Commentary by Philip J Cunningham
The recent ethnic riots in Xinjiang are a tragic development for the world’s most populous country. Ethnic strife, probably as old as humankind, is as cruel as it is unnecessary. Part of what makes it so potent are unchallenged habits of mind coupled with the nearly universal human tendency to divide the world into “we” and “them.”
A lack of empathy for those who are “different” is clearly part of the problem. So, too, is the failure to better appreciate the complex, conflicted reality of those close to a tragedy, a tragedy which has become a spectacle for the international news consumer. Behold the Schadenfreude with which the post-1949 “other” is now pitted against the post-911 “other.”
In the old days, rumors traveled narrowly at the speed of sound through word of mouth whispers, while today, electronic communications spread malicious misinformation far and wide at the speed of light, increasing the potential for flash mob action.
Given the global reach of today’s media, one country’s grievous problems can become a spectator sport for the rest of the world. When something big happens in China, US interest is piqued, especially if the big news is bad news.
Politicians and pundits weigh in with quotable quips, often in utter ignorance, and far more often than is prudent. The hungry maw of the 24/7 media machine demands a constant flow of words and images. This free flow of information, including bad, biased and incorrect information, is celebrated as a basic American right.
Of course, free speech is important to the health of any society. But let us just consider, in a make-believe role reversal, what it might be like if the shoe was on the other foot.
Here then, some imaginary Chinese news coverage about a shocking and staggeringly sad eruption of violence in an ethnically diverse region along the American frontier. No offense intended, just something to think about.
THE NEW MEXICO "INCIDENT"
The People's Daily, Washington DC bureau reports: And now news from the USA. About a thousand Hispanic demonstrators went wild in New Mexico’s biggest city, beating and killing any whites who happened to be on the street. They set fire to busses with passengers still inside and over turned hundreds of cars, chasing pedestrians. There were bodies everywhere. An unknown number of Hispanics were also killed, some by the undiscriminating mob, others in a hail of bullets. The smashing, looting and burning went on all night until the US police, awaiting reinforcements, brought an uneasy calm to Albuquerque (pronounced A-er-bo-ke-ji).
The city is now under martial law. Thousands have been arrested, Twitter service is down. US National Guard troops have moved into city center. Nearby Los Alamos is reported to be under lockdown.
"Ethnic mobs demonstrate in New Mexico; hundreds dead," says Beijing Evening News.
"Deadly ethnic riots a headache for Washington" says China Daily.
"Rumbles on the Rim of US empire," says the Guangming Daily.
"Riots spread to other towns in New Mexico," says the Canton Times.
"America's Hispanic Crackdown," say China's Finance Street Times.
"Uprising in Albuquerque!" Tune in for the latest exciting footage on CCTV!
WORLD LEADERS REACT
"Hu Jintao urges Washington to exercise ‘appropriate restraint’ in New Mexico."
"UN chief Ban Ki Moon urges Americans to use restraint."
"It's genocide!" delcares Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. "There's no other name for it. The gringos are trying to get rid of our Hispanic brothers."
HOW TO MAKE A LEADER OUT OF A ONE-TIME COLLABORATOR
New China Times: "Al Gonzalez, a well-known American, now in exile after serving a prison term in the US, has emerged as the figurehead for oppressed US Hispanics. He says that Washington is covering up the real numbers, which include 800 Hispanics killed by 10,000 whites in a restaurant brawl in Miami, and hundreds more casualties in New Mexico. He describes himself as influential but lacking influence.
-See our exclusive interview with Al Gonzalez, the conscience of Hispanics, --China Fortune.
-See OUR exclusive interview with Al Gonzalez, freedom fighter, --China Newsweek.
-See our exclusive op-ed in which Al Gonzalez explains why the US can never be trusted in what was once the sovereign territory of Mexico, --China Finance Street Journal.
-See OUR exclusive profile of freedom fighter and revolutionary icon Al Gonzalez, --New China Times.
A note of dissent: LeftRightUpDown blog points out that the mainstream media darling Al Gonzalez posted dated photos of a federal crackdown on Indians at Wounded Knee on his Facebook page as proof of US perfidy against Hispanics in New Mexico. The blogger, a statistician by training, also notes the shocking use of statistics randomly pulled out of a hat in Beijing to stir passions about what was allegedly happening in Albuquerque.
"The US state apparatus is dizzy with success," says Lei Moxi, the head of an American studies program for Chinese students in Washington. "The Feds are too strong and too confident to allow change from below."
"It was only a matter of time, says Ting Budong, Hispanic Studies expert at Xian College and Director of the Far West Institute. You see, “New Mexico” is composed of the English words for ‘New’ which means new, and ‘Me-xi-co’ which means Mexico. It was invaded and colonized last century. Recently the number of white settlers has begun to outnumber the native Hispanics."
“Hispanics have long been treated as second-class citizens in their homeland. They wash the dishes, cut the grass, do the dirty work. The whites have the best jobs,” says a Spanish-speaking editor at the People’s Daily who spent over one year in the US.
"Washington failed to spot signs of the Hispanic revolt," says Xinhua.
"Twitter service was disrupted as far away as California,"
"Facebook service spotty after riots"
"The US must immediately restore Tweets to Twitter and Faces to Facebook. And stop blocking Sina.com service in the riot zone," opines Sham Chum, adjunct lecturer at People's University and a digital “expert” who aggregates anti-US stories on his blog.
THE FOREIGN PRESS --IT'S ALL ABOUT US
"The Americans didn't let us into the riot zone until the second day,” complained the Association of Chinese journalists. "Join our signature drive to protest this unforgivable act."
"US policemen followed us and pushed us when we tried to interview members of a Hispanic gang on a street corner,” complained a journalist from Xian, speaking through an interpreter.
"The US police insisted on following us into the slums where the riots began, claiming they were concerned about our safety," said the producer of a Hunan News show. “Then they asked us to leave. I couldn’t wait to get back to China.”
"First the American authorities wouldn't let us in --that's censorship," complained You Taidu, a prominent Chinese journalist. "And then they let us in, just to show how “open” they are. That's American spin and propaganda."
VOICES FROM THE STREET --SOME EMPATHY AT LAST
Chinese reporters, under the suspicious gaze of the US National Guard, interview both whites and Hispanics, recording one heartbreaking story after another.
"A lower middle class white couple from New Jersey, whose son was beaten and killed by angry demonstrators on his way home from work, are overcome with grief. "We moved here ten years ago to get a job, we've been working hard just to break even, and now this. After the funeral, we are leaving New Mexico...forever."
A Hispanic family, in tears about their missing son. "He went to the market and never came back. We are afraid for him. He was a good boy."
CCTV street interviews with typical Americans:
“The police did nothing to protect us. They only protect them.”
“No, that’s not true, they only protect THEM.”
"I saw the mob coming after one of them on the bicycle, I helped her to hide in my house with my mother. Then the demonstrators beat me, saying I was a race traitor.”
“We were neighbors, we got along fine. We used to help one another. What happened? Can't people just get along?"