A day after Radio Free Asia announced the execution of two Uighur “terrorist” suspects in Xinjiang, the People’s Daily newspaper wrote that “These incidents [riots in Tibet and unrest in Xinjiang] show … that the Beijing Olympics is facing a terrorist threat unsurpassed in Olympic history,” adding that as a result Chinese authorities had “built the most strict prevention and control system in Olympic history, adopting a series of security measures rarely seen.”
Unsurpassed? Does the People’s Daily remember the 1972 Munich Olympics, where members of the Palestinian Black September organization murdered 11 Israeli athletes and one German police officer? Or the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, where layer upon layer of police, secret service and military security were used to fortify the Olympic venue, turning the event into a small police state?
If Beijing means what it says when it promises the “most strict” control system in Olympic history, it does not bode well for the Olympic spirit, if there is any left.
The word “terrorism” has been so overused — by Israel to describe Palestinian resistance, France to characterize Algerian and Moroccan resistance, colonial powers to decry liberation movements and, since the Sept. 11 attacks, the US and its allies to describe their opponents in the Middle East — that it has lost some of its meaning. When Tibetan demonstrators — even those who damage public property — are called “terrorists” for expressing anger at Chinese repression, or when Uighurs who refuse to be silenced or forced into relocation are executed for “terrorist” activities, the language loses all legitimacy, as does anyone who uses it.
Put simply, terrorism is the use or threat of indiscriminate violence to advance a political cause, conditions that neither Tibetans nor the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) — the main organization targeted by Beijing in Xinjiang — are capable of meeting. In fact, the US’ listing of ETIM as a terrorism organization has been widely seen as a political move by Washington to enlist China’s help in passing a UN resolution on Iraq in 2002.
What makes Beijing’s argument even more suspect is the absence of a free press, which would question the veracity of the government’s claims. Even as many are deeply suspicious of the US government, there exists in the US and in democracies a free media that can tell the truth to the powers-that-be and expose lies without fear of harsh repercussions.
As there is no such thing in China, whatever Beijing says about the number of people killed in ETIM “attacks,” the group’s relationship with al-Qaeda or its plans to “disrupt” the Olympics must be taken at face value. Not only are the suspects unable to see or question the evidence against them, but people outside China are unable to determine whether the security measures that are turning the Olympic venue into Fortress Beijing are the result of legitimate concerns or instead support an illusion that perpetuates the state’s long repression of its people.
As some critics have said, Beijing has hijacked the “war on terror” to rationalize its own actions. The difference between it and other countries that have sided with the US in the campaign, however, is that in Beijing’s case, the means to question the legality of doing so does not exist.