Agam's Gecko
Tuesday, March 15, 2005
The tsunami disaster and subsequent relief efforts have apparently shifted more than the Aceh coastline. A new poll of Indonesian attitudes toward the United States, radical Islamic terrorism and associated issues seems to indicate a dramatic shift in an encouraging direction. Conducted on behalf of Terror Free Tomorrow (a group which appears to be focussed on the potential support bases of terrorism) between February 1 - 6, 2005 by Indonesian polling firm Lembaga Survei Indonesia, the poll finds that there are now more Indonesians who support American efforts against terrorism, than oppose them. Support for bin Laden and his movement has dropped significantly, while favourable attitudes toward the United States have increased. View a summary of the poll's findings here, a few of which I will quote:
  • For the first time ever in a major Muslim nation, more people favor US-led efforts to fight terrorism than oppose them (40% to 36%). Importantly, those who oppose US efforts against terrorism have declined by half, from 72% in 2003 to just 36% today.

  • For the first time ever in a Muslim nation since 9/11, support for Osama Bin Laden has dropped significantly (58% favorable to just 23%).

  • 65% of Indonesians now are more favorable to the United States because of the American response to the tsunami, with the highest percentage among people under 30.

  • 71% of the people who express confidence in Bin Laden are now more favorable to the United States because of American aid to tsunami victims.
Get the full report in MSWord format, Acrobat PDF, or MS Powerpoint.

Read some of the news coverage on the poll. Not surprisingly, the rapid response of the US to the tsunami disaster, the sight of the world's most powerful military force put in the service of rescuing and sustaining the survivors, seems most responsible for the shift in opinion. Also noted in the above link, a recent Ipsos poll indicates that the American public wants to see a greater proportion of their country's foreign aid going to Indonesia.

The Catholic relief agency Caritas Australia has a short account of the current situation in Tapaktuan, where many refugees from neighbouring areas have taken sanctuary in the town and surrounding villages. The local people are doing their best to cope, but appear to be getting minimal assistance from outside -- no NGO's are operating there.

One thing that constantly amazes me around this time every year, is the consistent refrain we hear whenever the Dalai Lama's annual message for Tibetan National Uprising Day is reported. "Dalai Lama says Tibet can find a solution within the People's Republic of China." As if this is news! Reporters treat it as though it was some sort of policy change, and commentators frequently remark on how the "Free Tibet" movement and supporters will react to what they feel is a retreat on the Tibetan government's position. People who seem to feature themselves as experts on the Tibet question would do well to inform themselves (at least a little bit) on the history of relations between the exile Tibetans and the Chinese government.

The Dalai Lama himself frequently reminds reporters (and anyone else who might care) of Deng Xiao Peng's policy statment on Tibet, which was that "outside of complete independence, all things can be discussed." The Tibetan leader has been trying to make some headway for a mutually agreeable solution within this framework, and had announced his stance on working out these problems within the Chinese republic when he addressed the European Parliament in Strasbourg way back in 1988. That makes it 17 years since this had been the Tibetan position (and certainly not without opposition from many Tibetans committed to full independence). His Holiness is the only person alive today who is capable of bringing his people along with this policy, which he believes could be beneficial to both sides. The words of his message which I posted last Friday will certainly bear this out.

But really, get with the program you China reporters, commentators and self-styled "Tibet experts" -- stop talking about a 17 year old policy decision as though it were something new and astonishing which will surely take the wind out of the sails of the Tibetan Freedom Movement. The Tibetans, or at least their current leadership, have faith that emancipation could be found within the socialist paradise of the PRC. If pundits are convinced that this cannot happen within China, they should please be explicit as to why the Dalai Lama's faith in Chinese goodwill must be totally misplaced.

I watched the unprecedented BBC Question Time China this past weekend. This must have been an amazing experience for the studio audience, to participate in such a free and open debate. It was exactly the type of panel debate with audience participation which is a fixture of Indian television -- and indeed the BBC itself has a weekly Question Time India that examines all sorts of controversial issues. It's funny that something so normal for Indian audiences (or Thai or Indonesian audiences, for that matter), would be considered such a milestone for China.

I have to say that the two Chinese government representatives, among the five panelists, seemed much more unfamiliar at dealing with openly contending opinions, as was the audience. Indeed, the audience seemed to be loving it. Also on the panel were David Tang, a Hong Kong designer, Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong, and Isabel Hilton who has lived in China and has written about it for many years. See her book "In Search of the Panchen Lama" for an in depth look at the historical roots of the Panchen Lama's succession kerfuffle. All in all, a very lively debate touching on many of the issues which divide the Chinese leadership from proponents of democratic governance, and getting right down to the fundamental philosophical differences. Tibet was only mentioned once, very obliquely. Both Ms. Hilton and Mr. Tang were very eloquent in expressing these principles in relation to Hong Kong's governance, the issue of Taiwan, and the need for political participation for the Chinese as a whole. The arguments proffered by the PRC's representatives were quite obviously inadequate, amounting to rehashing of the standard PRC rhetoric, and feigned ignorance of any of the documented cases of the widespread abuses of fundamental human rights in their country.

I suppose I could put this item down to the same sort of one-sided or blinkered reporting which also obliterates any positive news about the work being done by those countries now striving to help Afghanistan and Iraq emerge into the light (and as always, please see Arthur Chrenkoff's blog for his latest roundups of news little noticed by the world at large). But this little story from back in February seems to illustrate how warped the general view has become. An American school teacher had her class make a project of writing letters to service men and women stationed abroad, and so a soldier who is stationed in South Korea -- in the service of protecting that country from a nuclear weapons armed lunatic -- found himself being lectured by children about his participation in the "killing of Muslims", the wanton destroying of their mosques, and so on and so forth. The serviceman seemed very depressed by being attacked by these budding little radicals, and I sure don't blame him.

Should anyone still need a wake-up to the type of sick slaughter (overwhelmingly of Muslims) that was halted by the overthrow of Saddam, please visit Iraqi Truth Project. This is a documentary film entitled "Weapon of Mass Destruction" -- a documentary which is destined to be studiously ignored by many, and is highly unlikely to get the widespread attention and adoration which was lavished on Michael Moore's dishonest farce. Take time to view the short trailer, linked at the top of the page. The film was made with the input of one Victor Davis Hanson, and that for me is a strong assurance of the film's credibility.

I would imagine that Eason Jordan may have been trying to contact Giuliana Sgrena lately, hoping to get some backup for his assertion before an international audience at Davos that US soldiers target journalists for assassination. The reporter for the Italian communist newspaper il Manifesto is convinced that she survived, not a standard procedure against an apparently aggressive threat, but rather a targetted assassination. In her account, tellingly entitled "My Truth", she describes their wild car ride to the airport (after, according to many sources, a ransom of between 7 to 10 million euros was paid for her -- coalition and Iraqi authorities were kept in the dark about that, and the ensuing Italian "rescue" operation). After hearing for days about how they were driving slowly and carefully, and didn't see any checkpoint at all, this is evidently what she wrote as her "truth":
The car kept on the road, going under an underpass full of puddles and almost losing control to avoid them. We all incredibly laughed. It was liberating. Losing control of the car in a street full of water in Baghdad and maybe wind up in a bad car accident after all I had been through would really be a tale I would not be able to tell.
The car was said to have been hit by a rain of bullets, while Giuliana says she was picking them up off the seats by the handfulls. Here are some pics of the car, and more here. Somebody needs some extra target practice..... but wait! She also claims the car was fired on by tanks. That's one tough little car!

I recall another Italian hostage captured in Iraq, who showed his captors what some Italians are made of. He won't get as famous as Ms. Sgrena, though, who bragged to everyone within earshot as she travelled to Baghdad, that her staunch anti-Americanism would protect her, and that "insurgents" would never harm her because she was on their side. I certainly hope that the joint US-Italian investigation will be able to piece this whole episode together honestly. It might be easy for the il Manifesto journalist to enjoy the excitement of her release with a wild out of control joyride ("We all incredibly laughed..."), without giving much thought to the people who are car bomb targets each and every day.

Here is a short email sent to Little Green Footballs last week, from an LGF reader jlucas:
My son, who is home from Baghdad on for two weeks R&R, was mad as hell about the reports that Sgrena claimed US troops intentionally tried to kill her. He told me that his platoon (and, presumably hundreds or thousands of other US troops) spent considerable time searching for her, trying to find and release her. Each time he and his troops stop a car or enter a building they put their lives at risk. They did this -- putting themselves at risk -- following orders to try to find and rescue her, not to kill her. If US troops were trying to kill her instead of rescue her, it hardly could have been kept a secret, since all hundreds or thousands of troops searching would have to have received similar orders. At the risk of stating the obvious, it would have been pointless to give orders to one roadblock team to shoot her if everyone else had orders to find and rescue her. What nonsense!

The Americans who lend aid and comfort to the people floating these conspiracy theories should not be tolerated when they next claim to "support the troops."
Unfortunately, when it comes to accusing Americans of any sort of nefarious and malicious intent, common sense is just tossed to the breeze.

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