Human Rights, Hypocrisy, and the Beijing Olympics

The entire world is once again being treated to the wondrous spectacle of human potential and achievement at the 2022 Winter Olympic games in Beijing, China.

At the same time, American viewers are being mistreated by an accompanying display of jingoism, hypocrisy, and bias in the coverage of the games by its mainstream media (MSM).

They continually remind audiences that China is an “authoritarian regime” that disrespects human rights up to and including genocidal policies against Uyghur Muslims in China’s northwest. In taking that position, the media typically omit any critical reflection on U.S. human rights shortcomings that in many cases surpass any of those the media attributes to China.

In what follows, let me briefly address that duplicity. I’ll begin by summarizing China’s approach to human rights contrasted with that of the United States. Secondly, I’ll particularize those distinctions by comparing China’s approach to its “Muslim problem” with the way the U.S. deals with its own corresponding dilemma. I’ll finish by drawing some hopefully salutary conclusions.

Human Rights

To begin with, the media’s allusions to “human rights” violations by communists implicitly assume that respect for human rights is an all or nothing matter. In their constant critique of China’s system, the MSM even imply that (in contrast to China) human rights are universally recognized and respected within the national contexts the media spokespersons represent.

Nothing however could be further from the truth.

In fact, few (if any) nations on earth (socialist, capitalist, or any aspiring to communism) respect all human rights as elaborated in the U.N. Declaration. Instead, socialist systems like China’s respect some human rights on the U.N. list, while disrespecting others. The same holds true for the United States. It too respects some human rights, while disrespecting others, even to the extent of denying their validity. (For instance, the U.S. has refused to sign off on a whole host of treaties implementing human rights protocols accepted by most other countries in the world.)

The United States’ refusal is based on the fact that its system of political economy prioritizes human rights differently from that of countries like China.

More specifically, China, like other countries trying to implement socialism, prioritizes material rights to life, food, shelter, clothing, health care, education, dignified work, childcare, and comfortable retirement. All of those are recognized as rights by the U.N. Declaration.

Respect for the right to life is reflected in China’s unprecedented achievement of virtually eliminating extreme poverty within its borders. Since 1981, China has lifted nearly 1 billion people out of such conditions. At the end of last year, President Xi announced that the final cohort of 100 million mostly rural poor had been raised above extreme poverty levels. Such achievement in such a brief time represents a unique historical achievement in the field of human rights.

Additionally, the right to health is a human right enshrined in the UN declaration of human rights. In response, China’s universal health care system leads the world in minimizing its number of deaths due to COVID-19.

At the same time, the United States (alone in the developed world) has no universal health care system. With only 25% of China’s population, the U.S. leads the world in COVID deaths. Of course the U.S. record could be painted as an extreme violation of the UN’s recognition of health care as a human right.  

That violation goes unnoticed in the United States, because with its economy based on neoliberal “free enterprise,” its list of prioritized human rights does not begin with the right to life, health, food, shelter, clothing, and dignified work. Instead, it starts with the right to private property and to have contracts respected along with freedom of speech, press, assembly, voting and religion.

That is, for the United States, the right to private property is paramount. If that right is threatened, all others (including voting and religion) will be suspended — as shown by our government’s support of authoritarian regimes throughout the world.

Capitalist theoreticians regard rights such as to food, shelter, and clothing as “aspirational” and neither genuine nor enforceable. Hence, our country has refused to sign off on the human rights protocols mentioned earlier.

By way of contrast, under socialism, the rights prioritized by U.S. capitalists are far down their list. In fact, rights such as private property and religious expression (in the light of European weaponization of religion in the service of colonialism) are often seen as inimical to the rights that socialism seeks to guarantee.

Policies towards Muslims

This brings us to the subject of human rights violations. They represent a point of convergence between China’s system and our own.  

Sadly, both systems are comparatively unrestrained in their oppressive policies supporting the human rights they prioritize. This leads both to transgress the UN Declaration’s prohibition of torture and unfair detainment as well as the right to a free trial and to democracy.

Both forms of transgression (theirs and ours) are illustrated in the way the two systems deal with shared problems around Muslim dissidents, rebels, and terrorism.

China deals with those problems especially in its northwestern Xinjiang province by confining Uyghur Muslims to what they describe asl “re-education centers.” There, according to U.S. media, Muslims are said to be interned in desperate conditions. They’re forced to take propagandistic classes about the error of their ways. They’re also allegedly mistreated in manners, by the way, that would be familiar to blacks and Hispanics interned in the U.S. prison system and in the concentration camps at our southern border.

Apart from the general fact that the U.S. imprisons a greater percentage of its population than China, and that it maintains those just-mentioned concentration camps for refugees and asylum seekers, Americans deal with their Muslim problems by imprisoning them in detention centers such as Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay and in “black sites” throughout the world. In extraterritorial locations like those, our government has unilaterally decided that human rights (even such as habeas corpus) enshrined in the western tradition since the Magna Carta, simply do not apply.

But detention centers are not the central element of U.S. strategies for dealing with Muslim dissidents and rebels. Killing them is. Since 9/11 2001, the U.S. has bombed and droned in many Muslim countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Ethiopia. In Iraq alone, by some estimates, “America” has caused more than one million Muslim deaths. In contrast, Chinese apologists are quick to point out that the last time China bombed any foreign country was 40 years ago.

Conclusion

Thankfully, the 2021 Olympics in Beijing are providing us with a window onto China, its socio-economic system, culture, and values particularly as they impact human rights. Great effort however is required to see all that through the haze of the MSM’s anti-Chinese bias.

Those who make that effort can draw some perhaps salutary conclusions that include the following:  

  • (As if we needed reminding) the western MSM is biased and propagandistic.
  • It is particularly unbalanced in its approach to questions of human rights in China.
  • No nation observes all human rights.
  • Arguably, as a country emerging from Third World status, China’s prioritization of poverty elimination, education, housing, and health care makes more sense than adopting the preferences of the United States and Europe.
  • More China’s prioritization would be welcome even in the United States which (alone among industrialized nations) refuses to recognize universal health care as a human right. (In other words, it violates that right.)
  • China’s health care precautions are helping Americans see the life-saving effects and other benefits of a centralized and coordinated universal health care system.
  • In the process, thoughtful Americans might be moved to reconsider the meaning of the phrase “pro-life.” Discounting any connections with abortion, “pro-life” in China entails adoption of aggressive measures to eliminate poverty and to keep the number of deaths due to COVID as close to zero as possible.
  • Its achievements in doing so are remarkable to say the least. 
  • Somehow re-education of Muslim dissidents seems preferable to killing them.
  • The same might be said for the display of China’s human rights priorities. That is, the right to food, shelter, clothing, health care, and dignified retirement might be more important than those to private property and respect for contracts.

Postscript

For years I worked for a Latin American studies program in Costa Rica. It served evangelical students from the U.S. doing their term abroad in San Jose. Each semester we took them to Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Cuba.

Before going to Cuba, the topic of “human rights always came up.” I’d ask the students to define the term. Eventually, they’d get to an understanding that a human right is what’s due a person simply in virtue of being human.

I’d them ask them to share what they considered the most important human right. Many said “the right to life” – and they weren’t talking about abortion.  

I’d then ask about rights to what’s necessary to sustain human life. They’d agree that the right to life implies those to food, potable water, shelter, education, and decent clothing.

Never once did my students (conservative, liberal, or libertarian) say that the most important human right was that of owning property or of having contracts honored.

Hmm.

Respecting Hard Evidence: 9/11, Pearl Harbor, JFK, and Edward Snowden

New Pearl Harbor

Recently, I watched “September 11: The New Pearl Harbor.” That’s Massimo Mazzucco’s documentary that 9/11 scholar, David Ray Griffin, has called “the film we’ve been waiting for.” It’s available gratis on the web, and I recommend it highly.

The amount of evidence the film offers to discredit the official story of 9/11 is overwhelming. It comes from eyewitnesses, government officials, and experts on aviation and explosives. It comes from architects, engineers and others in the scientific community.

Similarly persuasive are the historical details and personal testimonies Mazzucco offers to discredit the official line about the Old Pearl Harbor of December 7th, 1941.They too come from eyewitnesses and a whole array of insiders. Together they debunk the notion that the attack on the U.S. naval base in Hawaii came as a surprise. Instead, the evidence shows that Franklin Roosevelt and others allowed Pearl Harbor to happen in order to justify U.S. entry into World War II.

In the face of such evidence, the refusals of our educational system, the mainstream media, and U.S. politicians to reopen investigations into both the new and the old Pearl Harbors are simply amazing.

It’s enough to make one recall similar refusals concerning the assassination of John F. Kennedy in November of 1963. Instead, the media, politicians, and educators allow to stand an explanation that literally has bullets changing direction in ways that defy the laws of physics. The official explanation holds even though expert riflemen have repeatedly found themselves unable to duplicate the alleged marksmanship of Lee Harvey Oswald using the alleged assassination weapon.

As I write such words, I can almost hear what’s going through some readers’ minds. “Oh, I get it. You’re another one of those ‘conspiracy theorists.’ I’m sorry, but I don’t find the ‘evidence’ you’re citing persuasive. As Americans, we and our leaders have higher standards.”

Really? Consider the following:

• In 2003, the U.S. government insisted on invading Iraq because of its possession of “weapons of mass destruction.” When inspectors couldn’t find those weapons, their failure was characterized by the Bush administration as evidence of Saddam Hussein’s evil genius. Hussein was so insidious, they claimed, that he was able to hide masses of chemical and other weapons from very aggressive inspectors. The administration used such non-evidence-as-evidence to justify an invasion and war that has taken more than a million lives of innocent Iraqis. What’s that you say about high standards of proof?

• Last September President Obama was on the point of bombing Syria for its use of chemical weapons against insurgents whose ranks include al-Qaeda, the arch enemy of “America.” The evidence justifying Obama’s attack remained secret. Beyond that, when asked for justification, only purely circumstantial proof was offered. The chemical weapons in question, we were told, required launchers available only to the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. This means that for Mr. Obama, secret evidence and circumstantial proof were sufficient to justify bombings that would kill hundreds, if not thousands or even hundreds of thousands of innocent Syrians. And yet all those hundreds of serious, science-based questions about 9/11 and the Kennedy assassination remain . . . well, unanswered.

• Just last week, Senator John McCain of Arizona accused Edward Snowden of sharing U.S. secrets with Russia. “If you believe he didn’t, McCain said, “then you believe that pigs fly.” McCain’s incontrovertible evidence? Hmm. Maybe he thought his smart remark was enough. But we can’t be sure. He didn’t say. Perhaps he was going on his own experience when he was a prisoner of war in Vietnam. Did he reveal U.S. secrets to the Vietnamese? How else could he act as both judge and jury, and make his flying pigs deduction with such certainty? Logic? Is his evidence stronger than that allegedly requiring a reinvestigation of 9/11?

That last question makes my point.

When it’s a question of attacking enemies, the flimsiest of reasons, the thinnest of connections, simple implications, logical deductions, illogical conclusions, and circumstantial evidence are enough to justify mass murder of the innocent.

Imagine if the proof against Saddam Hussein or al-Assad had risen to the level of that advanced by 9/11 scientists and other scholars. In that case, I’d wager there’s not a person in the world who wouldn’t recognize the guilt of Washington’s designated enemies. The proof would be so overwhelming.

My conclusions:

• “9/11: The New Pearl Harbor” is compulsory viewing for those with the courage to think for themselves.
• We shouldn’t buy any further wars unless their justification transcends the level represented in that film and ridiculed as merely “conspiratorial” by our government and pundits.
• That is, evidence should go beyond the detail offered in Mazzucco’s five hour documentary.
• Moreover, any reasoning legitimizing future wars should evoke comparisons with and questions about 9/11, the level evidence there, and the reasons for ignoring its questions about the official story.
• In effect, such demands would preclude said future wars. In fact, no war in recent memory has been based on anything like the evidence and reasoning marshaled in “9/11: The New Pearl Harbor.”
• Even more concretely, we should ask John McCain about the basis for his statement about Edward Snowden and then judge the weight of his evidence by comparing it with that offered in Mazzucco’s film.

Do you see what I mean? What do you think?

What “Terrorists” Think while Being Tortured (Sunday Homily)

Terrorist

Readings for 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time: 2 MC 7: 1-12, 9-14; PS 17:1, 5-6, 3, 15; 2 THES 2:11-3:5; LK 20: 27-38. http://usccb.org/bible/readings/111013.cfm

One of the wonderful aspects of the Judeo-Christian tradition is how so much of it reflects the consciousness of the poor and oppressed, while at the same time giving expression to a “preferential option for the poor.” That’s a gift for us in a culture that generally despises poor people, oppresses the world’s impoverished majority, and spins the news in ways that ignore the poor and reflect a decided “preferential option for the rich.”

This morning’s first reading is especially valuable for us who live in under the torture regime of American Empire. It actually invites us inside the heads of tortured “terrorists.” It raises the question, who are the real terrorists – the forces of empire or those who resist them? In doing so, the reading from Second Maccabees sheds light on the contemporary debate about torture in service of empire. It also highlights parallels between the mentalities of “terrorists” then and now. The reading calls us to question our support for the entire War on Terror.

For starters, consider torture itself. Our culture actually debates torture’s use, its effectiveness and morality! It does!

Previously, that would have been unthinkable. Torture used to be considered one of those intrinsic evils about which there simply could be no debate.

However, ever since Abu Ghraib gave the lie to George W. Bush’s famous prevarication, “The United States doesn’t do torture” – ever since our government’s redefinition of the word to exclude even waterboarding – it has become apparent that Bush (and so many others of our “thought-leaders”) was lying. So today, many prominent “court intellectuals” have been pushed to actually defend torture’s permissibility.

But what do tortured terrorists actually think about having limbs removed and tongues cut out? Read today’s selection about the Maccabee brothers and find out.

The Maccabees were members of a heroic family of guerrilla fighters who in the mid- 2nd century BCE terrorized the invading Greek forces of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. (Actually, “Maccabee” wasn’t the family’s name; it was more a nom de guerre for an entire resistance movement. The word meant “Hammer” – the Hammer Gang – so-called because of its delight in pounding to mincemeat the invaders of their beloved homeland. The term “Maccabee” was similar to “al Qaeda,” when it simply meant “the list” – a reference to the Rolodex of assets the CIA used when it employed al Qaeda back when they were “freedom fighters” against the Russians in Afghanistan.)

For his part, the Seleucid king, Antiochus, was anti-Semitic. He considered the Jews historically and culturally backward. For him and his empire’s advancement, Jews had to be brought into the 2nd century BCE even if it meant their kicking and screaming the whole way.

Today we might understand Antiochus’ project as “modernizing” the Jews – as Hellenizing them for purposes of imperial control. Evidently the Seleucid king subscribed to the position that if empire can persuade conquered peoples to adopt its patterns of thinking and especially of imagining God, the task of imperial administrators is made that much easier.

Many Jews agreed with the program of Antiochus. After all, the Greeks’ empire seemed invincible. If the empire couldn’t be beat, it was better to join it willingly. So these “Hellenized Jews” stopped circumcising their sons, and changed their diets even to include eating pork. They became more Greek than the Greeks.

They also became the targets of Maccabee “terrorist” attacks. In today’s terms, such Hellenized Jews would be the targets blown up by Maccabee suicide bombers in marketplaces located in Jewish but Greek-loving neighborhoods. (Even if the Maccabee targeting may have been more selective than that, it is certain that Hellenized Jews were as much the objects of Maccabee terror as were the Seleucid forces themselves.)

In countering such extremism, Antiochus IV proscribed the Jewish religion as itself criminal and illegitimate. This was very similar to the way many “Americans” consider Islam. So Greek troops burnt and otherwise desecrated copies of the Torah in much the same way as our “Christian” troops are frequently caught burning or urinating on the Holy Koran and on corpses of Muslim resistance fighters.

Though the Greeks considered the Maccabean forces to be terrorist, faithful Jews admired them as national heroes and servants of God. They understood that the Maccabees were fighting a Holy War against the much more powerful Seleucids. It was David against Goliath all over again.

In any case, according to today’s selection from Second Maccabees, seven brothers of the gang’s leadership were finally arrested (along with their mother) by the Greek invaders. (This would have been reported to Greeks “back home” as a great triumph – “Senior Leaders” captured making “our troops” and “our world” much safer.)

Then the torture and the screaming start.

To begin with all eight are beaten with whips and instruments designed to tear open their flesh. Then following standard operating procedures still practiced today, other enhanced interrogation techniques were used to torture the brothers one after the other in the presence of their blood-drenched mother, herself near death. The purpose here, of course, was to induce the woman to divulge names, places, and plans that she was privy to as the wife of the one who started the Jewish resistance to the Seleucids.

But what does she do? And what about her sons?

In a word, they are all – mother as well as her sons – completely defiant.

“What do you expect to achieve by questioning us” one of the brothers shouts? “We are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors.”

Even at the point of death he spits out the words: “You accursed fiend” (I wonder what expletive he really used!), “you are depriving us of this present life, but the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever. It is for his laws that we are dying.”

Another of the brothers sees that his torturers are actually enjoying their work. (The text refers to cutting out his tongue and amputating his hands as “cruel sport.” Does that remind you of Abu Ghraib?) So he sticks out his tongue and stretches out his hands inviting them to do their work. “It was from Heaven that I received these,” he says. “I’d rather lose them than offend Yahweh” (read Allah).

“Even the king and his attendants marveled at the young man’s courage,” the text says. Far from being intimidated, the freedom-fighter “regarded his suffering as nothing.”

Just before dying, another of the tortured brothers undergoing the very same cruelties says: “It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the hope God gives of being raised up by him; but for you, there will be no resurrection to life.” As indicated by those words, conviction of a happy eternity moved these guerrilla fighters to embrace death willingly. (Seventy-two virgins, anyone?)

So what goes on in the heads of the tortured? Disdain for their torturers. Defiance. Show of courage. Love for the motherland. Hope.

And what goes on for the people they die for? Admiration. Elevation of martyrs and the tortured to sainthood. Motivation to follow their example.

And ultimately victory for the tortured and assassinated. . . . I mean, against all odds, the Jewish resistance – the Hammer Terrorists – did succeed in evicting the Greeks from their homeland.

As I was saying, this reading should cause us to reevaluate our attitude towards terrorism, terrorists, and the scandal of debating the pros and cons of torture.