Tag Archives: media

My Cowardly Position on the Question of Tibetan Sovereignty

There are a lot of questions being discussed and not being discussed about the whole Tibetan topic. It is one of those issues that seem to be absolutely dominated by strong, unwavering positions. It is also one that never seems to be going anywhere. In that way I find it similar to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, which is also very hard to unpack, sore and goes far back in time. In both of these conflicts, I find that each side is always being on the defensive, and very selective in the material that they choose to bring into the debate. As an outsider with no set opinion, I find it very hard to find a place in that debate.

When I was asked for my opinion on the Tibetan sovereignty debate, I honestly did not know what to say. The one who asked, a dear friend whom I respect, obviously presumed that I as a more-or-less educated and engaged member of society would have a ready answer. Problem was, I did not. Of course, I was somewhat familiar with the history and the political and ethical questions being debated, but I had not yet managed to form an opinion. Thus began an increasingly frustrating quest for the answer that I felt was expected of me.

I have found there is a strong pressure in the West to agree with the exiled government. At the same time (perhaps as a reaction to the suffocating political correctness of the “Free Tibet”-stance) there is a will to try to assess things from a more Chinese-friendly perspective. Or should I say less Chinese-hostile. But no matter where I went, whether it was mass media, academic literature or the blogosphere, I always seemed to find this prior partiality. There were bloggers out there who though they were bringing a positive contribution to the debate by plastering an excerpt from sites like tibet.org onto their blog to ’raise awareness’ while next betraying their ignorance. I was getting more and more confused and more and more fed up. It seems often the more people learn about an issue the more rigid their opinions become. I wonder if that has to do with seeing things from a biased viewpoint from the very beginning. But what are you supposed to do if you, like me, don’t want an opinion shoved down your throat?

I find it just amazingly tiring to read or listen to people who have already made up his/her mind. When somebody has a bolted down position it is both very annoying to know that that person is never going to change their mind (‘cause I’m right, dammit!), and very demanding because they are always trying to channel your mind into seeing things their way. I find it hard to talk to such people. Every word they speak seems to be pre-rehearsed and on the defensive. If they ever ask a question it is merely a rhetorical device, not in order to seek an answer. If you ask questions you’ll be accused of being either dense or in cahoots with the wrong side. Even if you’re sporting a neutral or sympathetic stance, you’re wrong as long as you don’t obediently cave in to their views. A discussion like that can never be productive.

On important questions like Tibet and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict I think it’s important to have a colourful and rich debate. I would love to be part of such a debate, but it seems too difficult. It seems like people are only really given two choices to vote and it is either for-or-against China, Palestine-or-nothing. I think these are false dichotomies, where only two opposite choices are propagated when in fact there are many. Guess which you are supposed to pick! Most definitely seem to end up in the “politically-correct” corner. But we don’t have to think in black-and-white.

This is why I am simply not going to make a judgment. It may seem cowardly to not choose a position, but I think it’s more cowardly to just accept what someone else wants me to believe. So I will not position myself in either corner. At least not yet. Whether I am for or against is going to be my choice, and when I am ready. If I’ll ever be ready. There is no real need as far as I can see. Why do we need to search for a villain anyway?

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Filed under East Asia, media, Middle East

Asian Media Darlings

Do you remember back in 2003 when nobody really knew anything about China and didn’t care? Back when most of what you knew of Indian economics belonged to a period in which it was referred to as the ‘crown jewel’?

It has dawned on me that the surge in interest in South-East Asia really only began pretty recently. Before that it had of course been a part of the world which generated a certain amount of interest. The mindboggling reality that the region contained half of humanity was often recalled, yet not fully comprehended. The memory of long gone dynasties and civilizations, fascinating and mystical world religions, plus some kind of grasp on the war in Vietnam was about as much as the average Joe Blow needed to know. In the seventies and eighties the West was forced to acknowledge an emerging economic power in Japan – an anomaly in an otherwise established Western world system. A few miniature ‘tiger’ economies have also been on our radar for a while (Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea). But South-East Asia as a whole still did not seem to hold more importance than any other region until just recently, when that begun to change. Nowadays, people have a real awareness of Asia as an emerging global economic powerhouse. Many believe that a shift in the global economic order is occurring, and no matter how fast or impressive the development is anywhere else, such as in Botswana or Argentina, nobody can steal the limelight like the two major powers of Asia.

I have asked a few people, and while most seem not to have been conscious of it many agree that there has been a relatively sudden change in the common perception and interest about Asia. What is your experience of this? Has there been a change in media attention? Even if you really prefer the sports pages of the paper, or even if you feel like you lack enough knowledge to reply – I still really want to hear what you think!

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Filed under East Asia, media

An Illegal War in Libya

This is a quote from Richard Falk, professor of international law:

“What is immediately striking about the bipartisan call in Washington for a no-fly zone and air strikes designed to help rebel forces in Libya is the absence of any concern with the relevance of international law or the authority of the United Nations. None in authority take the trouble to construct some kind of legal rationalisation. The ‘realists’ in command, and echoed by the mainstream media, do not feel any need to provide even a legal fig leaf before embarking on aggressive warfare.

The core legal obligation of the UN Charter requires member states to refrain from any use of force unless it can be justified as self-defence after a cross-border armed attack or mandated by a decision of the UN Security Council. Neither of these conditions authorising a legal use of force is remotely present, and yet the discussion proceeds in the media and Washington circles as if the only questions worth discussing pertain to feasibility, costs, risks, and a possible backlash in the Arab world.”

So wait a minute… Is the war in Libya ILLEGAL?

Yes. The invasion of Libya is illegal after the standard of international law. I wrote a cautious post about so-called “Western propaganda” on the very day that the military bombing attack on Libya was ordered, where I suggested that in the Western press there might be too much worry about conforming to the politically correct order of the day. Is this true for Libya? Though the military intervenion in Libya is illegal, most people don’t seem to know it. I have read the papers lately, and there isn’t much sign of that many places. It seems it just is not politically correct to point it out.

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Filed under Middle East

Western “propaganda”?

Though most Westerners would undoubtedly reject the idea, there is a conception at the political level in many non-Western countries, notably China, that the role of propaganda in the West is just as important as anywhere else. It is just very subtle, and much more successful.

But is this idea really so ridiculous? Certainly, Western media lack many of the characteristics that we associate with propaganda. (Just to be clear, in China propaganda is not a negatively loaded word.) By contrast, the West has a free press that is not controlled by any one centralized power or strict ideology. There is unhindered discussion and debate. But there are, many will argue, many strong consensuses, as well as a desire to conform to political correctness. Does this, without us noticing, mean that media installs us with biases and presuppositions?

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Filed under media, Religion & Ideology

China and the Chinese

Media today is falling over itself to provide information on the new kid on the block, but here’s a commendable relic from a time when China was not much noticed by the Western world. Mind you this is from 1902, on a series of lectures by Herbert Allen Giles on China and the Chinese, which I think everybody should enjoy and read or, if you prefer, listen to. If you’re not too interested you’d might want to skim through some of the drier language related parts, but in any case this is remarkably well-written.

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Filed under East Asia