By Najib Aminy
As the Olympic torch is being relayed around the globe, there has been a rise of activism and protests targeting China’s domestic and foreign policies. With the 2008 Summer Olympic Games approaching, China has been under scrutiny for its oppressive rule over Tibet as well as for indirectly funding the genocide in Darfur. In weeks, many of the world’s leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and England’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced plans to boycott the opening ceremony of the Olympic games. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called upon President George Bush to join the boycott and French President Nicolas Sarkozy is considering not attending the ceremony. The significance of the opening ceremony is to honor and glorify the host country, China, recognizing its past and current cultural and societal achievements. However many are at odds with honoring a country with questionable policies towards human rights.
For Stony Brook senior Emanuel Neto, the 2008 Beijing games will make his dream of playing in the Olympics a reality. At the same time, Neto is protesting against the human rights violations committed by China. As an athlete and a protestor, Neto’s situation is both ironic and bold at the same time. Neto recalled growing up in his home country of Angola and being mystified by the beauty of the opening ceremony of the Olympics. “I am protesting the Chinese approach to human rights. Period,” said Neto. The 6’9”, 230-lb Stony Brook center made it clear that he has worked too hard to just give up his dream in attending the Olympics.
Regardless, Neto traveled to San Francisco to join thousands of protestors in awareness of the Tibetan plight and the genocide in Darfur. “I saw people who rushed the bus, people who laid out in right in front of the bus. Others had spread the Tibetan flag on the bus while people were spray painting it with Free Tibet,” recalled Neto. When asked if politics should be mentioned with the Olympics, Neto was quick to say that with the current situation in Darfur and Tibet, “it is not a should have, could have, it is a situation where it is.”
Growing up in Angola, Neto experienced a childhood where he witnessed the effects of war. He mentioned the many times where he hid under a table eating lunch to avoid being hit by flying bullets. Being back home, Neto also witnessed the coverage of what was going on in Darfur, something Neto said the US media has failed miserably to do as he pointed that American Idol receives more coverage than what is going on in Sudan. For the chance to see the torch, “I have dreamed of looking at the torch. But this year it doesn’t feel right.”
China has had a history of abusing human rights. Minky Worden, media director of Human Rights Watch (HWR), said that China has been on the HWR watch list for the past twenty years for its stringent policies regarding civil liberties and rights. “We have looked further into China in 2004 to examine the abuses being done in preparation to the Olympics.” Worden explained how HWR receives many reports about Chinese oppression, from jailing dissidents to preventing any media contact with Tibet. “The Olympics are casting a light onto China’s domestic and foreign policy,” said Worden. However, according to Worden, the HWR does not call for a boycott of the Olympic games or of the opening ceremony. Rather, HWR is calling on China to correct its human rights violations. “HWR does not support a boycott of the Olympics nor the ceremony, rather we are calling on China to improve its policies. If these policies still stand uncorrected, then we are asking figureheads to step down from attending,” said Worden.
Tibet is an area heavily concentrated with attention in terms of China’s “domestic” policy. Since 1951, China has ruled over Tibet and suppressed countless revolts with brutal opposition. China is now being heavily criticized for its technique in suppressing certain protests as well as ruling Tibet with an iron fist. Ben Carrdus from the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) says that with the recent spotlight on China, “there have been very profound concerns between good versus evil,” regarding evil as the so-called “liberation” of Tibet by China back in 1951. When asked about whether or not politics should be involved with the Olympics, Carrdus said, “the question is not whether it [politics] should be or shouldn’t, the fact is that it is involved. The Olympics don’t occur in a vacuum.” Carrdus briefly explained the hypocrisy behind China and how it wishes to remove the issue of politics from the Olympics. China boycotted the 1976 Olympics in Montreal due Taiwan’s entry into the games. China did not re-enter the Olympic arena until the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. According to Carrdus, the ICT is calling for the boycott of the opening ceremony unless China agrees to allow media access to Tibet, independent monitor organizations such as the Red Cross or UN to assess the progress, to agree not to let the torch pass through Tibet, and undertake substantial discussions with the Dalai Lama.
Nicole Judd, from the Island For Action organization, says that although politics and the Olympics should be kept separated in normal circumstances, she says that with the given situation in Darfur, “it is the perfect opportunity to show the world what is really going on.” Judd explained China’s self-conscious role and how the current spotlight China has can be used as leverage to take action. China receives a substantial amount of oil from the Sudan, which in return provides them with large monetary funds, funds that go to arms and weaponry. The Sudanese government is involved in no war but its own.
Many organizations from around the world have called for pressure on China due to its indirect funding of the genocide. It is widely believed that Chinese government funds the Janjaweed, the militia hired by the Sudanese government to wipe out opposition and rebel groups in the south west part of Sudan known as Darfur. Since 2003, it is reported that 400,000 people of Darfur have been killed as well as 2.5 million refugees left stranded without a home. Judd says it is very hypocritical to attend an opening ceremony of the Olympics where there is injustice going on everywhere. “The Olympics allow everyone to come together and stand up for spirit, freedom, and democracy, and it is important to live up to that standard,” said Judd.
Former Ambassador of India Harsh Bhasin, who served his ambassadorship to Denmark, South Africa, Botswana, and China during the Cultural Revolution, says that China is out of line in both Tibet and Darfur. “China makes no distinction between sovereignty and suzerainty. The world has to tell them, and they have to realize, that Tibet is not China,” said Bhasin. The former Ambassador went to say how there is much sympathy for the Dalai Lama as he is “a ruler with no country.” In terms of Darfur, the ambassador said, “China gets oil so they supply arms. “The only country that can exercise influence in Sudan is China, and they are not doing enough.
With the Tibetan suppression and the genocide occurring in Darfur, the 2008 Beijing Olympics may join the list of other Olympics that were heavily boycotted, such as the 1980 Olympics and 1984 Olympics, which were at the height of the Cold War. Regardless of the situation, Bhasin says, “You’ve seen what has happened in London. You’ve seen what has happened in Paris and San Francisco. It is an outpouring of support from the people of the world who feel strongly for the Tibetan cause. And the Chinese, I am afraid, are not handling it in the way they should.”
In terms of being active, Neto calls upon all college students to wake up and realize what is going on. “College students have the power to change the world. They can send e-mails and become more active. It is college students who can bring about change but that is not going to happen if students are doing nothing but sitting on their assess and smoking weed.” Neto said it is a shame that people are unaware of what is going on and to the people who say they have to focus on their own problems, Neto said, “these people have lost the human in them.”
As the torch continues to travel the world sparking protest from region to region, Neto is preparing for the day where he can fulfill his dream and make the voices of the oppressed people of Darfur and Tibet heard, whether it’s by responding to journalists and voicing his opinion or sporting “Save Darfur” apparel. The torch that once brought humanity together for peace is now bringing people together for justice. As the flames burn, tension is brewing.