Agam's Gecko
Wednesday, April 27, 2005

n the day that the Syrian Baathist dictatorship finally withdrew the last of its military forces from Lebanon, it seems appropriate to once again take notice of the pro-democracy tent-city vigil which is continuing in Beirut's Martyrs' Square.

Surely most will remember the remarkable public display of solidarity among Lebanon's various ethnic and religious communities following the assassination of the former Prime Minister Hariri on Valentine's Day. In those early days of this new Lebanese freedom movement, the traditional media was certainly drawn into the story with its compelling scenes of joyful looking throngs beneath a sea of cedar tree flags, peacefully demanding their country back after almost 30 years of Syrian presence. Soon afterwards, the Syrians and their backers in Lebanon (Hezbollah et al.) organised a counter demo of even greater apparent numbers -- mainly due to the large number of Syrian expatriate workers who were ordered to attend, and the busing in of many people from Syria itself.

Well, the hunger for freedom by supporters of this nascent democracy movement wasn't about to be outshone by this Syrian reaction, so they shortly thereafter organised a counter-counter demo -- and put an end to speculation as to which group best represented Lebanon's generally modern and pluralistic society. The numbers this time were estimated at close to -- if not indeed surpassing -- one million people. Since that time, the media has pretty much lost interest until today's milestone of the completion of full withdrawal of Syrian forces.

But blogger Michael Totten reminds us that something very exciting is going on in Beirut now, and it has been going on throughout these last two and a half months. Michael has been in Beirut for some weeks already, blogging via a special Lebanon Blog on the progress of the Cedar Revolution. The activists (who seem to be originating from many different streams of society) have been living together, negotiating their strategies, working out their differences for the greater good, and a myriad of other activities, in a microcosm of their diverse society in that little tent-city in Beirut (inspired apparently by the same tactic used by the Ukrainian "Orange Revolution" freedom lovers in Kiev, just a short while before). Michael has some great pictures and insight on the new site, while a couple of very fine guest writers hold the fort at his home base. He has also decided to delay his return from Beirut for a few weeks, feeling that the situation was heating up and that it was important to stay in place a little while longer.

But now, we can also read a blog written cooperatively by some of the democracy activists, directly from the tent-city. While the world's media virtually ignores this important and growing movement in the Middle East, the blogosphere now allows the movement to speak directly to the world -- without any of that silly middle-man stuff, the mass media filter. Check out Pulse of Freedom for a taste of what's still going on in Beirut's tent-city, and the continuing "Cedar Revolution".


hile partly on the subject of the mass media's self-ascribed role of information filter for us all, I just have to mention one more example of the depths of ridiculousness to which some have fallen. Last year sometime, early in the life of this blog, I noted that during some sort of anniversary for BBC news broadcasting, the network had aired some of its earliest broadcasts to give a flavour for the vastly different standards of the time. It was very early television and extremely low-tech -- which is cool in its own way -- but the striking thing for me was the very high standards which were to ensure complete impartiality. The newsreader's face was not to be seen, simply because any slight facial expression could hint at the newsreader's attitude, and thus could signify less than absolute impartiality. Props were used, like a map and a hand held pointer indicating places on the map while the newsreader spoke in a practiced monotone (so as not to imply anything through vocal inflection). This was the degree to which the BBC adhered to high standards in eliminating even the mere perception of any possible bias, back in the old days.

Yesterday -- I think I heard this on Radio Canada International (the shortwave service) -- came the news that a BBC producer had wired up some political hecklers with microphones, and sent them into a British Conservative Party meeting to scream abuse at Michael Howard (the Brits are in the middle of an election campaign, as we all know). Now, I'm sure Mr. Howard can handle stuff like this and I'm not a big fan of his anyway, however I'm not a Brit and it's not really my business to support anyone (although Tony is the only true statesman I see over there at the moment). But can anyone in their right mind see things like this incident as legitimate, impartial journalism? The BBC, once thought of as the most fair and unbiased worldwide news service (a reputation deriving largely from their Worldservice on shortwave more than anything else, I bet), has now become a sad parody of its original high principle. Rather than simply cover whatever was to happen at Michael Howard's public meeting, the "journalists" of the BBC basically made trouble in order to have something exiting to report.

The whole thing seemed so clumsy, that I wonder if it wasn't a double-back fake around play, with the BBC hoping to embarrass Tony Blair instead of Michael Howard. We all remember the confrontation between the Blair government and the BBC last year, the commission panel that found the BBC had reported improperly about all that "sexing up the intel report" nonsense, BBC reporter Gilligan quitting in disgrace and several of the BBC's high officers eventually doing the same. Seems to me some folks at the crown corporation might like to get even, and that sending hecklers to scream to the Opposition leader that he's a liar, and that Blair's a great man, might be intended to embarrass Blair rather than boost him. Who knows, but it seems like a stupid and childish thing to do, whatever the intended effect. The Beeb's producer said he was only doing an innocent little documentary on the "history and art of political heckling". Anyway, the fact that the hoax was revealed in short order means that it shouldn't have any political effect on the election in just a few days, and that the only entity suffering further damage to its credibility will be the BBC itself.

It's a shame to see them fall down so badly, I really did have a lot of trust in them once upon a time. And I still listen almost exclusively to Worldservice on shortwave when I travel, so I'm not quite ready to totally dump them yet.


esterday, April 25 was the 16th birthday of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the Eleventh Panchen Lama of Tibet. His whereabouts remain unknown on this day, which would normally be an important one to mark with celebration among Tibetan Buddhists. He was only 6 years old when he and his family were apprehended by the Chinese authorities, and spirited away to parts unknown. The Communist Party then named its own boy to sit at the second most important place in Tibetan Buddhism. Which is, you know, rather strange when you think of it. Communist Party members are required to not believe in religion of any kind, and yet this anti-religion organisation which strives openly to promote atheism in China, sees itself as the proper body to choose spiritual leaders.

The International Campaign for Tibet has some things we can do to help. Citizens of the US may have time to send an email to their congresscritters. Others may be able to join a real-world vigil in their own cities -- or for those located out in the back of beyond, a Virtual Vigil. Canadians might wish to visit Canada-Tibet Committee for more links to lobby your MP's and [ahem...] government ministers.

The International Campaign for Tibet summed it up very succinctly in yesterday's mail:
This outlaw abduction of a 6-year old child was clearly a violation of rights enshrined in international human rights covenants -- including to be educated in his religious faith -- many of which China is bound by law to honor.

And, when officials of the Chinese government named its own candidate to replace the 11th Panchen Lama, it became clear that the fate of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima was more than a violation of the rights of a child. His disappearance directly reflects China's efforts to suppress the Tibetan national identity and control the future of Tibet.

Over the past 10 years, China has stubbornly resisted international calls to report on the whereabouts and well-being of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima. Instead, Chinese authorities have punished any attempt by Tibetan Buddhists to conduct normal religious practices venerating him as the 11th Panchen Lama, while they have propagated the legitimacy of the boy they named. No doubt both boys are victims of China's plan to undermine the Tibetan people, religion and culture.

Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, Tibet's Stolen Child, must be allowed to live freely, according to the traditions embraced by his family and the Tibetan people.

round the same time as the Panchen Lama was kidnapped, a Tibetan refugee family was among the first to be settled in the US state of Utah. The family included an eight year old boy, Tenzin Choeku Dengkhim. They later moved to Fairfax, Virginia where Tenzin finished high school. He joined the US Marine Corps in 2003 with the goal of going to Iraq to help bring freedom, and with an eye to the future when he hoped to use his Marine training to help bring the same freedom to his own people.

Marine Lance Cpl. Tenzin Choeku Dengkhim had been on active duty for less than a month, when he was killed in a "hostile action" in al Anbar province. Early this month, I was watching the Lehrer News Hour, and I always pay attention whenever, at the end of the program, they show the photos and names, hometown and rank (in silence, and as the photos become available) of those killed in Iraq. So I saw Tenzin's death reported there first, but here is a good story about him, with more pictures. This is via the website of Radio Free Asia, the shortwave service with which, in fact, Tenzin's mother worked as a Tibetan language broadcaster. A good site with stories not found in the regular news sites.

Marine Lance Cpl. Tenzin Choeku Dengkhim was buried this month in Arlington National Cemetery -- the first Tibetan American to be laid to rest there, in a place reserved for American war heroes.


nother patriot's story on the RFA site was noticed by your humble correspondent -- this time regarding the marvelous Uyghur woman Rebiya Kadeer. I hadn't heard that she had been released, but this apparently happened sometime in March. Kadeer had spent over six years in a Xinjiang prison, for "endangering national security" -- which, like the charge of "revealing state secrets", can mean almost anything in today's China (and Chinese-ruled occupied territories). Rebiya Kadeer was a successful businesswoman in the once predominately Muslim city of Urumqi, but she got into trouble for sending newspaper clippings to her husband (who, as I remember, was doing academic studies in the US). So in China, and Chinese ruled territory, openly published newspaper articles (which as we know are virtually vetted by the Communist Party cadres), qualify as "national secrets".

Rebiya Kadeer's release coincided with the visit to Peking of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and shortly ahead of the meeting of the UN Human Rights Commission (where some countries have been raising her case in past years). Read a little about this wonderful woman, unbowed after six years in a Chinese prison and determined to continue empowering her fellow Uyghur women, right here, and also a transcript of her radio interview with RFA over here.


eflecting on the Bandung Conference of 1955 and the commemoration just completed this week, India based writer Claude Arpi finds that the "live and let live" ethic proclaimed by the emerging non-aligned movement half a century ago, had more than a trace of irony to it. Arpi has long studied Indo - Chinese relations and conflicts -- a study which inevitably will involve their longtime buffer state, Tibet. And 1955 was of course, a crucial period for that country -- a point midway between the violent invasion and the eventual exile of the Dalai Lama, a period where he was meeting with the Communist leaders in Peking, still convinced that he could work with these people. The Khampas were in open rebellion in eastern Tibet, out of which the "Four Rivers, Six Ranges" resistance movement (Chu-zhi Gang-drung) would soon be constituted. There is some very interesting historical context in this Claude Arpi piece, which I found reprinted on the Office of Tibet, New York website. Soon after this great, idealistic coming together of the Asia-Africa Conference at Bandung, a country which had been independent for 2000 years began to truly lose its autonomy to its new overlords, one of the leading members of this new, idealistic and anti-colonial movement -- the Chinese "People's" Republic.

By the way, just to show how much attitudes have advanced in 50 years, Indonesian authorities yesterday arrested a number of Falun Gong meditation practitioners while they peacefully breathed, to the displeasure of the Chinese embassy, Jakarta. Well ok, not just breathed, there were some gentle hand motions also. Two practitioners indulged in a bit of street theatre (in various Indonesian protests these last few years, it's a popular component known locally as "happening art"), with one portraying a practitioner in China being beaten with a cane, and the other, the uniformed beater. Hu Jintao was in town, you see, and we can't have that. Heh, Wen Jiaobao was in Bangalore and Delhi the other day, and same deal with Tibetans there. Except the Indian police were considerably rougher (probably they got mad because the Tibetans embarrassed them by draping a "Free Tibet" banner and dropping leaflets from a tower at the exact place Wen was to be protected from seeing them).


hile browsing the Office of Tibet site, I found a long article which I'd been hearing about for some time, but had never found a full translation. I have mentioned the Chinese scholar Wang Lixiong in past writings here, and also the case of the Tibetan writer Osser (sometimes written in English transliterated from the Chinese version of her name, as Woeser). Wang had done a study of her case, an unusual one of a Tibetan writer who writes in fluent Chinese for a wider accessibility to her essays, short stories and poetry. She evidently wrote very true to her own heart, touching many other people's hearts, but displeasing certain Party cadres. The result was the deprivation of virtually everything the Party could take away from her -- her position with a Tibetan writers' association, her income, her medical and retirement insurance, confiscation of her housing and prevention of leaving the country. Wang Lixiong is probably the single Chinese intellectual with the best genuine understanding of Tibetans and their situation, having written many articles and several books on the subject (and having been imprisoned for a time for his own works).

Wang, like Arpi, reflects on colonialism and imperialism, but this time on a cultural and personal level as well as the overt expressions of them by the State. Few and far between are those who can not only recognise, but honestly explore such attitudes not only of their own society, but even in themselves. Wang Lixiong is one such person, and reading this article gave me hope that the intellectual tradition of honest investigation may yet live in the PRC.

Maybe one day, when the Chinese government decides that Japan has apologised and grovelled enough to suit them; when they eventually accept these repeated statements of remorse and apology over World War II (did the Japanese leaders ever officially apologise for Pearl Harbour, and does any American care?); maybe then, when it's time for China to take a close look at her own (officially state-produced) textbooks, the (hopefully democratic) government of the day might put a person like Wang Lixiong in a position to supervise the "de-colonisation" and "de-imperialisation" within.


still sometimes ponder on the changes in my own beliefs and attitudes over the past four years or so. I put that time frame to it, because I'm pretty sure that it was triggered by the September 11, 2001 event. For some period after that, I kept feeling very strongly that the world wasn't the same -- somehow, fundamentally, the world had changed forever within a period of just that mere 90 minutes or so until the second tower came down. The world just looked different, felt different, like there was suddenly a new dimension which I hadn't ever noticed before -- but that now seemed to dominate. I don't recall exactly how long this sense persisted, that the world had changed and would never be the same. In this period I felt the need to try and communicate to others close to me (but far away, planetarily speaking), somehow to describe how I thought the world, things, out there, was different now. It gradually came into focus, that I was different now, not reality.

The phenomenon, which came naturally, was my own stopping of the old ideological defence mechanism: "Oh, I could never listen to that person," and "Jeez, if I read this opinion, I'm gonna feel all icky afterwards." Somebody had fact-checked Noam Chomsky with a strong, fact-based refutation? Man, I wouldn't be caught dead reading something like that! It was nothing less than shielding my own belief system from reality. Can't do that anymore. So I realised I'd not be contaminated with an un-progressive sickness simply by reading Victor Davis Hanson or Charles Krauthammer once in a while. [aside: that reminds me -- it was inadvertently seeing a speech by him, carried on C-SPAN, that was an early event in my "hey, this ain't so bad after all" period.... (rummage, rummage)..... yeah, still have the link....it's long, and deep too] It was essentially a matter of un-closing my mind.

I remember more than a few times back then, needing to insert expressions into my emails along the lines of "hey, don't think that I've crossed over to the Dark Side, but..." and also "I'm not turning into one of those crazy neo-cons, I promise, but..."

Just like most journalists still, I had no clear idea what the term actually meant. Except that it was definitely super-icky -- 'cause the neocons are like the most extreme crazy far-far-far over of the sick right, right? Either that or it was some kind of fakeness prefix, like a neo-fascist was just sort of a pretend one that pranced around in his tatoos, so neo-liberals might be fake progressives or something. Then I learned that it's much more simple. Neo means new. The neo-conservative term was associated with people like Norman Podhoretz, Krauthammer (who was a Jimmy Carter speechwriter, once), Wolfowitz for sure (a former Demcrat), not sure if Cheney qualifies. People who were once perceived as liberals, progressives, Democrats like these and others, who changed their minds... in certain areas. Properly defined, the neocons are liberals who have decided to join the traditional conservatives on foreign policy / defence issues, and are very big on the concept of freedom for the children of all nations. That's too simplified, but something close to that. Many people of the so-called "left" (some of them writing great blogs which I've linked on the roll) actually feel that it is they who have remained true to liberal principles, and "the left" which has left them for pastures unknown.

So now it's amazing and funny every time I hear or read the term "neocon" used as if it were the most vile epithet denoting far "right" extremism surpassing even Genghis Khan, but with a cabalist twist (and sobering, because I used to do it!). Among other things of course, a neocon is somebody who has changed his mind on some fairly weighty issues.

But what if one is just not comfortable with bearing this particular pigeon-hole? Those fore-running neocons changed their minds a long while back... what about if you just changed your mind last month? Ah, those might be the neo-neocons. So maybe it would be folks who say, "I used to despise those neo-cons, but now I are one." This particular one is a very thoughtful woman writer of the generation which came of age in the late '60's, social working background, liberal, eh? -- and mugged by reality. She found her mind changing. She asked questions about that. And she is presently and deeply into a multi-part series, A mind is a difficult thing to change. Following that, are Part 2, Part 3, Interlude, Part 4A, Part 4B. Check the most recent for the link to the final section of Part 4 (not posted yet as I write), and there's more to come.


have to confess that I've read only the latest section, and won't have time to read the rest before heading out in a few hours to spend a week with my Tapaktuan family, particularly Mother who came down to Jakarta from South Aceh with Father only a few weeks before he passed away in hospital. So I'll be offline again for the next week or so while I visit with Ibu. And I'm definitely intending to read neo-neocon's thesis on changing the mind, because it looks like she's shining some light on some of the things that I seem to be continually grappling with, trying to find the words, and often missing the mark.

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