Harassment case ignites online debate (4)

Two comments:

First, I think the policy for both authorities and newspapers to NOT list the ethnic/religious affiliation, or the name and address and so on, of a criminal suspect is a good practice.

In my country Sweden too, we have this practice: Authorities and newspapers all refrain from characterizing a suspect beyond his/her gender and age. The main reason is to protect basic human rights: To expose a subject’s identity before there is a trial and a verdict, is wrong. This is different from the US and some other countries where suspect’s names are deemed in the public interest and so are immediately published. In the case of innocent persons, this ruins their reputation, career, and personal life, for starters, which is gross, and I think this alone justifies the policy and tradition we have in Germany, Sweden and apparently China to some extent (in China obviously it is all political, these rights are not extended to political cases, in which they torture people into performing fake pre-trial public confessions, so not just revealing their identity before trial, but forcing the person to smear himself).

In this Chinese case brought up here, the authorities’ concern is apparently that if the public learns the ethnicity/religion of a suspect, it risks the trouble of mob violence or street harrassment of innocents targeted merely for belonging to the same ethnicity/religion, which could follow, and get out of hand, when people jump to conclusions, whipped up by “social” media panics.

Let me explain that I actually can understand the frustration behind Professor Kubin’s email. Sometimes I read about an odd crime or incident in Sweden and I become curious — was this perhaps committed by an immigrant who does not understand, or even disregards local morals? For example, I read about a dad who forced his 5-year old son to jump from the highest board at a swimming pool when he did not want to. The lifeguard at first intervened, but backed off when he understood this really was the boy’s father… I asked myself, what dad would do such a thing — someone with a different value system than we’re used to? But my next thought was to remember that we actually do have a rich supply of native Swedish a-holes, and one of them might well have been that dad.

And, the rule of law and the protection of basic rights is precious, and not something we should throw away easily merely to satisfy either curiosity, or worse, preformed conclusions that ignore the fact that the vast majority of immigrants are decent, law-abiding people. If we do, we end up first like the US, which is bad, or like China, which is of course infinitely worse and arbitrary.

Secondly, I think it is important to avoid conflating a people with an extremist minority. The end point of that “logic” is to condone genocide.

An example of this dangerous conflation was recently found on the New York Times editorial page, when they suggested that combating “Uighurs” is a task on which Trump and China could cooperate nicely [https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/16/opinion/sunday/the-china-puzzle.html]. They wrote:

“Here’s one thing that is not much talked about: counterterrorism. Mr. Trump worries about the Islamic State, Mr. Xi about Muslim Uighurs in China’s northwestern region of Xinjiang. Beijing could benefit from American intelligence about militants returning from the Middle East to Xinjiang; Washington would be interested in China’s help in persuading Pakistan to crack down on the Taliban.”

Quite aside from ascribing to Mr Trump an interest in something other than himself and his screen image (which just isn’t credible), this NYT editorial carelessly but horribly conflates the Uighur people as a whole, and their very legitimate grievances, with the violent acts of a few extremists who have committed acts of true terrorism …

The NYT may just be a case of lazy ignorance, but it already places on that slippery slope we have witnessed in Burma over the last few weeks.  Burma’s ultranationalists have joined the trend of demonising Islam by equating Muslims with terrorists, and in recent weeks this rhetoric has materialized as an ethnic cleansing campaign conducted by the country’s army, taking what seems to have been a terrorist incident as pretext to expel over 400,000 legitimate residents and citizens from their country, women, children and elderly included, burning their villages and forcing them to Bangladesh where they are now languishing as stateless refugees. Many have not survived.

In Burma too just like in China the term “terrorists” is now used sweepingly to ensnare an entire ethnic group in the population, for the purpose of targeting it, and, to whip up support among an ignorant public for a “final solution” of the matter: To get rid of them all, and to bolster the standing of the authorities and armed forces. Burma is likely copying China, which in turn took this usage up after the US 9-11 attack and the new usage by the then US authorities. It is a manufactured, self-fulfilling “clash of civilization” that will not do anything good for the world.

Magnus Fiskesjö <nf42@cornell.edu>

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