Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Declaration of interests - 2

This posting will be slightly different from the first part. I am, in a way, declaring my interests on this blog in that I do not think human rights to be a negligible or peripheral issue. I fully accept my colleague’s argument that the issues in Tibet and China are more complicated than they might appear from the slogans. Most political developments are more complicated than slogans carried by demonstrators.

The real trick is to produce slogans that encompass at least some of the complications and appeal to the hunger for simplicity at the same time. Whether the ones that demand freedom for Tibet and for the many Chinese dissidents have managed that trick is not quite as important as it may seem.

There was not going to be a revolution or political change in China as a result of these demonstrations. But it is always good to remind tyrants that even if they have the support of all the tranzis and the left liberals are afraid to criticize them too much, there is such a thing as public opinion.

Despite all Chinese efforts the 2008 Olympics will not be an enhanced propaganda coup for Communist China. More than that, the mess and violence of the demos, the presence of the obviously highly trained Chinese military or special police who appeared to take over the policing of London’s streets from Plod Blair’s finest, all of this will reflect on the image of the Olympics in general. And not a moment too soon.

The latest news is that French officials, having twice extinguished the torch and relit it from the sacred flame that is carried round with the torch, otherwise known as the nearest gendarme’s lighter, have now abandoned the last lap of the relay in Paris. Then again, according to this report by Associated Press, it is the Chinese officials who did all the extinguishing (five times, it appears) and deciding to abandon the last lap.

Next stop San Francisco where certain excrementary material really will hit the fan.

This is not, however, a posting about the Olympics but about the importance of human rights as a political concept.

So, let me declare my interests. I am a blogger, a journalist, a writer. I prefer to have the freedom to write as I see fit (tempered by the need to earn money) and I think all those in my position should have that right, no matter where they are or what their government says.

Anyone courageous enough to stand up to tyranny in the name of freedom of speech has my support. This, naturally enough, does not apply to people who stand up to one form of tyranny, say the Egyptian government, in the name of another and possibly worse form, Islamism. But it applies to such people as Kareem in Egypt or Hu Jia in China.

Experience of working with dissidents in the Soviet Union tells one that people in countries where they cannot express their views freely need and want support from their more fortunate colleagues. Ah yes, I had better declare an interest here, as well. I helped, not as much as many people but a little, Soviet and East European dissidents before 1989.

Let me declare another interest. Being female I am deeply offended by societies and those wonderful “nation” states, which treat women as chattels, cover them in black from top to toe, throw acid in the faces of those who try to disobey, consider family and marital violence that includes, if necessary, murder, against women to be just fine and dandy and think nothing of stoning them to death.

Then again, without any interest in the matter I am deeply offended by societies that hang boys accused of homosexual behaviour from cranes.

And I loathe and despise all westerners, no matter which side of the political spectrum they affirm themselves to be, who support such systems. I have no time for people who pounce on every thing that goes wrong in our societies to prove that we are no better, perhaps even worse.

Naturally, things that are wrong in our societies need to be noted and changed if possible. I think this blog has a reasonable track record of, at least noting what may be wrong with us, our politicians, our media and our establishment in general. But that does not make us as bad as, or worse than China, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia or, even, Russia. Not nohow.

That’s enough declared interests. I appreciate that as far as the very sensible and commonsensical readers of this blog are concerned, such matters are piffling. What does matter is economic factors. All else is unconsidered trifles.

Well, I have a surprise for these commonsensical individuals. Human rights are essential to economic factors.

In the first place, societies that have a sizeable measure of freedom is much more likely to solve economic difficulties. Of course, the market is the best way of doing so and even a highly imperfect one is better than an oppressive planning system in which people who complain or criticize find themselves behind barbed wire.

Secondly, information is vital to understand what is going on in any country and it is hard to have any dealings with those we know next to nothing about. Not nobody not nohow knows what is really going on in China because there is no real information. Which means, all predictions and assumptions are fantasies.

In the last few years while journalists, analysts and writers of potboiler books of politics fell over themselves to predict a fantastic future for China, telling us all that the country will take over in a decade or so from everybody, all I could ask was “how do you know”. Answer came there none. My own very cautious predictions of likely tensions and troubles are beginning to look considerably more correct than all those whoops of triumphalism. And still we do not know.

Remember how wrong Sovietologists, economists, political scientists were about the Communist states of Europe because they accepted official figures with some adjustment? East Germany would have been easier to understand than China but the mess its economy was in reality came as a complete shock to all but a few hardened “cold warriors”. Certainly, it was a shock to Chancellor Kohl and the West German government.

Germany and the rest of Western Europe are still paying for that ignorance, caused entirely by a lack of human rights, which meant no reliable information. We may pay even more heavily for our assumptions based on highly limited information about China.

More immediately, lack of human rights translated into lack of free information means that we have no understanding of what is happening in Iran and why have the Mad Mullahs with President Ahmadinejad at the head abandon Moqtada al-Sadr, as they seem to have done.

Not peripheral by any stretch of imagination.

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