The Torch and The Special City

Posted: Mar 30, 2008 12:01 AM
The Torch and The Special City

Credit House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for her long-standing opposition to Chinese human-rights abuses. Earlier this month, Pelosi visited the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India, where she spoke out against Chinese oppression in Tibet. Pelosi showed herself at her finest when she pronounced, "If freedom-loving people throughout the world do not speak out against China's oppression in Tibet, we have lost all moral authority to speak on behalf of human rights anywhere in the world."

China's official Xinhua news agency shot back with this statement: "Human rights police like Pelosi are habitually bad-tempered and ungenerous when it comes to China, refusing to check their facts and find out the truth of the case. Her views are like so many other politicians and Western media. Beneath the double standards lies their intention to serve the interest groups behind them, who want to contain or smear China."

Boohoo for poor, misunderstood China. When the -- all bow -- international community argued that staging the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing would prompt China to improve its dismal human-rights record, China purred. Now that the same crowd wants the gargantuan People's Republic of China to ease up on feisty Tibet, the PRC is a victim of double standards and powerful interest groups.

So welcome to San Francisco -- which on April 9 will be the only North American city to host an Olympic torch event for this Olympics.

For years, Ess Eff's self-righteous City Hall has made it its business to tell the rest of the world how to live. With the Chinese coming to town, the supes are in a difficult position. As the city is poised to play host to pre-Games festivities, they passed a richly deserved resolution bashing China's mistreatment of Tibet, its support of genocide in Darfur and association with North Korea's regime. It was a well-deserved slap at China, just as the giant seems within grasp of global respectability.

China deserves thousands of protesters lining the streets of San Francisco and rallying in public squares in peaceful protest against these abuses under the mantle of groups such as the San Francisco Bay Area Darfur Coalition, the Falun Gong, Burmese American Democratic Alliance (BADA) and Committee of 100 for Tibet. And that's for starters.

Mayor Gavin Newsom argues that the Olympic torch "transcends politics." On the phone Thursday, he recalled choking up as he watched an amputee with a prosthetic leg carrying the torch through city streets in 2002. "No one thought about politics," said Newsom.

And: the Olympic "torch is to celebrate human rights." Wrong. China was thinking politics as it wooed the Olympics, and suggested it would improve how it treats people in the Olympic spirit. Now, as China has been preparing for the Olympics, its preparations have left some 22 people dead (if you believe the PRC) or 140 dead (if you believe Tibetans), and the government is talking about "patriotic education" in Tibetan monasteries.

Team Newsom insists that hizzoner never planned on trying to censor activists protesting against China. For one thing, Newsom said, he agrees with the Free Tibet crowd.

Also, Newsom argued that as mayor, he has a responsibility to protect the rights of the Olympics Committee and those who want to celebrate the Games, as well as those who would protest Chinese policies.

Let me note that these activists, even with right on their side, do not have a right to stop Olympic ceremonies. They have a right to protest Olympic events, not to shut them down. Too bad The Special City does not have a solid record of going after law-breaking protesters -- be they angry Critical Mass bicyclists or anti-globalization activists who crushed a cop's skull -- when the cause is leftist. So the city has fed the belief that leftists are entitled to censure -- even hurt -- those with whom they disagree. Sadly, it can be no surprise that China's San Francisco Consulate was attacked by arsonists this month.

Newsom told me that some San Franciscans have urged him to refuse to allow the torch into the city. (His staff sent me Olympic rules that show, by the way, that the Beijing Olympics Committee never planned to present the torch to Newsom.) That's "abhorrent," Newsom told me. "They're telling me that they don't want the torch to be allowed into San Francisco."

I don't like that the Olympics Committee chose Beijing as a host city. That was wrong, but it's done. Now the best outcome would be if San Francisco can show the world a city that can harbor vigorous dissent -- without turning into a lawless zoo.