Thu, Sep 23, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Accusations are fanning the flames of hatred

By Ku Er-teh 顧爾德

Now that the US Republican Convention has been brought to a close, the hordes of protesters who came into New York City for the event have finally left. Even so, on the weekends you can still see groups of protesters clustering around Central Park and railway stations handing out fliers and accosting the occasional passersby.

They are not calling for independence for either Tibet or Taiwan, or demanding Taiwanese entry into the UN. Nor are they exiled student leaders from the Tiananmen Square Massacre. They are members of Falun Gong, all too eager to talk to anyone who'll listen about their teachings. However, their hatred boils over at any mention of the Chinese leadership -- former president Jiang Zemin (江澤民) in particular.

It was Jiang, after all, who branded Falun Gong an evil religious sect and persecuted its practitioners. Who knows if Jiang acted on practical political considerations or if he genuinely believed the group to be evil. But having declared a holy war against the group, the hatred will not be easily dispelled.

By accusing others of being evil, one is affirming that one's own standpoint and set of values are correct, in an absolute sense. In the most recent issue of Foreign Policy magazine there appeared an article on "The World's Most Dangerous Ideas," for which the magazine solicited the opinions of many experts, including Eric Hobsbawn, Martha Nussbaum, Francis Fukuyama and Robert Wright. Among their answers, several were related to having an exaggerated view of one's own opinions. Wright believes that the most dangerous notion is starting a "war on evil," referring to US President George W. Bush's war on terror. He believes that when you lump all of your enemies under the common banner of "evil," you lose the ability to distinguish one from the other.

By seeing everything in terms of the polar opposites of good and evil, you commit yourself to following a scorched-earth policy. In so doing, you deny yourself the opportunity to understand your opponent's point of view, thus losing the ability to remove the cause of conflict between yourself and others.

This is a problem not just for the US, but also for Beijing in its anti-Falun Gong stance. At the beginning of the crackdown by Beijing, China Central Television (CCTV) aired a long program showing the "evil face" of Falun Gong. Watching this program as a third-party observer, you might say that some of the suspicions and criticisms that the Chinese authorities have of Falun Gong may have been well founded.

However, as soon as they were declared to be unconditionally evil, Beijing lost the ability to discuss the issue in a rational manner.

Falun Gong members have compared Jiang to Adolf Hitler. This is a comparison that has also been recently made in reference to President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) by opposition supporters abroad. The last election was followed by a stream of references to Hitler, populism and the Weimar Republic. Some of these were even made by seasoned thinkers.

However, being concerned about the retardation of democracy and a return of dictatorship is something entirely different from accusing a political leader of being another Hitler, who was a symbol of evil and a murderer, with the deaths of millions of people on his hands. Likening a politician who enjoys the support of half the electorate to such a figure is tantamount to wanting to start a "civil war against evil." This war would be brutal, all-inclusive and very difficult to resolve.

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