Monday, March 31, 2008

Farewell Mugabe ?

Robert Mugabe: 28 years of leadership and the life average life expectancy of a Zimbabwean has fallen to 37

It is easy to forget that there are many, rather than just a few, countries around the world that do not enjoy freedom.

One country that is definitely on the list is Zimbabwe. Aside from political freedom there is precious little of any sort of freedom. Life expectancy is in the 30s (seriously) and inflation is running at 100,000 %.

Robert Mugabe has ruled the country since 1980.

Now there is a serious chance to free the country of his tyranny and his incompetence through a general election. It appears that Mugabe has lost the election but the results of the poll that happened on Saturday are still not available. The more time that passes the greater the suspicion that something is being fixed.

As outside observers we can only hope and pray that some change comes to Zimbabwe and its people. The one powerful country in the region, South Africa, has by common consent being rather shameful of its lack of criticism of its northern neighbour.

Mugabe has proved a master of exploiting racial politics and his country's history as a British colony. The unfortunate fact for ordinary Zimbabweans is that life has steadily got worse under Mugabe's rule.

The principle opposition to Mugabe, despite much intimidation, is the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
I wish them well for if they do win the task of rescuing Zimbabwe from its Mugabe legacy is enormous.

Let's hope it really is time to say farewell Mugabe.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Fitna- how free should speech be ?

Last week saw the internet launch of a 15 minute film on Islam, Fitna, by the far right Dutch MP, Geert Wilders.

I am unconvinced on the merits of the film but it largely consists of a series of fairly horrific scenes interspersed with the rantings of muslim extremists and seemingly relevant verses from the Koran.

I don't think Mr. Wilders is claiming to be a theologian so I am not sure it is particularly clever to take verses from the Koran out of context and try to use to support the notion that Islam is inherently a dangerous religion.

Nonetheless, he does raise the question of how far major acts of terrorism from 9/11, the Madrid train bombings and the London bombings are supported by the Koran. Clearly those who committed those acts felt supported by their religion so it is a legimate question (if one asked many times before) whether that interpretation is correct.

What I find unnecessary about the film is its extremely graphic content. I cannot recall having seen a more horrific collection of scenes shown together ranging from the dead in the Madrid trains, beheadings of western hostages in Iraq and other Islamic based executions. It is clear Fitna is unlikely to make it to the cinema or be on anyone's present shopping list.

I feel the graphic content is unnecessary as it is so well known. Everyone knows about the horrors in Iraq and in worldwide terrorism.

I contrast apparently gratuitous use of violent images from Islamic terrorism with the recent images shown by some pro-Tibet groups. In the latter there is a point to be made that has far from universal acceptance therefore the shock value of extreme images showing that all is far from rosy is justified. In the former there is no disagreement that dreadful things have been done in the name of Islam.

In short I am a long way from praising Fitna.

However I do value free speech and free expression.

From that standpoint I find it regretable that websites hosting the film have been sufficiently intimidated to withdraw it.

First of all Network Solution a US based company hosting 7 million domain names decided to suspend its hosting of the movie on the basis that it violated its "acceptable use policy".

The film was hosted by British based Liveleak. However following serious threats to their staff they withdrew the film leaving the following message where the film had been:

"Following threats to our staff of a very serious nature, and some ill-informed report from certain corners of the British media that could seriously affect the safety of some staff members, LiveLeak has been left with no other choice but to remove Fitna from our servers.

This is a sad day for freedom of speech on the net but we have to place the safety and well being of our staff above all else. We would like to thank the thousands of people from all backgrounds and religions who gave us their support. They realised that is a vehicle for many opinions and not just for the support of one.

Perhaps there is still hope that this situation may produce a discussion that could benefit and educate all of us as to how we can accept one anothers culture.

We stood for what we believed in, the ability to be heard, but in the end the price was too high."

I find this disappointing and concerning as it seems to show yet again that free speech is valued until someone is sufficiently intimidating. Whereas Christianity is the target of no end of criticism, mockery and abuse and even those who find it offensive accept it on the basis that free speech cannot and should not be challenged, the same increasingly does not apply to Islam.

Can anyone really imagine someone making an Islamic equivalent of "Life of Brian" or "Jerry Springer: The Opera" ? I very much doubt it and the reason is clear- the potential violent response to those who produced such material.

Holland is no stranger to such intimidation. In 2004, Theo van Gogh, the Film Producer and descendent of Vincent van Gogh was murdered by Dutch Moroccan Islamist, Mohammed Bouyeri. Van Gogh's "crime" was to have produced the film "Submission" which highlighted examples of Islamic based abuse of women.

Again, not a film likely to have mass appeal but a film worthy of critical debate in thinking circles. Holland is a country well-known for its liberalism, not all of which I am comfortable with.
However even in Holland it seems that Islamists are demanding special treatment on the basis of violent actions against those who are critical of Islam.

Therefore Wilders' "Fitna" should be seen in this context. It is not in my eyes a pleasant film and one that is easy to criticise. Nonetheless in a free Europe it should be allowed and be criticised or praised as Europeans see fit. While Wilders may not be above criticism he should have freedom of expression. His film ends with a newspaper headline :

"Al-Qaeda proclaims death penalty Jihad against Wilders"

Whether Wilders could suffer the same fate as Van Gogh remains to be seen. There are certainly Islamic extremists who want this.

It is a sad day when free speech is curtailed by violence but it seems that in Europe (and America ?) free speech about Islam is starting to have limits.

It seems Europe in the face of violence is moving away from its Englightenment ideals and the phrase commonly attributed to Voltaire:

" I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

* Fitna can still be found on the Internet despite the withdrawal of hosting by two companies named above. I found it on Youtube. I have decided not to post a link here as it is not a film I would particularly recommend. The images shown include some of dreadful violence. I am not commending it as a good film but I am defending the right to see it. For anyone wishing to see it I would advise looking first on Youtube and failing that Google.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Tibet-China Links and Information

Over the last two weeks I have been covering the issue of Tibet and its oppressive rule by China quite extensively on this blog.

The lack of human rights in China in a year that the will see the Olympic Games used as an opportunity to showcase a modern China is something I feel strongly about.

However I do not pretend to be able to do the subject justice and I also do not plan to turn my blog into a single issue forum. While I plan to cover Tibet and China issues on an ongoing basis, for any readers more interested in this issue, I list below a few links to sites that are focused solely on this subject.

The links relate to people and groups from a variety of backgrounds and view points. While I may not agree with all views expressed on those sites I can recommend them as interesting and informative sites on the Tibetan issue.

Beijing wide open Lhadon Tethong, a Canadian Tibetan activist reports on developments in the run up to the Olympics from the heart of Beijing.

"China has invited the world to visit in August 2008. Exactly one year out, I've traveled to the heart of the nation that has brutally occupied my homeland for over 50 years. Follow this blog, as I share what I see, feel, and experience... leaving Beijing wide open. "

Students for a free Tibet New York based international group campaigning for a free Tibet. Their website is regularly updated with news from Tibet.

The Tibetan People's Uprising Movement Daily news from a march in India to the Tibetan border

"Tibetans living in exile in India have launched a March to Tibet as part of the Tibetan People's Uprising Movement. This historic Movement aims to revive the spirit of the Tibetan national uprising of 1959, and by engaging in nonviolent direct action, bring about an end to China's illegal occupation of Tibet"

Tibetan Uprising - photos from the march in India

Free Tibet- UK based organisation Organises a number of London based protests including a protest scheduled to coincide with the arrival of the Olympic flame in the capital on April 6th (next Sunday)

Friday, March 28, 2008

In (partial) praise of Konnie Huq

When I saw this story in today's Telegraph I was pleasantly surprised. (Konnie Huq may boycott Olympic torch relay)

To the unitiated, Konnie Huq is a television presentor who started out presenting the BBC children's show Blue Peter.

She has since moved onto other things including presenting various programmes on the forthcoming London mayoral election. Despite courting controversey by appearing alongside the existing Mayor on a platform, she is generally developing into a succesful and well known presentor. No doubt her glamourous looks are no hindrance in this area.

I was therefore disappointed when I heard she was to be one of the celebrity carriers of the Olympic flame when it arrives in London next week on route to Beijing.
My reservations over the Olympics due to the situation in Tibet and elsewhere in China have been covered extensively on other posts and I don't intend to repeat them all here. Suffice to say a high profile, glamorous TV presentor from a minority background is just the sort of person anyone would want to present the Olympics in a positive acceptable light.
Another high profile carrier of the torch is veteran newsreader Sir Trevor MacDonald. Both Sir Trevor and Konnie Huq are examples of successful Britons from minority backgrounds. That they should become foot soldiers in the lead up to a showcase Olympics hosted by the Chinese regime who routinely oppresses its own minorities with deadly force where required, is to say the least unfortunate. Coincidentally Sir Trevor was reading the news only last night and covered the story of the Tibetan monks managing to communicate with a Government controlled tour of Tibet by international journalists. So he cannot claim ignorance of the situation.

I am glad that Konnie Huq is having cause for thought. However later news stories have suggested that while she condemns the Chinese for their actions in Tibet she may go ahead anyway despite her reservations.
In this situation actions do speak louder than words hence I changed the title of this post with a provisional "partial". It is good that more people are speaking out but difficult decisions may have to be made by people on the extent they want to be a part of these Olympics. That is a decision to be made by Prime Ministers, Presidents, athletes as well as the millions who will watch the Games on TV.

The words of Miss. Huq at least give cause for hope that these Olympics will not be fully "business as usual" in a China that denies freedom to its citizens.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Enjoying a national failure

Spreading the word- today's headline from the newspaper seller at a London station

It's one of those strange and sometimes frustrating aspects of the British character that news is spread no faster and more enthusiastically than when reporting a national failure.

Today was a perfect example. Terminal 5, the new terminal at London's Heathrow airport opened for business and the baggage handling system broke down. Heathrow is one of Britain's least loved institutions due to its delays and cramped and uncomfortable conditions. When the Queen opened the new terminal recently it appeared a new dawn for British airports had arrived.

When the failure occurred today there did seem to be an element of glee as media outlets competed to collect horror stories from irrate passengers. ( There was almost pleasure in the fact that London does not appear able to build and operate an airport up to the same standards as the rest of the advanced world.

Hidden at the bottom of a BBC report was the paragraph:

"Aviation analyst Jamie Bowden told the BBC teething problems were to be expected on the opening of a terminal, with new airports in Japan and Hong Kong also suffering difficulties in their first days. "

However to focus too much on such comparisons would dampen the enjoyment of a national failure.

So for now the media give wall to wall coverage to a bad day at the airport.

We seem to love nothing better than a good failure as if to put everyone in their place who wanted anything too grand and sophisticated in Britain. This of course can be frustating and must be very much so for those who worked on the new terminal.

This love of failures somewhat contradicts another aspect of Britain that everything sort of works in the end. This week Britain was highlighted as the 7th most prosperoous and stable nation in the world In essence we have a lot to be proud of.

However we do not believe public buildings like airports should be too stylish but rather functional and economical. Although not stylish on a global spectrum the new Terminal 5 is very stylish by the standards of all other British airports. Maybe this is why the failure is secretly greeted with enthusiasm. A great chunk of the British public hope they will be more sensible next time and stick to functional cheap portacabin like buildings like the rest of the airports.

Terminal 5 should definitely start working soon but not before we've been treated to a few more tales of failure. Of course, the media is now suitably sensitised to terminal 5 failure now so the next time something happens it will be reported even quicker.

I suspect in many other countries they would have attempted a cover up. However in Britain the opposite is true- we seem only eager to shout this failure from the roof tops !!

Love or loathe this tendency, it has been around in Britain a long time and I suspect is here to stay.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

2008 Olympics

Reinterpretation of the "unknown rebel" for 2008 in today's Telegraph.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Tibet 15

Today's Independent carries the story that 15 monks who sparked the initial protests in Lhasa, two weeks ago, remain missing after being "picked up" by the security services.

Their offence was giving out leaflets and waving a Tibetan flag.

This surely puts our own freedoms and the freedoms accorded to those who bring real threats to our country ( e.g. those who incite terrorism) in perspective.

These monks were entirely peaceful but by speaking out they have been made to disappear by Beijing....

Monday, March 24, 2008

4th June 1989- unfinished business ?

The protests that seem to be building around the world over Tibet in the run up to the Olympics should also be a reminder of the wider context of the Chinese human rights record.

Few better examples exist than when the "People's Liberation Army" cleared Tiananmen Square of pro-democracy demonstrators in June 1989 using the most brutal of means. The death toll of this exercise ranges in estimate from several hundred to two or three thousand.

Below is a slide show of photos from those protests and the clamp down on June 4th 1989 set to the music of John Williams' "Hymn to the Fallen".

It starts with a sense of hope as the mainly student protestors gather in the square. A professor character is to be seen with a megaphone. Various students speak out publicly for the first time. The iconic "unknown rebel" briefly stops a column of tanks holding nothing more than two carrier bags.

Then the mood darkens as the early stand offs with the military begin. Eventually the one sided battle starts with students fighting bravely but against tanks and bullets with little hope of success.

It ends with tragic scenes of the aftermath and the plea that this should never be forgotten.

Despite the world's corporations falling over themselves to become established in this emerging superpower, recent events leave me with a sense that some business remains unfinished in China.

While the economy goes from strenth to strength the ordinary Chinese are politically controlled almost the same as ever. Surely eventually this disconnect may come to the surface and require addressing ? There has been no reckoning with the past by China and therefore it cannot ultimately move on until this happens.

This moving compilation by a youtube user (Alonsolegend) is a reminder that human rights concerns in China are about so much more than Tibet and more specifically about a group of students who dared to stand up for freedom in the early summer of 1989, who failed so tragically but who freedom loving people everywhere should never forget.

To the heroes of Tiananmen..................

The music does add to this short film so watching with the sound on is recommended. It is 6 minutes long but I can recommend watching it all).

The Start of the worldwide Olympic flame protest ?

This was the scene at Olympia, Greece, this morning where a pro-Tibet protestor made it within feet of the Chinese Olympic president. The brief scene was apparently shown live on Chinese TV until the camera quickly cut away.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy Easter to all readers

It is turning into a "white Easter" in London- ironically for early spring it is now snowing quite heavily for the first time this year....

Saturday, March 22, 2008

North Korea

Below is a series of short clips from North Korean propoganda based films (there are plenty more on Youtube) which are an eerie window into life into that country.

First a commentary on Kim Jon Il ("Dear Leader") as a great athlete. This doesn't sit well with his middle aged slightly portly physique. Matters are not helped further by the English translator having an accent similar to that of Officer Crabtree in BBC1's "Allo, Allo" !

Next more of the cult of Kim Jong Il. He is both a Father and if the subtitles are accurate a "God".

Finally a propoganda film showing the "good life" in North Korea. At times it almost seems a Korean version of Little House on the Prairie.

The one-sided, cultish feel is really quite disturbing. Although some of the films are quite dated in feel, unlike in many parts of the world there has been no real change in North Korea to this day.

Map of Protests

For anyone following and interested in the situation in Tibet, as this blog certainly is is publishing a helpful map of the area and all recent protests are marked. I expect I am not alone in being unfamiliar with the geography of this area and it is fascinating to see the proximity of India, China, Burma as well as Nepal and Bhutan. With the Himalayas so dominating it must be a very naturally beautiful area making the conflict seem all the more saddening.

Friday, March 21, 2008

North Korea speaks up in favour of Beijing Olympics

If there was any doubt before, that should give cause for thought that something must be wrong- when Pyongyang has to come to your diplomatic aid.

However it is really true according to the International Herald Tribune. The North Korean Foreign Ministry spoke out and "strongly denounces the unsavory elements" seeking Tibetan independence.

April 6th 2008: The Flame of Shame comes to London

It seems the events of Tibet are cutting little ice with the Olympic organisers so far.

The world tour of the Olympic flame comes to London on April 6th. The Times is today reporting that massive policing plans are underway to protect it. It is strange that a flame in a torch may turn into a symbol of the struggle between Tibet and the People's Republic of China.

London, of course, is significant in all this as it is the next venue for the Olympics in 2012 so there is an element of handover and continuity in all this.

So far celebrities such as former Blue Peter presenter Connie Huq are set to help carry the flame. Miss. Huq has hosted debates during the London mayoral race so one would hope that she is no air head looking for 15 minutes of fame. Of course I realise there are two sides to any argument and maybe she sincerely see the Olympics being held in Beijing as a good thing.

I must admit that until the recent events in Tibet started to unfold I had not really given it much thought either way. On a visit to Hong Kong last year I heard people speak positively about the Games. The main concern was how athletes would cope with the dreadful summer smog that plagues Beijing. The equestrian events are set to be held in Hong Kong so there was some pride in this.

Hong Kong is the only bit of China I have properly visited and is unique in allowing freedom (within reason !) under the "one country, two systems" system. The Former Foreign Secretary, Sir Malcolm Rifkind in yesterday's Times proposed an extension of this to Tibet as a way of resolving the crisis. That may have its merits but it seems unlikely that the Chinese Communist Party would agree.

Meanwhile, back in London on April 6th, the carrying of the flame around the city may turn into a battle between those who want to showcase a "normal" advanced China as it emerges into superpower status and those who want to remind the world that it still has a number of areas it needs to reform, such as the routine resort to deadly force to put down opposition to the Communist Party regime in areas such as Tibet.

This being London, rather than say Paris, it is difficult to see this turning into too major event. Londoners, even immigrants, tend to go in for "scuffles" more than hurling cobblestones like their French cousins. However in a London sense, there may be trouble.

Here for information, is the route currently scheduled on April 6th:

Wembley 10.30 International dancers on stage at Arena Square, outside Wembley Stadium

Ladbroke Grove 11.00 Mini-carnival with entertainers in carnival masquerade costumes performing to Soca music

Notting Hill Gate 11.20 Carnival del Pueblo Latino carnival band

Oxford Street 12.00 Open-top bus carrying celebrity torchbearer

British Museum 12.20 A fanfare with Greek trumpets in the Great Court

Chinatown 12.30 Costumed dragons and lions perform under Chinese decorations and lanterns on Gerrard Street

Piccadilly Circus 12.40 Convoy passes

Trafalgar Square 12.50 Dance spectacular in front of Nelson’s column, to the accompaniment of a brass fanfare

Southbank Centre 13.30 Spectacular welcome for the torch along the front terraces of the Royal Festival Hall with a choir of 600, Kathak, poetry, circus, hip-hop and beatboxing

Somerset House 14.15 Aletta Collins-choreographed dance accompanied by music from the Bollywood Brass Band

St Paul's Cathedral 14.30 Band of the Scots Guards will welcome the flame with fanfares and music from the cathedral steps

Potter's Fields/More London 15.00 Rhythms of the City and live drumming sessions

Whitechapel Road 15.30 Kinetika perform storytelling, costumes and dance

Stratford 16.00 World-themed carnival with 300 school children, 50 spectacular carnival costumes and nine music floats. An aerial performance will take place at Theatre Square

Canary Wharf 17.00 Carnival themed entertainment including acrobats, jugglers, stilt-walkers, street theatre, music shows, dance performances, face painters, children’s workshops and treasure hunts

North Greenwich 18.00 Grand finale — a free, ticketed event will be a fusion of East meets West, the contemporary and traditional, in a display of Chinese ribbon dancers, an electro-acoustic music act, gymnasts, pyro displays and a performance from the Sugababes.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Chinese Crowd Control

(picture courtesy of Times of London - (Teh Een Koon/AFP/Getty))
A Tibetan child looks on at a line of Chinese riot police.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Why the "great powers" are subdued on Tibet

Despite a strong grass roots movement across the world against the Chinese repression in Tibet, (see link for a spontaneous protest at the British Museum yesterday it is noticeable that not one great power has come out strongly against the Chinese actions to date.

Noises have been made about "concern", calls for restraint (on both sides) have been made but that has been about it. Horrific pictures of Tibetan dead are available online but the same establishment media who were all too happy to carry the pictures of Abu Graib are reluctant to carry these pictures of misdoings by China against its own citizens in "peacetime".

No one is seriously anticipating an Olympic boycott, at least at this stage.

Today some progress was made as Gordon Brown responding to a question from David Cameron at PMQs stated he would meet the Dalai Lama on his visit to London in May. This followed a No. 10 e-petition that was signed by over 9,000 people- high in relation to a foreign policy petition on the No.10 website.

However the reason why no one really wants to rock the boat comes downs to the world economy. With the credit crunch in full swing, banks being propped up on both sides of the Atlantic, world food prices soaring ( rice hit a 36 year high today), the last thing that is needed is to seriously alienate a country of 1.3 billion people that is a relatively rare point of economic growth.

It is easy to pick holes in this rationale but it prevails for now. The fact the Chinese boom may be overheating and Chinese inflation is soaring is one fly in the oitment of those who claim all is rosy in China.

The fact that China remains broadly a dictatorship who is quite prepared to use deadly force against its own dissidents (see above) is somehow irrelevant in this too.

Another way to look at it would be if 2008 is really going to be such a bad year we might as well get all the bad news out of the way with. A boycott of the Olympics might upset the current Chinese regime but if encouraged real change surely this is a prize worth going for. Ironically if the Chinese economy faltered in the short term as a result, commodity prices might fall for the rest of the world.

The other option for the Beijing Olympics is that enough protestors get into the opening ceremony to disrupt it. A bit of booing could give the PRC its own "Ceausescu moment" to deal with.

Meanwhile the comfortable onlookers seem prepared to leave the Tibetans to carry on suffering for now. Of course they are concerned but their concern only goes so far......

Spare parts

Did anyone see Horizon on BBC 2 last evening ?

It was a rather disturbing look at the billion dollar trade in "spare parts" from dead bodies.

I had heard of the horrible fate of Alistair Cooke's body, which was described in this programme but had no idea the practise of taking parts from dead bodies was so widespread either illegally or legally.

Routine operations such as repairs to damaged ligaments now involve replacements using real human tissue from dead bodies.

Squeamish at the best of times, this was not a comfortable watch. I had to open a window more than once but made it to the end of the programme !

Some people were extremely philosophical about it viewing their dead bodies as like a second hand car when finished with and quite appropriate to take parts from to help others still living.

It is clear that the illegal side of it, as well as being unethical, also cancels out the benefits as disease and sub-standard parts can result from unregulated "harvesting" of parts from dead bodies.

Beijing Olympics

Above is a Peter Brookes Cartoon from today's Times giving a new interpretation on the carrying of the Olympic flame.

China seems to be adopting the classic tactic of the dictatorship- cover up anything, deny all press access and then nothing can be proved. Unfortunately for the hosts of the Olympics technology has moved on a bit and a total cover up is now largely impossible.

The attached link below is presented by the Free Tibet Campaign as evidence of Chinese attrocities in the form of a recent violent crackdown on Tibetans. Clearly from these pictures deadly force has been used.

The link comes with a big health warning that it is hugely graphic and potentially very distressing. Do not click on it unless you are prepared to see pictures of shooting victims. (PLEASE DO NOT CLICK IF WITH ANYONE OF A SENSITIVE DISPOSITION)

Monday, March 17, 2008

Tibet Protests in London

3 scenes from outside the Chinese Embassy in London this evening.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Paris Station

A short video from my recent trip to Paris at Gare du Nord, waiting for the train home.

Pastor Problem

Here is what was euphamistically referred to on CNN yesterday as Barak Obama's "pastor problem".

In full flow is Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Strangely only since these videos made it to mass circulation has Mr. O decided to officially drop Mr. W as his official "spiritual adviser".

Saturday, March 15, 2008


A short interesting BBC piece on the rebellion in Tibet and the censorship the story receives in China.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Olympic Shames

With smoke rising over the Tibetan capital Lhasa today ( ), there seems no better example of the the so-called "world community's" hypocrisy in its approach to China.

While there is still a need to "get real", as Hillary Clinton would say, about how to handle an emerging superpower this should not include the need to give up all principles.

While trade may be one thing, particularly at a time of hovering recession, to go along with the Olympics in Beijing regardless of what China does to its own citizens seems quite another.
For those with historical awareness, you will already know that the PRC (People's Republic of China) has already won the gold medal in one area- genocide. While the horrors of Nazi Germany probably amount to a numerical bronze in the killing totals, and Stalin's USSR can claim a bloody silver, the PRC with a claim to have killed 70 million of its people undoubtedly deserves a genocide gold.

This may be a rather unpleasant way of putting it but the facts themselves are far more unpleasant.Nowhere else in the world the Olympics be held or at least get such enthusiastic participation in the face of so many known abuses. If the UK invaded Ireland and was suppressing monks in Dublin it is difficult to imagine any countries coming to an Olympics in London. Equally if the US decided to annex a part of Canada and suppressed the people there with force, it is unlikely anyone would show up for an Olympics in New York. It is certain, to use a real example, that regardless of all the various claims and rights and wrongs that an Olympics would not get held anywhere in the middle east right now.

Yet because China is China and a superpower the whole world wants to go to a glorious celebration of modern China this August. India, to its shame, even suppresses peaceful demonstrations on its own territory to avoid "embarrassing the Chinese". Even Greece, the home of the Olympics sought to shoo away Tibetan protestors near Mount Olympia as if they were a simple nuisance.

I am not supporting a complete embargo on China. Not least, because for all its faults, China is making progress. I have visited the Chinese territories of Hong Kong and Macau and met a friendly and welcoming people. Although the past is grisly there is some hope for the future.

However the cultural commendation that seems to come with the Olympics still seems wrong for China especially when you think of its ongoing treatment of Tibet. I doubt teams will pull out of the Olympics in any numbers. The urge for nations to get medals and recognition by competing is too strong, the meaningless platitude of keeping politics out of sport will be spouted, the wilful and happy ignorance of the masses who watch the games from their sofas will not care about armed suppression in remote corners of the world. Perhaps most importantly of all those who will make much money from the Olympics whether in merchandising, broadcasting, travel or elsewhere will have loud voices ensuring that the show is kept on the road.This is all a shame because to me the Olympics is all rather meaningless when set against teargas and bullets. the bodies hurriedly zipped into body bags for a quiet cremation or the knock on the door in the middle of the night from the security forces.

In a sense if the Olympics go ahead unchallenged and the ignorant millions eat hot dogs while watching the games on TV it will prove the uncomfortable reality that in some respects terrorism works. In his book "Why Terrorism Works" Alan Dershowitz charts the obscure beginnings of the Arab-Israeli conflict that is centre stage today. The conclusion he reaches is that a conflict over such a small area of land only reached the international consciousness to such an extent due to the early terrorist actions. This gained news coverage and, no less importantly, a response that allowed the conflict to escalate.

Lesser examples of such tactics include Northern Ireland and Spain. Superficially no less significant disputes such as those who claim Welsh independence or the areas that France gained from Germany after WW II are hardly taken seriously as no one is prepared to commit (significant) violent acts in the cause of those disputes. The assumption is that a dispute is only significant or a wrong only grievous if those effected commit violence.

As Tibetans are Buddhist and under the Dalai Lama almost inherently non-violent, this dispute with China is largely over looked by the mass media in a way that would not happen if they blew up airliners or set off bombs at railway stations in international capitals.

China is clearly a complex entity and is now a very significant part of the world economy. To that end talk of sanctions, trade embargoes are just not realistic. They could also be counterproductive and end the reform that has brought China this far. Therefore some carrot is necessary. However the Olympics is too big a carrot and without any stick will they ever take seriously the abuses that have occurred in Tibet and other areas.

There is a lot of fantasy associated with the Olympics in that it in some way it represents a tradition from Ancient Greece. This may be so but overlooks a 1600 year gap until 1896. There is talk about "Olympic spirit" but this overlooks the realties of showcasing dictatorships (Berlin 1936), mass terrorism (Munich 1972) or ongoing drug abuse and big money making.In reality the Olympics is a complex international event with many agendas shrouded in a slightly sentimental blanket of "sport for everyone". While this can be harmless diversion for many, when it is exploited for all its PR opportunities by hosts who are reluctant to reform fully, surely there is little point in taking part ?

Not to have the Olympics this year may be a shame but the shame of endorsing a regime such as the PRC with its violent suppressions in Tibet is a shame far greater.