Al-Qaida terrorists did in September 11 Incident in the United States, the [Tibetan Youth Congress] injured and killed many ordinary people in the violent incidents in Lhasa on March 14. Ordinary, unarmed people have become its targets of attacks. So, isn’t it a terrorist group? It is absolutely not right for us to be generous and kind to terrorists. In terrorists’ eyes, ordinary people are vital factors for them to bargain. Even one step we retreat will harden their resolve to continuously deprive ordinary people of their rights. Any government who let such evil practices drift is not accountable to its people and the public. Any human social progress never depends on depriving the majority of their rights to reach the suit and expectation of the minority. … Of course, the most important is that the state should combat heavily the possible terrorist attacks, as the government of the United States did to the Al-Qaida organization, and as the government of Russia did to the Chechnyan armed terrorists.

Oh brother. Next thing you know, as Choekyong Wangchuk, member of Tibetan Parliament-in-exilesuggests, you’ll see the Chinese alleging links between Tibetan dissident groups and al-Qaeda. Oh, wait, they already have!

Okay, one piece at a time. Roughly, the first argument here seems to be something like this:

X is a terrorist if X kills ordinary people.
The TYC killed ordinary people in the Lhasa riots.
THEREFORE, the TYC is a terrorist organization.

About the only thing that works with this argument is that the conclusion does follow. But the two premises here are highly dubious. First, it by no means has been established that the TYC was responsible for any of the acts of violence committed by people during protests throughout the region. Certainly, the “Dalai Clique” itself went out of its way to decry any acts of violence, and even if the TYC were somehow responsible, the TYC is independent of the Dalai Lama or the Tibetan Government-in-Exile. (See here. The TYC distances itself from what it calls the Dalai Lama’s “Middle Way,” that is, the Dalai Lama’s moderate position that pushes for Hong Kong-style autonomy within China rather than outright independence. The TYC, in contrast, advocates independence, but insists that it shares the Dalai Lama’s belief that only non-violent resistance is moral and effective.) What the Chinese government has a hard time accepting, it seems, is that acts of violence and destruction sometimes aren’t attributable to groups or collectives, but sometimes really are just the responsibility of particular individuals, either because they lose their cool and flip out, or because they are opportunists. Note that if free speech and peaceful assembly were legally tolerated here, protesters could openly post the route of their marches, and the police could supervise the march, and thereby more easily separate the peaceful protesters from the would-be rioters.

But the first premise here is the most problematic. To put it bluntly, if this is our definition of “terrorist,” that would make the Chinese government itself a terrorist organization, not mention virtually every other government that ever fought a war where civilians died. How many people did China execute last year? I’m sure Amnesty International has the stats on that. In any event I’m quite sure it was much higher than the Tibetan Government-in-Exile. And I don’t quite get this “ordinary” person qualifier. The IRA, a terrorist organization according to virtually anyone you ask, actually targeted political leaders in the UK. They didn’t make too many hits on random schools and such. So since they targeted non-ordinary people, are they now not terrorist? And if the TYC commissioned hits against Hu Jintao or the puppet Tibetan Provincial government, would they no longer be terrorists?

Finally, I don’t think the Chinese government really put that much thought into this verbal slight of hand. Sure, by identifying people and organizations it doesn’t like as terrorists, it hopes to get the US and other countries to back it up, or at least, back off their criticisms and let China run its damn Olympics. It’s kind of worked with the Uyghurs, since the Chinese were eventually able to get the State Department to classify the East Turkestan Islamic Movement as terrorists. But let’s look closer at what Mr. Liu urges we do.

Of course, the most important is that the state should combat heavily the possible terrorist attacks, as the government of the United States did to the Al-Qaida organization, and as the government of Russia did to the Chechnyan armed terrorists.

So if this holds… does this mean Mr. Liu wants China to do to the Tibetan Government-in-Exile what the US is trying to do to al-Qaeda and what Russia tried to do against the Chechyans? In this case, using the Afghanistan War as a model, this would mean China going to war against India to bring down its government for harboring Tibetan terrorists in Dharamsala, India? This leads me to think that not even China is serious here, for if it really believed the Tibetan dissident movement was a major terrorist threat to its very existence, “worse than bin-Laden’s,” and indeed, “an enemy to all human [sic],” going to war against India for harboring the Tibetan terror groups would not be out of the question. Certainly you wouldn’t see talks, however informal, between representatives the the US and bin Laden. This suggests that not even the Chinese government believes its own propaganda, making the strict censorship regime that exists here in China even that much more tragic for China’s own people. They are spoon-fed this crap, with no real alternatives unless they are sophisticated enough to know how to get around the Great Firewall, and know enough English or other foreign languages to read what sources unauthorized by the government may have to say.

Still, at least some of the world supports China’s crackdown on the Tibetans. The same state-controlled media publishing all of the above pieces attacking the Tibetan dissident movement also published this glowing article about the moral support China’s receiving from … the North Koreans. I kid not. It’s not surprising they would, mind you, support the PRC in this, but that the Chinese were impressed by that, and thought that English speakers reading their official media would be impressed as well shows, perhaps, what kind of world the writers of Chinese propaganda live in.

Oh, and one last thing. I think I’m going to start referring to the Chinese government as the “Hu Jintao Clique.”


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