Free speech for those who agree with them only

Kchew note: Free speech is an abstract concept like freedom. In practice, there is no such thing as free speech, as one has to conform to certain standards or norms where one lives. Obviously some societies are more tolerant on certain matters than others. Hence the keyword is not ‘free’ but ‘tolerant.

For example, the Chinese are more tolerant on religious issues than says the Muslim communities. Therefore different family members of a Chinese family may have different religious belief. Even on the subject of food, the Chinese are certainly most tolerant, as they are free to eat most food compared to a Muslim, a Jew or a pious Catholic. For people of the West, scolding and mocking politicians openly is a fair game, and this seems to be the essence of the ‘so-called free-speech in the West. Even then being tolerant means that there has to be limits. If one curses another person’s mother, the threshold of tolerance is reached in any sane person, and therefore one should not be surprised of a vigorous response. The Chalie Hebdo incidence gives us much food for though on what is the freedom of speech really about. Following is an opinion from a former US judge.

What Freedom of Speech?

by Andrew P. Napolitano, January 15, 2015

The photos of 40 of the world’s government leaders marching arm-in-arm along a Paris boulevard on Sunday with the president of the United States not among them was a provocative image that has fomented much debate. The march was, of course, in direct response to the murderous attacks on workers at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo by a pair of brothers named Kouachi, and on shoppers at a Paris kosher supermarket by one of the brothers’ comrades.

The debate has been about whether President Obama should have been at the march. The march was billed as a defense of freedom of speech in the West; yet it hardly could have been held in a less free speech-friendly Western environment, and the debate over Obama’s absence misses the point.

In the post-World War II era, French governments have adopted a policy advanced upon them nearly 100 years ago by Woodrow Wilson. He pioneered the modern idea that countries’ constitutions don’t limit governments; they unleash them. Thus, even though the French Constitution guarantees freedom of speech, French governments treat speech as a gift from the government, not as a natural right of all persons, as our Constitution does.

The French government has prohibited speech it considers to be hateful and even made it criminal. When the predecessor magazine to Charlie Hebdo once mocked the death of Charles de Gaulle, the French government shut it down – permanently.

The theory of anti-hate speech laws is that hate speech often leads to violence, and violence demands police and thus the expenditure of public resources, and so the government can make it illegal to spout hatred in order to conserve its resources. This attitude presumes, as Wilson did when he prosecuted folks for publicly singing German songs during World War I, that the government is the origin of free speech and can lawfully limit the speech it hates and fears. It also presumes that all ideas are equal, and none is worthy of hatred.

When the massacres occurred last week in Paris, all three of the murderers knew that the police would be unarmed and so would be their victims. It was as if they were shooting fish in a barrel. Why is that? The answer lies in the same mentality that believes it can eradicate hate by regulating speech. That mentality demands that government have a monopoly on violence, even violence against evil.

So, to those who embrace this dreadful theory, the great loss in Paris last week was not human life, which is a gift from God; it was free speech, which is a gift from the state. Hence the French government, which seems not to care about innocent life, instead of addressing these massacres as crimes against innocent people, proclaimed the massacres crimes against the freedom of speech. Would the French government have reacted similarly if the murderers had killed workers at an ammunition factory, instead of at a satirical magazine?

And how hypocritical was it of the French government to claim it defends free speech! In France, you can go to jail if you publicly express hatred for a group whose members may be defined generally by characteristics of birth, such as gender, age, race, place of origin or religion.

You can also go to jail for using speech to defy the government. This past weekend, millions of folks in France wore buttons and headbands that proclaimed in French: “I am Charlie Hebdo.” Those whose buttons proclaimed “I am not Charlie Hebdo” were asked by the police to remove them. Those who wore buttons that proclaimed, either satirically or hatefully, “I am Kouachi” were arrested. Arrested for speech at a march in support of free speech? Yes.

What’s going on here? What’s going on in France, and what might be the future in America, is the government defending the speech with which it agrees and punishing the speech with which it disagrees. What’s going on is the assault by some in radical Islam not on speech, but on vulnerable innocents in their everyday lives in order to intimidate their governments. What’s going on is the deployment of 90,000 French troops to catch and kill three murderers because the government does not trust the local police to use guns to keep the streets safe or private persons to use guns to defend their own lives.

Why do some in radical Islam kill innocents in the West in order to affect the policies of Western governments? Might it be because the fruitless Western invasion of Iraq killed 650,000 persons, most of whom were innocent civilians? Might it be because that invasion brought al-Qaida to the region and spawned ISIS? Might it be because Obama has killed more innocent civilians in the Middle East with his drones than were killed by the planes in the U.S. on 9/11? Might it be because our spies are listening to us, rather than to those who pose real dangers?

What does all this have to do with freedom of speech? Nothing – unless you believe the French government.

Andrew P. Napolitano, a former judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey, is the senior judicial analyst at Fox News Channel. Judge Napolitano has written seven books on the U.S. Constitution. The most recent is Theodore and Woodrow: How Two American Presidents Destroyed Constitutional Freedom. To find out more about Judge Napolitano and to read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2014 ANDREW P. NAPOLITANO

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Terrorism, no if and but …

Condemn terror, but query cartoon content

Kchew note: The Paris massacre is indeed shocking and more so than the hostage crisis in Sydney. Twelve people died, and the harrowing picture of policeman who fell on the floor and was about to be killed will forever be etched in our minds. All acts of terrorism must be strongly condemned and there should be no if and but, as the excellent article from Global Times tells us.

From the Chinese perspective, many can relate that whenever there are act of terrorism committed in China, the Western media will just report such incidents as attack or act of “terrorism” (in quote), as if doubtful of the nature of terrorist attack on China. What’s more, they would give prominent coverage to the overseas supporters of the terrorist group in defending their brutal acts.

The clash of values between the West and Islam world is a serious one, and I believe will escalate further. The West truly value their freedom of expression. But in practice this freedom is not without limits, as materials that are deemed to be anti-Semitic, anti-gay or pro-Nazi in nature are prohibited in many Western countries. Meanwhile, to a Muslim, picture or worse caricature of Prophet Muhammad is a big taboo and deemed as an unforgivable affront where offenders can be subject to horrific consequences. This clash can also be viewed as a clash of fundamentalists, with Muslim fundamentalists on one side, and the Western liberal fundamentalists on the opposite side. Both believe that they are on the right side of history.

http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/900870.shtml

Many countries have condemned the brutality of the terror attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris. But in some non-Western societies, particularly Islamic societies, the responses may be much more complex. While recognizing diversified values, we believe that at this time, condemnation of terrorist attacks should be unconditional. Any other choice does not serve the common interests of humanity.

The West often shows a lack of firmness when responding to terrorist attacks that have happened in China. Even after China officially determines their terrorist nature, Western mainstream media puts quotation marks when describing these bloody assaults as “terrorist,” saying that it is a claim of the Chinese government. This always upsets Chinese people.

Now Chinese society has to make a choice when such attacks happened in a Western country: Should we behave in a tit for tat manner or reject these double standards to resolutely join in the global condemnation? We choose the latter, as we have done on each and every occasion.

Combating terrorism needs a high level of solidarity among the international community. The world is always unified in its response to terrorist attacks that happened in the West, but when it’s the West’s turn to react to such attacks in countries like China and Russia, they often beat about the bush.

From the perspective of the East, what Charlie Hebdo has published is not completely defendable and it is understandable that some Muslims feel hurt by the cartoons in the magazine. But it cannot be used to justify such an attack that has gone beyond the civil boundaries of all societies. Almost all terrorist attacks bear their own deep-seated causes, but people should only hold one response toward them: resolute opposition and crackdown.

We notice that many Western leaders and mainstream media outlets highlighted their support for press freedom when commenting on the incident. This remains open to question. Press freedom lies as part of the West’s political and social systems and is a core value. But in these globalized times, when their acts contradict with the core values of other societies, the West should have the awareness to ease conflicts, instead of heightening them in accordance with its own values in a zero-sum manner.

As the West holds absolute dominance in global opinion, non-Western societies can scarcely get their disagreements heard by the world. The West has to consciously control its use of “soft power” that can verbally abuse those it doesn’t favor.

Some Islamic groups indeed feel hurt during their clashes with the West due to artworks. Even if the West thinks it is right to uphold press freedom, it’s still worthwhile respecting the feelings of others. If the West thinks of globalization as an absolute expansion and victory of certain values, then it is in for endless trouble.

Whatever is said here won’t reduce our condemnation of the Paris attack and unshaken opposition against using violence to address cultural contradictions. Terrorist attacks are absolutely inexcusable, but meanwhile, it would be wise not to intensify the sensitive elements against the complicated backgrounds. Condemning terrorism doesn’t necessarily mean supporting controversial cartoons.

It’s inspiring that mainstream opinion worldwide supports Paris. But if the West can be milder in expressing cultural clashes and consider the feelings of many others, it would be very rewarding and respectable.

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China’s Challenges – documentary

There is a dearth of good documentaries from the West on China. I have seen a few documentaries produced by Australia’s ABC not too long ago, and they were just absolutely abysmal. They were highly superficial, and just more interested in the bizarre, shocking, upsetting or just most likely to propagate hackneyed views on China.

The following documentary is partly produced by an American Robert Lawrence Kuhn. Kunh calmly lead viewers to see the big challenges facing China today. It might be boring to some people, but this what one need to understand China better.

Are the Chinese people happy? is the first of five documentaries. It is broken into 4 parts in Youtube. (For all five documentaries, visit this site: http://vimeopro.com/user13599767/chinas-challenges/video/83762500 )

Introduction from the website:

Host Robert Lawrence Kuhn, who knows China’s leaders personally and wrote the book “How China’s Leaders Think,” takes us inside China through five documentaries that reveal the critical issues that China’s new leaders face. China’s Challenges focuses on current issues including China’s economy, society, innovation, politics and values.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

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The concept of “democracy” and Occupy Central HK

The following article from China Daily website, is written by James Hsiung. He is a professor of politics and international law at New York University. What really caught my attention is the following passage:

On the philosophical-cultural plane, the concept of “democracy” has different meanings in China and the West (especially in the US). In Chinese tradition, democracy means more “for” the people than “by” the people. … I would add that because Chinese culture postulates that human nature is innately good, only warped by post-natal influences (such as scarcity), government has a dual function unknown in the West. This is: (a) to see the people properly educated and insulated from corrupting influences — something like Plato’s philosopher king, who would care about what kind of music people listened to; and (b) to intervene to protect people’s livelihoods (i.e., the economy), to prevent poverty and hardship. All this adds up to the government being “for” the people.

The full article in 2 parts:

Students trapped in a terrible political game

Of all the voluminous comments on the political crisis in Hong Kong known as the “Occupy Central” movement, a clear division can be drawn between two groups of on-lookers. Those who back the movement see it as a necessary means — no matter how drastic, or even farcical, for attaining the “pan-democrats” goal of realizing their version of universal suffrage. Their opponents, however, view it as an open, internationally scripted conspiracy to undermine Chinese sovereignty in Hong Kong under the “One Country, Two Systems” principle. I posit that there is an alternative way of viewing these events, as will be explained below.

In the first place, however pitifully, the students who joined the protesters in occupying the usually congested business centers of Admiralty, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok, do not seem to be aware that they are being manipulated as pawns in an insidious political maneuver. The game is being staged against the SAR government and ultimately the Beijing authorities, by certain Hong Kong politicians of hidden agenda using “democracy” and “true universal suffrage” as a front in their rallying cry for wider support.

The true story only became known when it was belatedly revealed in Washington that the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and its subsidiary, National Democracy Institute (NDI), under the auspices of the State Department, were behind and indeed, were financing, the “Occupy” movement. In a Land Destroyer Report, Tony Cartalucci revealed details of a secret meeting which two opposition leaders from Hong Kong — Martin Lee and Anson Chan — held at the NED.

There, they confided that the true aim of the “Occupy” movement, planned from as early as April 2013, was to use Hong Kong as a base to “infect” China with its Western-style institutions, laws and interests. Both argued that since China appears concerned about global perceptions of how it governs its people, this could be exploited to obtain concessions from Beijing over its rule of Hong Kong. However the undeclared angle is that the “pan-democrats” hope to bypass Nominating Committee screening procedure and realize their goal of competing in the 2017 election for the Chief Executive (CE) of the HKSAR.

With this knowledge of what he terms a “foreign-driven agenda,” Cartalucci concludes that the “Occupy” movement “has nothing to do with democracy”, but is “abusing democracy to undermine Beijing’s control over Hong Kong, and (designed to) open the door to candidates that clearly serve foreign interests, not those of China, or even the people of Hong Kong.”

I would add that demonstrating students and other “Occupy” protesters may sooner or later learn that they are ensnared in this insidious political game. I wonder, though, how they will react when that day comes and they realize they have been ruthlessly manipulated in a cunning political maneuver.

Secondly, I think it necessary to note that the Chief Executive and police have exercised extraordinary self-restraint in the face of “Occupy” provocations. This point only becomes more obvious by making comparisons. During colonial times, for example, no protest of this type would have been tolerated in Hong Kong. Under the prevailing Public Order Ordinance, no demonstration could occur without first having been approved by police. Under the Societies Ordinance, the London-appointed governor would have had the power to declare the kind of connections, like the ones Lee and Chan had with outside plotters, illicit and subject to criminal investigation.

To bring things up to date, in the US “Occupy Wall Street” movement, which began in 2011, nearly 8,000 were arrested, as duly reported in the e-journal Diplomat (Oct 17, 2014). More than that, those who fought with the police were prosecuted. In one case, Cecily McMillan was sentenced by the New York Supreme Court to three months in jail. In addition, the court also sentenced her to five years probation, and required her to complete mental health counseling. Nothing comparable has happened in Hong Kong so far.

Thirdly, the dragging out of the “Occupy” campaign has caused substantial economic losses to storekeepers and other businesses because of the blocking of main thoroughfares and side streets. It has, more importantly, led to widespread revulsion from the silent majority.

One frustrated Hongkonger was overheard saying: “If this is what democracy is about, we’d rather not have democracy.” This may have been prompted by a momentary pique to the blocking of some of the city’s main thoroughfares. But it may also be an indication that the “Occupy” movement, especially after it has dragged on indefinitely, has not served the cause of democracy as it intended.

Reasons for dismal failure of ‘Occupy’

If it were possible to identify the winners and losers from the “Occupy Central” campaign, the results may take us by surprise.

The winner is certainly not the cause of democracy in Hong Kong. This is clear if the reactions of the growing number of opponents to the “Occupy” movement from the silent majority are taken into account.

There has also been a distinct change in attitudes abroad. This can be ascertained from foreign media (from The New York Times to The Diplomat). They have shifted from a previously sympathetic view to a more negative one in regard to “Occupy”.

Within the SAR, the “pan-democrats” cannot assume they are winners, if the impressions they have made on the silent majority are used as a barometer. Nor can the supposed foreign patrons of “Occupy”. This is because the movement they have supported, and financed, does not appear to have made as big a splash as they had hoped.

And what of the local magnates who supported the “Occupy” movement? This includes the few who helped bankroll it, such as Jimmy Lai Chee-ying. Lai is the alleged conduit in funneling foreign money to protesters and some opposition parties. They, too, are among the losers. The recently initiated investigations by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) may also implicate some of the “pan-democrat” politicians supported by Lai. What about the SAR government which bore the brunt of the protester attacks? Or Beijing whose dignity and inviolability were seriously challenged? Well, they proved capable of facing down the concerted challenge of the “pan-democrats”. They did this with self-control, through self-confidence and adherence to principles.

If there is a winner, then it is the newly emergent group of “political neutrals”. They showed concern for the well-being of ordinary people in the face of the interruptions by the “Occupy” protesters. These protests almost brought Hong Kong to a standstill. But the political neutrals showed that they speak for the conscience of Hong Kong’s millions. It remains to be seen how politicians representing this group will do in the 2015 elections for the district councils and the Legislative Council (LegCo) election in 2016.

The external sponsors of the “pan-democrats” may wonder why their campaign has failed. They had planned to use Hong Kong as a base to “infect” China in the fashion mooted by opposition politician Martin Lee. This was planned at a secret meeting at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) in April. The answer lies in both the philosophical-cultural and the practical-empirical planes.

On the philosophical-cultural plane, the concept of “democracy” has different meanings in China and the West (especially in the US). In Chinese tradition, democracy means more “for” the people than “by” the people. American futurologist John Naisbitt even speaks of a Chinese “vertical democracy”, in the sense that there are, first, checks and balances between the central level and the lower levels of government, and, secondly, a mutual respect and commitment between people and government. As author Martin Jacques noted, to the average Chinese the government is not a problem, as it is in the US. I would add that because Chinese culture postulates that human nature is innately good, only warped by post-natal influences (such as scarcity), government has a dual function unknown in the West. This is: (a) to see the people properly educated and insulated from corrupting influences — something like Plato’s philosopher king, who would care about what kind of music people listened to; and (b) to intervene to protect people’s livelihoods (i.e., the economy), to prevent poverty and hardship. All this adds up to the government being “for” the people.

This takes us to the practical-empirical plane, or to see how the country has treated Hong Kong, since its reversion to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. Before the handover, Deng Xiaoping promised in his “One Country, Two Systems” model that post-handover Hong Kong would enjoy a high degree of autonomy. He said it would retain its present capitalist system and be ruled by Hongkongers. Unlike colonial times when all governors were appointed from London, all post-1997 Chief Executives, from Tung Chee-hwa to Leung Chun-ying, are Hong Kong people.

And, as promised by Deng, Hong Kong’s capitalist system and way of life (including night-club dancing, and horse racing) have been preserved un-altered. In addition, during the 1998 Asian financial crisis, when Hong Kong’s financial system was faltering under spirited attacks by foreign hedge funds and currency speculators, the country injected huge sums from its foreign reserves into Hong Kong. It bailed out the city’s financial system and economy. During the 2003 SARS epidemic, when Hong Kong’s tourist trade was suffering greatly because the city was being shunned by foreign tourists, seriously damaging its economy, the central government allowed millions of mainland visitors to come here to spend. Since then, the steady streams of mainland tourists have become an important source of revenue upon which Hong Kong can depend. In other words, Beijing has shown that it has bent over backwards to care “for” the well-being of people in Hong Kong. This lesson has not been lost on the silent majority. It in part accounts for their anti-“Occupy” stance.

Unfortunately, this lesson is lost on the “Occupy” protesters. One additional reason for their failure is they have chosen to support a small group of ambitious politicians adept at manipulating political symbols to rally popular support. The hidden agenda of these politicians is to grab power for themselves, without regard for the interests of the people or the nation. Sad, isn’t it?

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Trip to Jiuzaigou

We travelled to Jiuzaigou, Sichuan last month. The place is certainty beautiful and worth a second visit.

The tour was organised by Nexus Holidays. We started from Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province. It was more than 10 hours by bus. The view from the bus was interesting and scenic. One can see the houses of the Qiang and Tibetan people along the road. The road conditions have improved considerable over the years. However, the public toilets found along the roads are still not up to standard.  Overall, it was not a truly satisfying holiday due to following reasons:

  • the format of the tour where shopping activities were treated just as important as the visit to tourist attractions. I’m not against all shopping activities, but these should be treated as minor activities. Also, they should discontinue selling medical products (that comes together with foot massage)  that seemed to me like borderline fraud case. The expensive jewellery (particularly jade) stores were also tourist rip-off.  The organised tour just did not have flexibility, and  the time one gets from visit to  a main attraction is rather brief and fleeting.  Instead the organiser made sure we have more than enough time shopping.
  • there were just too many people in Jiuzaigou. We had to jostle to stand  at good scenic spots to take photos or enjoy the beauty of nature. This is no way to enjoy the wonders of nature.

Hence, I have made mind that this will be the last time in which we’ll use Nexus.

Following is a video slide of my Jiuzaigou travel:

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