Written by Kathy Shaidle
It's an Olympic tradition that began in one totalitarian state and may end in another.
The 1936 Olympic Games in Nazi Germany saw the first famous lighting of the Olympic torch in Greece, the home of the ancient Games, and then its subsequent relay by runners to the host nation. But as the Olympic torch made its way to Beijing last Monday, the world's attention was not fixed on the all-important capital but rather on a remote area of China 3000 miles away.
In the province of Xinjiang, two Muslim men drove a truck straight into a group of paramilitary police, then attacked the officers with knives, throwing explosives into their barracks. Sixteen officers died in the brazen attack. A local Communist Party official reported the two attackers had prepared written statements which declared, "they had to wage ‘holy war.'"
The very existence of Chinese Muslims surprises many Westerners, although these mostly Sunni followers of Islam make up an estimated 1%-2% of China's population. It also comes as a shock to realize that not even a comparatively homogeneous police state like China is immune from jihadist terrorism.
However, Xinjiang, located near the Pakistan and Afghanistan borders, has been the site of sporadic violence since the 1990s. Local Turkic Muslims, called Uighurs, never accepted Chinese Communist rule. In response to unrest, the Chinese government has sent in paramilitary units and shut down unregistered mosques and religious schools charged with "inciting military action." A Uighur faces at least five years in prison if seen talking to a foreigner.
"Uighurs have complained that the suppression has aggravated tensions at Xinjiang, making Uighurs feel even more threatened by an influx of Chinese and driving some to flee to Pakistan and other areas where they then have readier access to extremist ideologies."
As the Olympics drew near, Chinese authorities foiled a number of plots by the East Turkistan Islamic Movement, a Muslim separatist group. The Turkistan Islamic Party, based across the border in Pakistan, posted a video on the internet last week, pledging to "target the most critical points related to the Olympics." Over one hundred terrorist suspects have been detained in the province since the start of 2008.
Authorities also briefly detained two Japanese journalists who'd been beaten by police while trying to cover Monday's terrorist attack. The Chinese government had assured the International Olympic Committee (IOC) foreign journalists would be granted unprecedented freedom during the Games, but according to Amnesty International's Verena Harpe, "the reality, what we've heard, is a very different story." (Amnesty International is one of the organizations whose websites Cinese authorities have blocked, even to journalists promised "complete freedom to report.")
As Harpe reported:
"[C]orrespondents have been complaining about harassment, arrests, restrictions of movement and detention without charge for pursuing stories on sensitive issues.
"In some respects the human rights situation has actually worsened and this is not in spite but because of the Olympics. In the run-up to the Olympics the crackdown on human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists has intensified, the authorities have stepped up repression against critical voices speaking out about the Games and other sensitive issues. There have been more cases of prison sentences being handed out for protesting against the Games, activists have been harassed, kidnapped or put under house arrest. (...) There has also been an increase in so-called Administrative Detentions, which are decided without a trial, without facing a court and which can lead to up to four years of "re-education through labor". This has been used to clean up the beggars, petitioners and illegal taxi drivers in Beijing."
Were journalists allowed to report the truth, their stories would put a heavy damper on international enthusiasm for the Games. China's persecution of Tibet's people is well known, thanks to the Dalai Lama and efforts of Western activists. Less familiar - perhaps because they are too gruesome to be believed - are reports that tens of thousands of Chinese prisoners, along with Falun Gong practitioners, have been murdered and their organs harvested for the lucrative international "transplant tourism" market.
Edward McMillan-Scott, a British Member of the European Parliament, says the organs of Falun Gong prisoners "sell at a premium as practitioners neither drink nor smoke." He adds:
"Although there are millions of [Falun Gong] they do not have a cuddly, statesmanlike figure such as the Dalai Lama and, because they will not openly demonstrate like the Tibetans and their supporters, they perish and go to their deaths silently."
McMillan-Scott describes China as a "terror state" and recently submitted a dossier to the United Nations about torture and religious freedom. He claims the Communist Chinese government has recently adopted lethal injection as the preferred method of capital punishment. (There are 70 crimes deemed capital offenses in China). Why? Because, says McMillan-Scott, a bullet through the head caused too much organ damage. "In one province alone," says McMillan-Scott, "16 buses have been specially adapted to perform on-the-spot eviscerations."
Given the known facts about life in totalitarian Communist China, the choice of Beijing for the 2008 Games makes a mockery of the Olympic Charter, which claims to promote "a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity" and "respect for universal fundamental ethical principles." This was immediately disproved when the Chinese, blatantly and arrogantly, celebrated their selection as host country with a fireworks display in Tiananmen Square, where thousands of young pro-democracy demonstrators were slaughtered in 1989. Dancers also performed below towering portraits of Mao Tse-tung, who murdered approximately 70 million Chinese in Communism's name.
"If we had known what was already taking place in Germany's camps in 1936," says McMillan-Scott, "the Olympics would not have taken place in Berlin."
Ironically, given the number of pro-Tibet protests that marred this year's Olympic torch relay, the IOC is now considering ending the 72-year-old tradition. But rather than extinguish this appealing custom, the IOC, and the rest of the world, should reevaluate, or at least stick to, its criteria for selecting host countries and be willing to learn from history.