We met when I worked as an intelligence officer in Canada, part of an organization that at times risked making racism and hatred for the “other” — in that case, mostly Arabs and Muslims — a normal policy. After nearly three years in that suffocating environment, whose siege mentality I could no longer bear, I resigned, choosing to abide by the values of humanity and inclusiveness that I cherished and believed defined me as a Canadian.
Throughout the long, difficult months that preceded my decision, my partner, a Taiwanese, was always supportive and helped me in uncountable ways, as did other members of her family.
Soon afterwards, we left Canada — her adopted homeland — and moved to Taiwan, where I sought to build a new life and write a book about what I had gone through at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
What immediately struck me in Taiwan was the warmth, friendliness, selflessness and generosity of its people, at a level I had possibly only encountered in Cuba on my two visits there.
A product of a multicultural society myself, I was also greatly pleased to discover that in this young democracy, people of various ethnicities lived alongside each other peacefully, Taiwanese interacting with peoples from Southeast Asia, Chinese, Hakka, Japanese, Aborigines and the growing influx of Westerners like myself with respect and humanity. Even on touchier issues like homosexuality, Taiwanese have at times been far more progressive and open-minded than many Western countries — or even Quebec City, where I was born and where a family member, herself a homosexual, has had to live in hiding.
This is not to say that “interracial” relations in Taiwan are always harmonious, or that there haven’t been instances of abuse. But no society is pristine.
Taiwan’s handling of its ethnic mix is commendable, one of a number of successes it has achieved in its long journey toward nationhood. That success, a clear sign of maturity in a people, is often overlooked when people speak of the Taiwanese miracle.
In the three-and-a-half years that I have lived in Taiwan, its people have opened their hearts on countless occasions, helped me, befriended me and, in the small Songshan community where I live, made me feel part of them, a feat they manage to repeat every single day with smiles, nods, words, neighborly help and in myriad other ways.
Coworkers, neighbors, pure strangers, all, with very, very few exceptions, have reaffirmed, through their words and actions, why it is that I have chosen to make Taiwan my home and why I, like many others who have had a chance to visit, care so much about its future.
So it is with unmitigated horror and disbelief that I read about Kuo Kuan-ying (郭冠英), a senior official at Taiwan’s representative office in Toronto — where I have many Taiwanese friends — writing articles under a pseudonym that for all intents and purposes managed to both deny and commend the 228 Incident, in which between 20,000 and 25,000 Taiwanese were killed, while vaunting the supposed “superiority” of Chinese over Taiwanese “rednecks.”
Kuo also argued that Chinese should occupy Taiwan and keep its “natives” under the kind of authoritarian rule that prevailed during the Martial Law era and exists today in regions such as Tibet and Xinjiang.
As Chinese in this distorted, racist view of the world are “superior,” this implies that my partner, her parents, her family, her best friend’s adorable baby girl Maegan, many of my coworkers and friends, the kind tribal chief I met on a trip to the beautiful Smangus homeland in the mountains of Hsinchu County, and the countless cab drivers, storekeepers, vendors and strangers who have shown me patience and selflessness, are “lesser” human beings — people it would be OK to assimilate, throw in jail, occupy or even exterminate.
Despite what the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration has said, this isn’t free speech. Free speech ends at the shore of hatred and has additional limits when it is a government official doing the writing.
Society has its share of deranged individuals — white supremacists, anti-Semites, Islamophobes and so on — whose skewed views and ideas they might interpret as “freedom of speech.” But societies, built on systems of laws and hundreds of years of accumulated wisdom in the domains of “race,” “ethnicity,” morality, philosophy, religion and so on, should know better. And they do.
This is why my home country, to use one example, prosecuted Ernst Zundel, a Holocaust denier, and in 2005 deported him to Germany, where he was charged on 14 counts of inciting racial hatred. That is why France, to use another example, has made denying the Armenian Genocide at the hands of Turks a crime.
Zundel’s few apologists were nutcase white supremacists and neo-Nazis whom nobody would entrust their children with, let alone allow to run a country. Everybody else recognized evil when they saw it.
Views like those expressed by Kuo are aberrations — that is, unless people in charge and society at large fail to appropriately condemn them, in which case they become dangerous undercurrents, if not systemic, within a specific ethnic group or organization, such as the one I left back in Canada.
Deplorably, it took the Government Information Office far too long to do the appropriate thing: suspend him. This it did on Monday, after Kuo admitted in an interview that he was indeed Fan Lan-chin (范蘭欽), the author of the racist articles.
The Ma administration and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) dragged their feet before stating, in no uncertain terms, that they would not brook such opinions and that there was no place for such hatred within Taiwanese society — both in and outside government.
Surely, had a similar incident occurred in the US or Canada, and African-Americans or Quebecers been the targets of venomous articles, the leadership would have reacted far more promptly. Ma finally did so on Tuesday, but an earlier condemnation was warranted.
Sadly, Kuo isn’t alone in holding those views, and in fact some have wondered why such a fuss was made over this specific case, arguing that the comments were in fact fairly common.
The Ma administration and the KMT must therefore distance themselves from such hatred, or their silence will be tantamount to condoning the view that the woman that I love with all my heart and the beautiful and precious nation she is from are deserving of nothing more than hatred, oppression and cleansing — the very mindset of the White Terror era that had compelled her parents to offer her, her brother and her sister a new life by emigrating to Canada.
J. Michael Cole is a writer based in Taipei.
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