Thursday, April 3, 2008

Boycotting China an arrogant suggestion

China has attracted undesired attention in recent weeks as a result of deadly riots that have plagued Tibet and surrounding separatist regions.

The deaths are regrettable and the crackdown severe, reflecting a poor human rights record in China, which isn't anything out of the usual. Indeed, it is worth condemnation as all human rights violations are.

However, using the Olympic Games as a political toy is a bit of a farcical response. Not only does it once again give the impression of a hypocritical and arrogant West lecturing all others, but it erroneously ties the Olympic Games to a political agenda.

Addressing the former issue, the West is in no position to lecture any country on human rights abuses. The United States still retains the abhorrent capital punishment, and during the past century of a virtual Western monopoly on the Olympic Games, we witnessed two World Wars (primarily based in Europe) and a string of brutal conflicts spanning all over the globe that had either direct or indirect Western fingerprints.

American atrocities in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Iraq, including its blind support of Israeli apartheid never stopped the US from hosting the Olympics on multiple occasions. That's not taking into consideration America's internal policies, which involved widespread discrimination against its black minority for the better part of the century.

Why single out the US? My own country, Australia, admittedly undertook systematic ethnic cleansing for much of the 20th century through a process of stealing Aboriginal children from their families and placing them under white control. But Australia still hosted the Olympics in 1956. I could continue and open up Britain and France's black book, but I fear the post would never end.

Ideally, the Olympic Games aims to reinforce human values and obligations, but there isn't a single country on the planet that doesn't retain a haunted closet. The Games ought to focus on human rights, but let's not be demanding prerequisites from states who desire to host the privileged sporting season. Instead, the Games should be a method of plying a country towards a system of governance that respects human rights. The Olympic Games provides a rare openness between nations, an openness that may very well spread to the host people.

The Olympic Games has evolved beyond politics to become a culturally symbolic occasion. The Olympics are as much about cultural representation in our globalised world as it is about human rights. The Greek-invented sporting event promotes the notion of every nation belonging to a 'human world', 'our world'.

China has its faults, as does the West. China needs to address the Tibetan issue, and the US/UK need to withdraw out of Iraq. But China does represent over one billion people, and is Asia's largest country and most potent power. Within it lies thousands of years of mystifying history and customs foreign to the West that still surprise many of us in the most exciting ways. The Olympic Games is also about recognising and valuing our differing cultures, our differing histories, our differing journeys, and presenting them on a world stage.

Denying this major part of our world the right to represent thousands of years worth of its rich culture on the most global stage would be considered as a grave insult to the Chinese people. Any boycott wouldn't simply hit the heads of government, but the very people who will enjoy a rare chance to showcase themselves in a positive light.

The Olympics are no longer a European spectacle, nor a Western spectacle, but a global phenomenon. The West must come to the realisation that every nation on earth enjoys part ownership in this event, and that every nation has an equal right to be represented despite their current flaws. For we all have them.

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