November 18, 2003

The London Follies Some recent

The London Follies

Some recent visits to London that didn't create quite the ballyhoo that Dubya's appears certain to (juxtaposed with some interesting information regarding the relevant human rights records of said leaders).

1) Jiang Zemin.

The human rights record.

A sampler:

"In February a domestic publication reported that an engineer in Liaoning province, suspected of theft, suffered brain damage as a result of hours of beatings while in police custody. The police eventually determined that the engineer was innocent and released her. She later sued the local government. Chinese reporters who attended her trial said that there were efforts in court to intimidate them. Also in February, a government-owned television station in Sichuan broadcast film taken secretly of city police officers beating and spitting on suspects in an effort to coerce confessions and to extort bribes. In June a Hong Kong human rights group reported that labor activist Guo Xinmin was beaten repeatedly and hung by his tied hands by police interrogators trying to extract a confession. The same human rights organization also received a letter from a former vice mayor of Harbin, which had been smuggled out of prison, in which he claimed to have been beaten and given electric shocks while in custody. According to Amnesty International, some adherents of Falun Gong were tortured with electric shocks, as well as by having their hands and feet shackled and linked with crossed steel chains."

2) Vladimir Putin.

The human rights record.

A sampler:

"New rounds of Russian sweep operations affected central and eastern Chechnya in late 2001 and early 2002, with some villages targeted repeatedly over several months. During these operations, Russian troops detained numerous men, often arbitrarily, and looted civilian homes. Detainees routinely faced ill-treatment and torture, and many subsequently "disappeared."

More on the "disappeared" here.

3) Bashar Assad.

The record.

Key graf:

"Despite the presidential succession, Syrians continued to be denied civil and political rights. Freedom of expression, association, and assembly were strictly limited in law and practice; the local media and access to the Internet remained state-controlled; and the pervasive powers of the security forces under the country's long-standing emergency law, in force since 1963, were intact. There were no effective safeguards against arbitrary arrest and torture; civilian and military prisons, including the infamous Tadmor in the Palmyran desert, remained off-limits to independent observers; and the Kurdish minority continued to be denied basic rights, including the right to a nationality for tens of thousands. No one inside the country dared to advocate justice and accountability for current and former government officials responsible for gross human rights abuses, including the massacre of possibly as many as 1,100 unarmed prisoners at Tadmor in 1980, and the military assault on the city of Hama in 1982 in which thousands were killed."

4) Robert Mugabe.

The human rights track record.

Sample:

"The attacks by state security forces were very brutal. In addition to beating victims with blunt objects, police and army personnel burned victims with cigarettes, forced them to drink poison, urine or other toxic liquids, sexually assaulted them with blunt objects, and beat individuals on the soles of their feet. There was no distinction made between family members of suspects and the suspects themselves. In some cases, it seems that family members were brutalized either to punish suspects or in the hopes of extracting information. In other cases, family members were mistaken for suspects or were thought to be hiding them. When security forces arrived at the house of a MDC activist two days after the stayaway, for instance, they mistook the suspects mother for her. The attack on the mother did not stop once the activist identified herself: I heard my mother screaming from inside my room, so I came out. Unfortunately, I had a poster of Morgan [Tsvangirai, MDC President] on my wall, and when they saw it they went crazy. They started beating me with a cord and broken hosepipes, and they were yelling and calling me names. I saw the piece of cloth my mother was wearing had fallen down, and they were beating her. And they made her part her legs, and they put the AK inside her.

5) Jacques Chirac.

OK, I'm kidding! (I think?)

Seriously, though, no judicious observer can place George Bush's human rights record in the same camp as leaders like Putin, Assad, Zemin, or Mugabe.

And yet all those leaders' London pass-throughs were delightfully non-eventful as compared to what awaits Dubya.

To be sure, the U.S. should be held to a higher standard as the self-proclaimed avatar of human rights on the world stage.

But these mega-protests aren't really about collateral damage, or Gitmo, or the Patriot Act. Nor are they about those nefarious neo-cons or the perils of the (supposedly extant) preemption doctrine.

This is really more all about the difficulties of being this epoch's Roman Empire. What do I mean? Simply that America's unrivaled power is the cause of so much of this hyperventilation and hand-wringing.

Put differently, a mixture of fascination, envy and fear bred of feverish hyperbole about the gunslinging cowboy George leading the biggest outlaw state of them all. And, the tired story goes, taking the world down a road to perma-war.

Yep, the fascination/resentment/obsession is deep. How else to explain such adolescently exuberant stories regarding the Emperor's movements?

Or that the most popular America bashers in Europe are themselves Americans. Such personages are the darlings of the chattering classes of the Euro-left--whose best 'domestic' competition appear to be pretty absurd characters like Red Ken.

It reminds me of the February 15th anti-war protest in Hyde Park. Jesse Jackson got the most reaction from the crowd--even with Livingstone (as well as the disgraced Galloway) strutting their stuff to the locals.

Bottom line: during this period of unrivaled hyperpuissance, the U.S.'s motivations will be subjected to the crudest conspiracy theories, stereotypes, and canards--mostly on the basis of the power the country wields on the world stage rather than any fundamental policy shifts Dubya has ushered in.

Yes there are intelligent critiques of U.S. policy to be heard. Sure, we could sometimes communicate better (Bush can obviously be tone deaf with audiences overseas sometimes). Yes we've made mistakes over the past couple of years in being overly aggressive in some of our diplomacy.

But, let's be honest with ourselves. It's simply not easy to speak rationally (about the very real security perils of a post 9/11 world) to the clownish coterie that will be burning Dubya in effigy at Trafalgar Sq. in a couple days.

Especially given that the very same individuals were doubtless silent when the leaders I blogged about above were passing through olde London town.

All leaders with far worse human rights records than Dubya, no?

So tell me again what exactly these protests are really about? Because I'm not sure I fully get it.

UPDATE: Adesnik's feedback.

Posted by Gregory at November 18, 2003 12:09 AM
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