Torch protests in London

The global community will turn its full attention on China, and Tibetan protestors have already begun to capitalize.

London braced itself for a major disruption at the arrival of the Olympic torch on April 6. The media covered the unfolding events throughout the day and reported 37 arrests at its conclusion. Since China’s occupation in 1950, there have been numerous attempts to sway the eyes of the world toward the injustice in Tibet. These efforts have varied in their effectiveness; be they concerts, rallies, speeches or films. With the Summer 2008 Olympic Games to be held in Beijing, it appears that activists have found their most promising forum to date. The global community will turn its full attention on China, and Tibetan protestors have already begun to capitalize.

Many claim that it’s wrong to involve the Tibetan issue in the Olympics, saying that it’s a matter to be removed entirely from politics. Others say the suffering and oppression caused by the Chinese government far outweighs this notion. No matter your opinion, you’ll be unable to deny the images flooding our televisions in the months preceding the Olympics. If the Chinese government continues to brutalize and murder its opposition, the resulting footage could be the leverage necessary for Tibetans to finally amass some serious global backing.

It’s a time-tested approach, pioneered by Dr. Martin Luther King. He reaped the benefits of film-captured injustice in his quest for civil rights. He let the searing images sway long unmoved national indifference. The senseless hatred embodied in the unrestrained fists of policemen brought politicians to the brink, forcing them to change the laws. Tibetan protestors are hoping they can achieve similar results. They’re well on their way, and gaining impassioned international support faster than ever before.

I got off the tube with my flatmate at Charring Cross, surfacing on the edge of Trafalgar Square. We’d seen on the Beeb earlier that morning that 10 arrests had already been made, along with two close attempts at extinguishing the torch. It was 12:45, half an hour before the torch was set to arrive, and the crowd was already in full swing. The tension started slowly, and was primarily initiated by the Chinese demonstrators. I stood next to a group of three Scandinavian girls holding Tibetan flags and “Free Tibet” signs. Chinese demonstrators holding flags and Olympic banners hounded them through the congested crowd. They covered the girls’ signs and pushed them toward the back of the crowd. We schemed up a plan. I set some textbook basketball screens, and the girls made their way to the front, in plain view of all the cameras. This glory was short lived as the Chinese students grabbed my shoulders, forcing their way past. Once in reach of the girls, they wrestled their signs free and threw them to the back. The police officer that was watching the whole ordeal opted to take no action.

The situation served as a perfect microcosm for the Tibetan situation at large. The Chinese have been jailing, at their most humane, those who’ve been outspoken about their human rights infractions. They believe they have the right to silence anyone openly opposed to their policies, as did the Chinese demonstrators in Trafalgar. The police play the role of the global community, keeping watch, but hoping things won’t get out of control. All the major international powers are assuming this stance. They’ll interject only when it’s completely necessary. For the officer, these Chinese demonstrators hadn’t done enough to prompt a response. Much in the same way, the Chinese government hasn’t pushed the envelope far enough for any major international power to openly demand reform.

After the torch had passed, a man took to one of the giant fountains, perching himself atop the center statue with a Tibetan flag. He led several chants, and I stood with others on the three-foot wall surrounding the water. After a few minutes, a Chinese demonstrator took after the man, chasing him through the water. He caught up to him near my section of wall. The Chinese demonstrator began punching him in the head, ripping the flag from his hands. Those of us on the wall shouted for the police to come and arrest this man. Chinese demonstrators swelled to the side of the fountain, attempting to block the violence from view. I increased the volume of my shouts, but was grabbed by the legs, as the pro-Chinese tried to discreetly pull me down. I wouldn’t go, so they decided instead to push me in. By the time the police had finally intervened, the Tibetan protestor had taken numerous sound blows to the head and face.

Numerous sound blows to the head and face. That’s what it took for the police in Trafalgar Square to take action. What will it take for any of the major international powers to take a harder stance? There’ve already been more than a 100 deaths in Tibet at the hands of the police during protests – only 22 according to the Chinese government. So where’s the line? It will be pushed further and further this summer as the protests intensify.

Carl Carpenter is a University student. Please send comments to [email protected]