Tuesday, July 21, 2009

US Imperialism, Chinese Imperialism

It is usually the case that ethnic and religious conflict turns out under analysis to be economic and political conflict. The oppression of one group by another almost always has to do primarily with profit and control, and these are the issues that push ordinary people to the point of violence. This is the case with the recent rise of ethnic violence in far-western China. Han Chinese are migrating into Tibet and Xinjaing, with predictable push-back from the native populations. The migration is essentially economic, including many examples of the classic story of the young man seeking economic opportunities far from home. However this migration has been greatly augmented by Chinese government settlement policy. Although China's economy continues to grow, a drop-off in exports has led to sharp rises in unemployment. In order to avoid unrest in Chinese areas, the western regions are being used as a safety-valve to redistribute idled workers. China also wants to firm up control of Xinjiang as it plans to develop oil and gas pipelines from central Asia and exploit other important natural resources in the region.

What warrants some critical attention is 1) the Chinese government's role in settling Han Chinese in these areas as a matter of policy, 2) the Chinese government's refusal to accept responsibility for the consequences of these policies in favor of anti-Western demagoguery, and 3) the problem that ordinary Chinese, at home and abroad, have in overcoming a centuries-old mindset formed by foreign exploitation in order to grow up and accept the responsibilities of a great power.

It is clear that we are living through an epochal time in Chinese history. All Chinese, as well as the Chinese government, must understand that this means that China and the Chinese will be coming under much more criticism in the years to come, both internally and externally. A thicker skin will have to be developed. Americans (like me) are exceedingly familiar with this phenomenon. The most basic fact of life pertinent to this discussion is that the strong person can bear to hear criticism, the weak person cannot. There is no clearer proof of weakness and insecurity (not to mention wrongfulness) than an inability to confront criticism from others.

The specific problem confronting the Chinese government is ethnic violence in Tibet and Xinjiang. These two regions together constitute far-western China. Neither area has historically been inhabited by Han Chinese. They are ethnically, linguistically, religiously and historically non-Chinese areas. I will discuss Tibet, where China's crimes are much graver, in future posts. Chinese conquests, native revolts, and reconquests date back about 250 years in Xinjain ("Uyghuiristan," more accurately). A little bit of historical background helps one gain a sense of the situation, but I will keep it brief.

The first Chinese invasions of East Turkistan, or Uyghuristan, occured in the mid-1700s. Then as now Chinese policy was frankly expansionist, and Chinese settlements were built on conquered Uigher lands in the late 1700s. However China lost control of Uyghuristan through a series of revolts in the early 1800s and for most of the 19th century the country was under Uigher rule. In a scenario common throughout the Far East for centuries (and to this day), the Chinese minority was the focus of native hostility as they tended to be successful merchants and to resist cultural and linguistic assimilation (similar to traditional perceptions of Indians in East Africa and Jews in Central Europe). In 1863 there was a genocidal anti-Chinese rampage that killed over 7,000 Chinese. China reconquered Uyghuristan in 1877 and the new province was given the name "Xinjiang" (meaning "new frontier") for the first time in 1884. However after the fall of the Qing dynasty in the early 20th century Uigher leaders reasserted themselves, effectively triangulating with the Russians who have long contested this region with the Chinese. The East Turkestan Republic was declared in 1933.

In 1943 a Chinese Communist delegation visited the country, but fearing a plot the government ordered all Chinese communists killed; Mao Zedong's brother Mao Zemin was one of the victims. The Red Army defeated the forces of the Eastern Turkestan Republic in 1949. Maoist attempts at cultural genocide of the Uighers in the 1960s (part of "The Great Leap Forward") led to massive Uigher refugee flows into Soviet-controlled areas in 1962. In recent years there have been significant ethnic riots, with large but uncertain numbers of deaths, in 1990 and again in 1997, when police roundups during the Muslim holiday of Ramadan led to a series of riots and bombings. The East Turkestan Independence Movement (ETIM) has existed for many years but suffered a severe setback after 9/11 when the US government accepted and cooperated with the Chinese description of Uigher nationalists as "terrorists." In fact a number of Uighers were held for years at Guantanamo Bay.

The present disturbance originated in Urumqi, the largest city in Uyghuristan, which has been part of the enormous Chinese construction boom of recent years and which subsequently now has an Han Chinese ethnic majority. Apparently stories about ethnic violence among workers in China's Guangdong province led to an outburst of Uigher-on-Han attacks in the city, followed by counter-attacks by gangs of Hans. The government admits to approximately 200 deaths, but has worked hard to cut off internet and other communication access to the area. Journalists have been allowed to interview Han victims in hospitals, but not Uighers. Uigher sources, predictably, claim that China has understated the extent of Uigher casualties.

Another city to watch, though, is Kashgar, the center of Uygher culture. Here cultural genocide on a scale approaching the destruction of the culture of Tibet is occurring while you read these words. The old city, the world's best-preserved example of traditional Central Asian "Silk Road" Muslim culture, as well as the center of contemporary Uygher culture, is being bulldozed away. A small Disneyland-style area will be preserved for tourism. Meanwhile aggressive settlement, far exceeding anything the Israelis have done in Palestine, will insure that the Uygher culture is exterminated forever. Kashgar is closed to outside communication, foreigners found there are driven to the airport and sent away, local people found with foreigners face imprisonment and possibly death.

Finally, there is the issue of Chinese demagoguery in response to criticism of Chinese imperialism in Muslim areas. The Chinese government (I draw a sharp distinction between the Chinese government and the Chinese people) has for years blamed unrest in Uygheristan on local nationalists, using the familiar language of "terrorism." Now, however, the perception that there is a conflict between China and Uygheristan must be downplayed, so there is a return to blaming sinister foreigners (read the US and the "West") for the "problems." Just as in the US, this propaganda is primrily aimed at a domestic audience, as no outside observer would agree that anyone other than the Chinese government itself is responsible for cultural genocide and ethnic settlement in Uygheristan. How ironic that the rationale given for foreign plots is that the area is rich in resources and the likely route of energy pipelines: that is the reason that China is destroying Uygheristan!

The US is guilty of the same hypocrisy in Iraq and the Middle East in general: if you are going to go to violence in order to assure your access to valuable resources, perhaps each power has as much right as another to struggle for survival in this way. But it is better to have the real motives on the surface, in the discussion. In Iraq and Uygheristan, the issue is oil. National governments will continue to practice the diplomatic and rhetorical dark arts, but ordinary people can be expected to rise above their provincial sympathies and try to see things clearly. Too many Americans are not up to this challenge, but the problem is worse among Chinese.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Republican Misrepresentation of Sotomayor's Role in "Ricci vs. DeStefano"

There isn't much chance that Judge Sonia Sotomayor will not be confirmed later this month as the next Supreme Court Justice, the first latino/a (and a Puerto Rican from the Bronx no less) to go on the Court. So I'm just going to focus here on something that is very important about what we're watching this week whether she is confirmed or not, and that is the way the right wing (and to that extent the media) are misrepresenting the actual facts about Judge Sotomayor's ruling on Ricci vs. DeStefano. There has been some reporting that this issue will be the focus of Republican criticism.

Remember as we review the facts of Judge Sotomayor's participation in that case that most Senate Republicans understand that the perception that Republicans are attacking Sotomayor because she is a latina is political poison for the Party. The only big electoral state the Republicans carried in 2008 was Texas: everyone can do the math.

Listen to the Republicans this week. They will be implying (sometimes baldly stating) that Judge Sotomayor endorsed reverse discrimination in the Ricci case. The Ricci case, they will loudly state, is the proof that Judge Sotomayor is a reactionary affirmative action reverse racist. Here are the facts:

1) Both sides in the original situation appealed to the same legislation, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The Civil Service Board of the City of New Haven invalidated the results of the firefighter's promotion exam because the Board was worried that they might be sued under Title VII. Ironically, the firefighters who had passed the exam (17 whites and 1 latino) then sued the City under that very law, Title VII. Two things to notice: a) Both sides appealed to the same law. This was not a dispute about the constitutionality of the law. b) The Civil Rights Act is legislation that was passed by Congress. Any judicial proceeding affirming the right of the City to act under its interpretation of the Act is affirming the constitutionality of a law passed by the legislative branch. Nothing more, nothing less.

2) The 18 firefighters' case was heard in Federal District Court by Judge Janet Bond Arterton, a Clinton appointee. She ruled against the firefighters in a "summary judgement." That is, she ruled that there was not sufficient reason for the Courts to overturn a decision of the City. Again, this is basic everyday "constructionist" jurisprudence, of the kind conservatives support. No policy-making, and upholding the authority of the elected lawmakers.

3) This is the most important detail, I think: the case next went to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. There is was heard by a three-judge panel. The presiding judge, that is the judge that wrote the opinion, was Judge Rosemary Pooler. The third judge was Robert David Sack. Pooler wrote what is called a per curiam decision all of eight sentences long. Such decisions are anonymous and unanimous, and are used by courts where there may be disagreement among the judges but a collective view that it is not worth fighting it out. So Sotomayor played, relatively speaking, a very small role in this case. The Second Circuit simply upheld Judge Arterton's ruling, which simply stated that the City's Board had been acting properly within its understanding of the law. Sotomayor did not write this ruling, and it is an anonymous and unanimous ruling. She sat on a three-judge panel that was presided over by someone else. That's it.

4) The Supreme Court ordered a review of this case certiorari, meaning it exercised its authority to instruct the Circuit Court to send the case up for review. That is, the Supreme Court intervened in the process to cause a case to go up to the Court that otherwise would have come to an end. The Court ruled in favor of the firefighters on June 29th, along the expected 5-4 ideological lines.

Remember the gist of these facts as you listen to the Republicans all week telling us that Ricci vs. DeStefano is proof that Sotomayor is biased and an activist. It is sheer distortion. Get a better sense of Sotomayor here, for example, or here.

(Here and here are two earlier posts tagged Sotomayor.)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Chavez and Honduras

First of all, let me join the chorus and say that Honduras (or rather, the Honduran political and military elite) ought to bow to international opinion and to today's resolution from the Organization of American States and reinstate ousted President Manuel Zelaya. President Zelaya was not acting outside of the constitution when he pushed for a referendum on amending the Honduran constitution to allow him to run for reelection (and to presumably propose other amendments as well).

However I am blogging today to lament the political tone-deafness of the left, who quickly fell into a by-the-numbers, knee-jerk reaction of blaming perfidious Yanqui for the coup, led by the patently demagogic Hugo Chavez, who, by the way, is as responsible for this coup as anyone. President Zelaya won the 2005 Honduran presidential election by 4%, the smallest margin of victory in Honduran electoral history. Difficulties in delivering his (admittedly progressive and supportable) efforts to reform the Honduran economy have led to erosion in his standing in recent polls. It is, in fact, improbable, given the available numbers, that President Zelaya would succeed in being reelected even if he had the constitutional right to run (which, remember, he does not). Nor was the Honduran Supreme Court's decision to overrule his firing of the country's military chief and his insistence on going ahead with the referendum unconstitutional, whatever names one wishes to call the members of the Court.

So where do I go on all of this? Zelaya ought to have appreciated that politics is the art of the possible, that his election had been a good thing, and to continue to work for progressive transformation of Honduran politics and economics. But instead he fell too much under the influence of Hugo Chavez, who probably put the situation over the tipping point when he sent a plane full of ballots and other election materials to Honduras, alarming many people beyond the right-wing elite. Chavez was so intent on cultivating another example of his Castroist formula for moving a country towards one-party rule that he pushed Zelaya to go too far too fast. It was obvious to anyone paying attention that Zelaya did not have the popular or the institutional support for this kind of maneuver.

If you want to keep repeating what you've been chanting since your momma taught you the mantra while you were in your crib, that this is all the fault of perfidious Yanqui, that's an easy thing to do. You know the words to the song. But if you want to be part of building an independent, culturally and politically distinct Latin America you might try listening to some other tunes. I acknowledge Castro's motives and his good heart. But the economic failure of his revolution is at least as much the fault of his centralist policies as the bloqueo, which meanwhile serves the Cuban Communist Party's political interests immeasurably: there would be no Cuban Communist Party today if not for the bloqueo. Chavez, meanwhile, is a demagogue, a racist, and a war-monger. So let me ask you, my lefty reader (the only kind I have): are you helping to advance progressive evolution in Latin America? Or are you just pleasuring yourself?