"Can we really send our athletes to compete in a country that tortures its own citizens merely for expressing political thoughts? That has enabled the Darfur genocide by supplying weapons to Sudan?"asks an editorial in The New Republic. (10/22/07) The country in question is of course, China, which soon will host the 2008 Olympic Games. It almost makes one nostalgic for a time when the US had enough moral standing to be able to ask that kind of question without risk of seismic damage caused by worldwide jaw dropping.
Yes, as the article points out, political protest is often treated brutally in China. China often supports brutal dictatorships. Those who blow whistles and expose or protest corruption or in one case, start a petition against the Beijing games, are treated brutally; sent to prisons where prisoners have to carry out humiliating tasks and are forced to endure uncomfortable positions. It's called "subverting State Power" and sadly, the US has any number of proponents for the same kind of thing. You can read about it every day in letters to editors, hear it expressed in barber shops and bars and hear it on Fox News. Our human rights are eroding along with the polar ice caps and our record of support for barbaric regimes is well known.
Of course it's worse in China, but "enhanced" interrogation, disappearances, denial of council, denial of Habeas Corpus, domestic surveillance and extended "detention" of people the government is suspicious of are now firmly identified with the US in the mind of the world. Valerie Plame wasn't chained to an iron cot for embarrassing the Bush administration, but official power was used to punish her for that embarrassment and it wasn't an isolated case.
The New Republic would have us use the Olympics for it's primary value; a way for nations to insult and humiliate each other while pretending to be resurrecting an ancient Greek body worship cult. They're advocating more than athletic victory however; their proposal is for our athletes deliberately to be insulting toward their host and overtly support the subversion of China's government.
"Chinese-language banners unfurled by athletes at the opening ceremonies that call for the government to permit free speech, t-shirts slipped on during medal ceremonies that carry messages of solidarity with Chinese dissidents--these gestures could reach tens of thousands of spectators and, through word of mouth, many more."
Right -- and allow the long litany of American offenses: the wars of aggression, the torture, the kidnappings, the destruction of a country that had not attacked us and slaughter of it's citizens to be broadcast throughout the world to a chorus of laughter. Let's allow our athletes to be booed, jeered and shunned. It doesn't matter that we can rationalize our having become the ogre we are because the world does not believe in us any longer even when we are right. Yes, the Olympic games have always been a theater of nationalism and propaganda, but this time perhaps it's better simply to treat it as an athletic event lest we have our noses rubbed in our own mess.