Feeds:
Posts
Comments

DEBATE SUMMARY

Proposition: “It was a mistake to award the Olympics to Beijing.”

Final vote count: Pro 33%  /  Con 67%

The Moderator’s winning announcement: The final result comes as no surprise to anyone who has followed the debate and the weight of opinion from participants from China in particular. The “Cons” have it by 67% to 33%.

SPEAKER STATEMENTS FOR OPENING PERIOD
May 27th to May 29th 2008

The Proposition’s Opening Statement

It was a mistake to award this summer’s Olympics to Beijing.First, the city is not technically ready to host the event. Second, the Games are making the political system more repressive.

China is worse off for staging the extravaganza.

First and foremost, the Games are a sporting contest, and so the most important consideration is whether all the athletic competitions can be held. Yet no one can be sure the air in Beijing will be clean enough. The amount of smoke and dust in the city’s atmosphere on some days is 12 times the level considered safe by the World Health Organisation. Breathing in Beijing, says a respiratory expert, David Martin, is “like feeding an athlete poison”.

To protect competitors from bad air, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) president, Jacques Rogge, last October said endurance events may be postponed. Yet in light of rigid scheduling for the Games and the unpredictability of pollution patterns, postponement is tantamount to cancellation.

Yet even if every match, race and competition is in fact held as scheduled, Beijing is still an unacceptable location. Last month, Mr Rogge acknowledged pollution may adversely affect performances of “some” athletes, an implicit admission that the air will affect the outcome of Olympic competitions. Actually, that is already happening. In March, for instance, Haile Gebrselassie, the world’s record-holder in the marathon and the gold-medal favourite in Beijing for this event, announced that he will almost certainly not compete in that race and opt for a shorter distance to prevent long-term injury to his lungs. In short, the IOC should not have chosen a city where athletes’ tolerance for particulates is a major factor in determining medals.

Why is Mr Gebrselassie and others so concerned? In one preliminary biking competition in Beijing recently all but eight of 47 cyclists dropped out midway due to the air. Colby Pearce, an Olympic hopeful in track cycling, developed bronchitis from competing there in 2007. “When you are coughing up black mucus, you have to stop for a second and say: ‘OK, I get it,'” he said. “This is a really, really bad problem we’re looking at.”

Since then, Beijing, which promises a “Green Olympics”, has been producing statistics showing that its air quality has been constantly improving. Yet in January and February of this year various reports revealed that officials, in order to obtain better readings, had moved their monitoring stations farther from the city’s centre and had also changed their measuring methodology. Gilbert Van Kerckhove, a consultant to the Beijing Olympic Organising Committee, admitted pollution is worse than official statistics show, a charge also heard from Chinese analysts. Beijing’s air, unfortunately, has been continually deteriorating, largely because 1,100 cars are added to the capital’s roads every day.

With such growth, it is unlikely that the air in Beijing will be clean enough for the Games. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) issued a report last October stating that Beijing’s persistent smog will not be cleaned up in time for the Olympics. “Improvements in air quality cannot be achieved in a short period of time,” said a UNEP official, Eric Falt. Chinese officials, however, will try to lower pollution by temporarily shutting down industry and prohibiting automobile usage.

These coercive tactics will not work, and they bring us to the second reason why it was a mistake to award the Games to Beijing. Unfortunately, the Chinese government has become increasingly repressive during the past half decade, and it appears that this trend is partly related to the Communist Party’s obsession with staging a perfect Olympics.

There is, of course, no question that Chinese society has become freer since July 2001, when the IOC awarded the Games to Beijing. Yet this positive change would have occurred even if China had lost its bid to host the Olympics. This change is, after all, almost entirely due to the country’s reform of its domestic economy and the economy’s integration into international commerce.

Yet as society in general has progressed, the political system has gone in the opposite direction. Today, for instance, there is even less official tolerance for political speech in China then there was at the end of the 1980s. Why? One of the most important reasons is that the Communist Party has ruled out political liberalisation in the sensitive period before the Games. To avoid any embarrassment during the Olympics, the Communist Party has implemented a series of increasingly tougher crackdowns affecting everyone from newspaper editors to the writers of karaoke songs.

In order to put on the Olympics, the Party has resorted to old-time dictatorial tactics. It is, in addition to shutting down factories, relocating about 1.48 million people, many of them forcibly, to make way for Olympic venues and Olympics-related infrastructure; dividing the city into five districts and, without getting the permission of owners, painting each one a uniform colour; and decreeing dress codes for female cab-drivers (for example no big earrings). They have been systematically jailing citizens who question the hosting of the Games, severely restricting visas to foreigners, and withdrawing permission for academic conferences and other long-planned events to ensure complete control over society. In short, Chinese officials are employing mass mobilisation campaigns and reimposing strict social controls. As The Washington Post editorialised, the Olympics are becoming “a showcase for violent repression”.

The Olympics, many hoped, would further open up China and make the government more humane. Unfortunately, they are having the opposite effect. In short, the Communist Party is failing to meet its Olympic promises, especially when they would undermine its perceived core interests. It is true that the party has issued many fine pronouncements in the run-up to the Games, but it is largely refusing to carry through on them. We should not be surprised, because China’s one-party state has seen the event as a means to strengthen its rule over a dynamic people.

So, the Beijing Olympics are not good for the world’s athletes, and they are even worse for the Chinese people.

The Opposition’s Opening Statement

The Olympic Games mean different things to different people. To the athletes they represent the culmination of years of ambition and hard work.

To keen followers of sport, they are an opportunity to see competition at its highest level. The Games are a fascinating application of lofty human ideals to some, a curious series of obscure athletic events to others. They elicit joy, agony and even their fair share of yawns and shrugs.

But to the people and government of the host country, the Olympics are a grand political celebration, a unique opportunity to showcase that country’s majesty, might and means. Small wonder hosting an Olympic Games is so frequently buoyed by a wave of nationalism that begins with the bidding process and crests as the Games are held.

This is certainly true in China. Chinese citizens-some 1.3 billion of them-have been looking forward to the Beijing Olympic Games with a nationalistic fervour bordering on frenzy. These Games are, for many Chinese, symbolic of China’s return to global prominence. The Middle Kingdom, consigned to history’s scrapheap by the West so many years ago, is back and bellowing as one of the key global players in the 21st century. Small wonder modern Chinese citizens have been in the mood to stomp their feet and pound their chests and celebrate with the loudest and most spectacular party (communist, of course) possible.

And why not? True, feeding nationalist impulses is not always the best of ideas. But because theirs is an autocratic government should Chinese be denied an opportunity to demonstrate their national pride? China has come a long, long way economically, culturally and socially in the last 30 years since it began its policy of opening up to the outside world. The average Chinese citizen has a much better, hopeful and, yes, freer life in 2008 than he or she did in 1978. Is it wrong for them to want to celebrate these gains?

It is dangerous, certainly, to laud China’s progress when China’s autocratic regime has not yet even delivered a half-full glass to its populace. But it is hard to argue that in 30 years the water-level in that glass has not risen and is not yet rising still.

In the past several months the world has witnessed with anguish the protest scenes in Tibet, brutally suppressed, and the tragedy and heroism of the Sichuan earthquake. The two contrasting events not only have cast a pall on China’s national Olympic celebration, they demonstrate the maddening paradox of modern China.

To an international audience, China’s ethnic Tibetan population, all 6 million of them, and their charismatic exiled leader, the Dalai Lama, are an inherently sympathetic bunch. Among ethnic Chinese, however, Tibetans are almost universally perceived as riotous ingrates; the Dalai Lama as a treacherous and wily foe. The uprising in Lhasa this March inspired the worst in Chinese political response: brutality and censorship by the Chinese government, brooding and self-victimisation by the Chinese people. In China, criticism of Beijing’s actions in Tibet is non-existent. Foreign criticism inspires lectures by Chinese officials; outright threats from the Chinese mob.

Reactions to the earthquake in Sichuan, on the other hand, seem to show modern China at its best: breaking through bureaucratic tangles to rush aid and material to affected communities, inspiring unheard-of volunteerism and charity by the Chinese people. Throughout it all, media coverage of the quake has been nearly unchecked, including coverage by the Chinese press criticising failures of the government’s efforts to either prevent or manage the destruction and death that has ensued. The contrast with the Burmese junta’s management of the cyclone Nargis disaster is stark, yes. But so too is the contrast with the Chinese government’s own management of a similar tragic quake 32 years ago, an inept effort seemingly focused more on disinformation than on disaster relief. Yes, China has come a long way.

With the smoke still clearing over Lhasa one doubts, if the International Olympic Committee were asked to vote again this spring, that it would find in favour of Beijing’s Olympic bid even with the sobering scenes from Sichuan to temper the international mood. But would denying Beijing’s Olympic bid in the first place have prevented the recent suppression in Tibet? Would frustrating the national desire of 1.3 billion Chinese for an Olympic celebration have yielded greater freedoms for them (or other ethnicities in China)? Would declining to award the Olympic Games based on a finding that Beijing’s human rights record is wanting (which it is, of course) produce a Beijing with a better attitude towards human rights? Well, no, because we have already seen that it would not.

In 1993 Beijing, a scant four years removed from the 1989 catastrophe in Tiananmen Square, applied for and lost a bid for the 2000 Olympics that went to Sydney. The widely cited reason for turning down the bid, launched with similar nationalist zeal, was Beijing’s poor human rights record. Although Beijing promised to improve its human rights record in the years following, signing the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights among other matters, few credible observers can point to tangible improvement in the lives of Chinese dissidents or average citizens as a result of the failed 2000 Olympic bid.

So, is a political litmus test the sine qua non of a successful bid? I fear if Olympic Games were only awarded to governments without sin, no votes could ever be cast for a successful bidder.

Unfortunately, we live in a world of democrats, autocrats and every shade between. Not all populations are lucky enough to choose who leads them. The 2008 Olympic Games are an event that will showcase China’s prideful re-emergence. But China’s political progress is a process, not an event. No one in China or elsewhere should believe 2008 marks the end of that process. But allowing Chinese citizens a milestone along the way may not be the end of the world.

The Moderator’s Opening Statement

Welcome to the latest in our series of online debates. The proposition before us is nothing if not topical: China and the imminent Olympic Games in Beijing are constantly in the news.

They stir controversy and strong views. Our debate will, of course, be vigorous but remain strictly good-natured.

Our two protagonists set the tone in their opening statements. Gordon Chang, the author of “The Coming Collapse of China”, makes two main arguments in favour of the idea that it was a mistake to award the Olympics to Beijing. From a sports perspective, he argues, the city’s pollution makes it unfit to host the games. And politically, far from easing up as the games approach, as many hoped would happen, China’s leaders have on the contrary cracked down.

Charles Freeman, a China expert at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC, argues that the bar for awarding the Olympics should not be set unrealistically high. Yes, the games stir national pride. But what is wrong with that? With or without the games China might behave badly (as in Tibet) or admirably (as in the response to the Sichuan earthquake). The country’s political development will be a long process, and it would not have been speeded up by denying the Olympics to Beijing.

One clear consequence of awarding the games to Beijing is a period of intense scrutiny of China. Already, well before the opening ceremony, the world is watching. Soon, visitors and journalists will flood in.

What will the impact be? Did the Olympics in any way restrain China’s crackdown in Tibet or encourage openness in response to the Sichuan quake? The answers are not simple, as I suspect the debate will show.

There will also, if past debates are a guide, be some argument about the wording of the proposition itself. If it was a mistake to award the games to Beijing, then for whom or what? For athletes, for the Olympic movement, for China’s behaviour abroad or its politics at home? All these perspectives seem perfectly valid, yet they might throw up different answers. It will be interesting to see which aspect gives rise to most discussion.

And so, to paraphrase the Olympics’ opening words: let the debate begin.

SPEAKER STATEMENTS FOR REBUTTAL PERIOD
May 30th to June 4th 2008

The Proposition’s Rebuttal Statement

Charles Freeman argues that no government is without sin and that there should be no political litmus test for hosting the Games.

He ends up by suggesting that allowing the Chinese people a milestone to mark their progress may not cause the end of the world. Even if one accepts these arguments, they do not support the notion that awarding the Games to Beijing was the correct decision in July 2001.

As an initial matter, the Olympics are not about “the hurt feelings of 1.3 billion people”, as Mr Freeman puts it. They are a sporting event, and he does not address the threshold issue of whether a city is able, from a technical viewpoint, to host the Games. Beijing, unfortunately, is not now able to do so. Its polluted air is bound to harm competitors and is already affecting the outcome of events in ways that are unfair. The other cities in the running in 2001-including finalists Toronto, Paris and Istanbul-were better able to stage the Games.

No more need be said to prove that it was a mistake to award the Games to Beijing but, for the sake of argument, let us look at the political issues that Mr Freeman highlights. In the strictest sense, he is correct when he writes that there is no political litmus test for host cities. Yet some governments offend common sensibilities to such an extent as to make them unsuitable hosts. Mr Freeman admits this when he writes, “With the smoke still clearing over Lhasa one doubts, if the International Olympic Committee were asked to vote again this spring, that it would find in favour of Beijing’s Olympic bid even with the sobering scenes from Sichuan to temper the international mood.”

Why was the award to Beijing a mistake, as Mr Freeman himself suggests? There are many reasons, but perhaps the most important of them is that the Communist Party has disappointed the hopes of many around the world-especially the Chinese people themselves-that the Olympics would moderate its actions. Unfortunately, since 2001 the Chinese political system has become more repressive in important ways. Worse, there is evidence that the award of the Games is in part responsible for causing this regressive trend. Mr Freeman essentially acknowledges the Olympic award has not prevented the crackdown in Tibet or improved human rights in China. As an aside, he credits Beijing with its handling of the Sichuan quake but fails to note that the government has, regrettably but predictably, reimposed strict media controls and reverted to its tactics of jailing critics of its actions.

As a result of Beijing’s unsavoury behaviour, protests followed the Olympic torch as soon as it was lit in Greece in late March, and they have followed the torch relay throughout most of its six-continent tour, even inside China itself. The International Olympic Committee president, Jacques Rogge, admitted in April that demonstrations against the torch posed “a crisis” for the Olympic movement.

Yet he should not have been surprised by the controversy and the protests. There have been many different grievances aired during the torch relay, but the outpouring of sentiment across nations and continents occurred because, at a fundamental level, people round the world believe the Chinese Communist Party stands against their shared aspirations and hopes. Consequently, the association of the Olympics with China has tarnished the Games. And the unacceptable conduct of the Chinese government since July 2001 was predictable then. The tragedies that have befallen the country-both before and since that time-are largely the result of its intransigent one-party state. Big or small, China’s problems are ultimately traceable back to the faults inherent in its political system.

If the Games could not have had a beneficial impact on the behaviour of the one-party state, then what was the point of permitting Chinese leaders to host them? Like it or not, the right to stage the Olympics is seen as conferring legitimization on the host. It was simply wrong in 2001 to bestow such an honour on a government that was so unrepentantly authoritarian. Mr Freeman notes that every government sins. Yet this is not an argument for giving the Games to one of the worst sinners.

Mr Freeman is certainly correct when he argues that holding the Games in China will not cause the world to end and that China’s government is more responsible than Burma’s. But these truisms set the bar at an extremely low level. Are these really the standards that the International Olympic Committee should apply for awarding the right to host the world’s most important communal event?

The Opposition’s Rebuttal Statement

The Olympic Games are not a carrot given by one government to another to reward good behaviour.

They are rewarded by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), following guidelines set down in the Olympic charter. Although clearly the court of international public opinion plays a role in influencing the IOC’s decision in choosing a host city, there is little in the charter that could be mistaken for a licence to practise cultural or political paternalism.

Ultimately, if awarding the Games to Beijing was in error, it can only be because the IOC failed to fulfil its mission, and not that Western public opinion has turned sour on the decision. The mission of the IOC, as set forth in the Olympic charter, is as much about the importance of fairness and the universal values of sport. The transformative role of the Games on society gets less play, although environmentalism gets a specific nod, as does promoting “a positive legacy from the Olympic Games to the host cities and host countries.” On that score, it is hard to find the IOC at fault in choosing Beijing.

True, the pollution in Beijing is extreme. But environmental challenges during the Olympics have been near the norm for much of the past 50 years. The 1956 Tokyo Olympics took place just as that city was beginning to recognise the extent of its industrial effluent challenges. Mexico City’s toxic air in 1968 and Los Angeles’ smog in 1984 are the stuff of legend. Seoul seized on the 1988 Games to begin to tackle its pollution problems. Athens was no Sydney.

Haile Gebrselassie’s decision not to run the marathon in Beijing is dramatic, but there are other things at work here. A member of one country’s Olympic medical teams has said privately that his athletes are treating Beijing’s pollution as an opportunity to gain a competitive edge. “These are competitors,” he said. “They’re looking at every angle. They’re trying to figure out how to use the pollution to beat the competition.” There are certainly Olympic teams that do not have the resources to effectively train for Beijing’s conditions. Unfortunately, a lack of training resources is not unique to pollution acclimatization.

Beijing’s air quality is maddening because it can change every day. Local auto emissions are a new problem, but Beijing has done much to control local pollution in the decade since it started thinking about the Olympics. Steel mills have been shuttered, coal-fired stoves banned. But Beijing’s pollution is not just a local affair.

Beijing sits in the basin of an inverted “U” of surrounding mountains. The prevailing winds can drive the pollution of three (and sometimes more) heavily industrialised provinces to Beijing’s south straight into the inverted “U”, trapping the smog in the city.

This is not a simple case of nonfeasance. Its environmental ambitions for the Games are real, but success at improving the city’s air quality has eluded Beijing. Ambition, perhaps, should be made of sterner stuff. In order to ensure truly blue skies in Beijing, the Chinese government would need to shut down economic activity in an area nearly the size of western Europe. Such a short-term solution might cheer some athletes and tourists in August, but it will not solve China’s environmental woes. Meanwhile, a long-term solution is becoming a political imperative for Beijing.

Environmental crises have been a prime mover behind countless local protests that have alarmed the stability-obsessed central government in recent years. The leadership in Beijing has in response enacted tough new environmental restrictions, made environmental protection a key criterion for promotion of local officials and, yes, used the symbolism of the Olympics to galvanise change. While some progress has resulted, it is modest at best. That says more about the limitations on Beijing’s authoritarianism than it does about its commitment to improve environmental quality in China, whether or not in the Olympic context.

China’s economic miracle is due to Beijing’s removal of itself from the daily lives of its citizens and cession of much authority to localities. Now that Beijing wants to reassert control to address the challenges resulting from runaway growth (including environmental degradation), it is finding the going tough. Heaven is high, the mountains are far away, goes the old saying. What does the emperor have to do with me? Beijing has issued an ultimatum to clean up the environment. Far away from Beijing, local communities and the industries that support them have not blinked.

The Olympics can only help to change that dynamic. The focus and the attention that the environment is receiving in the Olympic context are driving environmental awareness in communities throughout China. In the long term, having the Olympics in Beijing is more likely than not to be a force for political change in ways that benefit all of us.

As for the increasing activism of China’s security forces and other signs of repression in the lead-up to the Games, Beijing’s paranoia about disruptions at the Games is comment-worthy. But signs of intolerance are matched by those of tolerance: China’s cadre of foreign reporters has had an unprecedented run of access to Chinese society in the last year (with a notable hiccup in March). Some of the intolerance is remarkable because it is visible to the outside world-quite a change from times past.

Beijing is furiously self-conscious of its image as it heads into the Games, and is not above harshly demanding cosmetic changes in the city and dress requirements for its service workers. The city and its rulers are motivated by a vision of a clean, orderly and regimented Beijing that is removed from the city’s gritty reality. But such a vision of uniformed cabbies and colour-coded districts could as easily have been imagined by Walt Disney as by George Orwell.

It is a remarkable statement, bordering on oxymoron, that Chinese society is becoming freer while its government is becoming more repressive. Even if it were true, the IOC can clearly fill its mission, however limited or imperfect by some standards, by holding the Games in Beijing.

The Moderator’s Rebuttal Statement

The debate is producing strong views, as might be expected. A few participants have expressed themselves a little too strongly, so a gentle reminder of our debating rules is in order.

We invite those on the floor to participate by addressing points only to the moderator, and we ask everyone to “observe the spirit of the Oxford debate”. So please keep comments respectful and to the point.

That said, we are seeing a vigorous discussion on both sides. Two main issues are coming to the fore.

First, there is the matter of the basis upon which the decision to grant the games to a particular city is made. Charles Freeman notes in his rebuttal that it is the International Olympic Committee (IOC) which decides. There is, he says, little in the IOC’s charter that “could be mistaken for a licence to practise cultural or political paternalism”.

From the floor there has been a lively discussion on what drives the decision: is it the interest of sports, or money, or politics-and is it right to apply “Western” or “imperialist” values to a host city’s credentials? I rather like the suggestion of cgdoherty (who calls us “twits” for raising the topic) for finessing the whole issue: “We should pick Olympic sites out of a hat and then just all go there and make it happen.”

The second, and deeper, debate is around the influence that the games are having and will leave on China. Here views are decidedly mixed. Gordon Chang stresses in his rebuttal that hopes that the Olympics would exert a moderating influence on the Chinese Communist Party have been disappointed. Worse, he reckons the games themselves have played a part in strengthening repression. From the floor, this view has some support: nom de plume, for one, claims that the games have led China to crack down even harder, “notably against domestic journalists who have dared to speak out against the oppressive regime”.

But others disagree. For example, jenming argues that China’s transparency has “greatly increased at least partly due to the coming ‘foreign eyes'”. On this view, China’s behaviour does not have to be perfect for the Olympics to have a benign impact; what matters is that the country moves towards greater openness.

What do you think? Clearly, to judge from the comments so far, this is a matter of great interest within China, but also to its neighbours and around the world. It is perhaps the most global of our debates so far. Please do join it.

SPEAKER STATEMENTS FOR CLOSING PERIOD
June 5th to June 6th 2008

The Proposition’s Closing Statement

The Olympics are the world’s premier sporting contest. It would be a mistake to award them to any city if the world’s finest athletes cannot compete or if they have to assume undue risks in order to take part.

By now, we know that there is a substantial risk that the air in Beijing will be unacceptable for endurance competitions. It has already caused one world-record holder to drop out of his event, and more competitors may do so.

Charles Freeman, to his credit, admits the pollution in the Chinese capital is “extreme”. Yet he never gets around to showing why adverse environmental considerations do not disqualify Beijing. He says, in the city’s defence, that other Olympics have been plagued by bad air. That is true as a general statement, but no previous host has come close to presenting athletes with conditions that are as noxious as Beijing’s. There is one overriding reality: the Chinese capital is not ready to stage the games.

Mr Freeman, in his rebuttal, says that athletes are trying to use the pollution to gain an advantage. As a result, winners in the endurance contests will effectively be picked on the strategy they adopt to acclimatise to the air. Because the Olympics have never been held in such severe conditions, no one really knows what will work best. In fact, there is a disagreement over tactics: some teams are going to China early and others are staying away until the last moment. So should we hold the games in a city where the outcome of athletic events will depend on which country’s doctors happen to pick the best “angle”?

Mr Freeman, in response, explains that the air quality in Beijing is changeable, that the city is ringed by mountains that trap smog from at least three neighbouring provinces, that the use of coal is an old problem, that vehicle emissions are a new one, that the government has closed down industry in the vicinity of the competitions, that Chinese authorities are trying to do something about air quality, and that the Olympics are stirring protests and environmental activism in China. All these points are true-and all of them are completely irrelevant. After reading Mr Freeman’s arguments, we have a better understanding of the challenges the leaders of the Chinese central government and the organisers of the games face, but this does not relieve them of their responsibility to stage the Olympics in acceptable conditions. In fact, Mr Freeman in his rebuttal admits that “success at improving the city’s air quality has eluded Beijing”. I could rest my case here.

Yet let me add this: the primary purpose of the Olympics is not to clean China’s environment, to promote understanding of Chinese geography or to create sympathy for the leaders of an autocratic state. It is to hold athletic competitions. Mr Freeman explains the reasons for grey, thick and foul air, but he does not show why Olympic athletes should be forced to breathe it.

Unfortunately, the air quality in Beijing is not getting any better. At the end of last month, the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau sounded a warning that the air was “hazardous” at level five, the worst category. With just about two months to go, the games are in jeopardy. This reason, by itself, is proof that the award of the Olympics to China was a mistake.

Because he cannot address the only argument that counts, Mr Freeman wants us to look at other factors instead. In short, these additional considerations also show that the award to Beijing was in error. It is true that the International Olympic Committee does not always award the games to democracies. China is not disqualified as a host because its government has, almost from the time of the award to Beijing in 2001, imposed a crackdown on human rights or because the Communist Party is using this sporting extravaganza to justify its increasingly repressive rule. The welfare of the Chinese people is technically not a concern of officials who award Olympic events.

Even so, it is wrong for Mr Freeman then to suggest that Beijing should be the host because the games have or will promote “a positive legacy” for that city or China. So far, events show the opposite, as has been detailed in this debate. From what has in fact occurred, the legacy of the Chinese Olympics, at least for the foreseeable future, will be a negative one for the people of the great nation of China. And it is both dismissive and wrong to liken Chinese repression to a Walt Disney fantasy, as Mr Freeman does.

From no perspective was Beijing the right decision. As Mr Freeman suggests in his opening statement, the IOC would not pick the Chinese capital if it were to vote now. Why? Because the award of the games to China was a mistake to begin with.

The Opposition’s Closing Statement

Despite the emotional charge that the question now debated clearly carries, the issue we address is ultimately very narrow.The IOC’s mission is to use the spirit of athletic competition to bring people together in peace.

Did it fulfil that mission in July 2001, in awarding the games to Beijing?

Yes, it did. And then some.

Despite the rhetoric of some observers, an IOC vote to award an Olympic host city or country is not a referendum on that country’s government. The Olympic movement focuses solely on the power of sport to bring people together across boundaries and political ideologies. Given that focus, the host city that would best bring people together across cultural or political divides should be awarded the Olympic games. A Paris, Toronto or even Istanbul games would be pleasant, uncontroversial and no doubt successful events. But as far as providing an opportunity to bridge a wide cultural divide, these cities cannot begin to compete with Beijing.

China has been opening for 30 years. Welcoming China into the outside world and building bridges with its people has been the policy of most countries for the past three decades. And that policy has achieved remarkable successes. Today, modern Chinese live in a vastly more open and globalised society than they could have imagined in the 1970s. That openness, that freedom, for today’s Chinese, has come precisely through activities and events like the Olympic games.

Think about it. One-quarter of the world’s population is better off because of opportunities like the Olympic games. Engagement works. But as is obvious from this debate, more engagement is needed still.

So hold the games in Beijing in spite of, because of or irrespective of China’s government. They will be a boon for the Chinese people, just as other experiences have been on China’s journey towards greater openness. Bringing Chinese closer still to the outside world serves the interests of peace, and thus everyone else.

That the games are also proving useful for Beijing to manage its intractable national environmental problem should also cheer the most sceptical IOC member. Without the games, it is uncertain that Beijing would have the opportunity to galvanise public opinion throughout China to clean up its environmental act. We are all on the same planet here, athlete and non-athlete alike. The impact of that focus on improving the environment is ultimately much more important to China’s population, and frankly the world’s 6 billion people, than to the handful of athletes who will be seriously challenged by the air quality during their respective events.

That there are strong views about China on either side of this debate should not surprise anyone; indeed it is proof of the breadth of the divide, and further evidence of the IOC’s wisdom in wanting to bridge that divide. Foreigners who observe China can sometimes act like the proverbial blind men who attempt to describe an elephant. One feels its trunk and describes a snake, one feels its tusk and describes a spear and so on. But just as an elephant is not just tusk, trunk or tail, China is similarly too complex to describe in one-dimensional terms. Some with strong pro views in this debate have painted pictures of China with too broad a brushstroke. China is too multifaceted to be captured by reference only to Tibet policy, or the thuggish behaviour of the Public Security Bureau, or the current environmental crisis. This is caricature, not commentary.

But the blind nationalism represented by some on the con side of the debate does a disservice to the complexity of modern China as well. The social, cultural and moral changes in China in the last 30 years are profound, but perhaps most profound is the emergence of a genuine debate within China about China’s future. This debate, taking place within government, academia and among the general public, is increasingly open and transparent, and it hints at liberal, corrective social and political changes in China yet to come. Patriotism is a good thing. But a country that recognises its imperfections and seeks to improve them is a country of which one truly can be proud.

The Olympic games in Beijing will be a spectacular, lavish affair. Chinese athletes will win their share of medals, and the Chinese people will rightly cheer their champions and celebrate their own successes. Visitors from other countries will learn much from their experiences in China, as will their athletes. The eyes of the world will be turned to China for a brief but solid look in mid-August 2008. They will see much to inspire them, much that gives them pause and even some things that alarm them. One hopes that, even if only for a moment, they will remove their blinders long enough to see China as the whole complex entity that it is. One hopes also that the perspective of the games will be useful for China and its government to further spur openness and progress.

Under any circumstances, the games will bring Chinese and foreigners together across a divide that clearly still needs bridging. The games will be another step for China towards greater connection with the outside world, and vice versa. The IOC can be proud.

Thanks to Economist.com for the opportunity to participate in this debate. I would also like to thank Mr Gordon Chang for his courteousness and insightful views on the subject, and to our other special participants. Much appreciation as well to those who took the time to comment: your views are enriching. Finally, our moderator has been sensational. Hats off!

The Moderator’s Closing Statement

This debate has struggled-in the end successfully, I think-to overcome a number of barriers. It has certainly triumphed over geography: this has been a truly global discussion.

At times it has been an effort to maintain the basic civility that is the prerequisite for a constructive debate (my thanks to those of you who helped to keep things on track). It has also powered on despite objections from some people that this was not an appropriate choice of subject.

Perhaps I should have made it clear from the outset, to those unaccustomed to this type of debate, that the proposition does not imply that The Economist itself is “pro” or “con”. The choice of this subject simply shows that we think it is an interesting topic for the airing of arguments. The intense participation from the floor is the proof.

Four years ago we might have held a vigorous debate on whether or not it was a mistake to award the Olympic games to Athens (at the time there was much speculation over whether the city would be ready in time, and could afford such a big event, though as it turned out the actual games went very well). In four years’ time, who knows, we might have a similar debate on whether awarding the games to London was a mistake: in advance of the decision, The Economist argued in favour of Paris’s rival bid.

But this is Beijing’s year, and this has been a chance to hear views on the impact of the games on China and the world. In his closing statement Gordon Chang again stresses the environmental problems that, he argues, make Beijing unfit to hold the games, as well as the negative impact he believes the Olympics are having on the country. Charles Freeman, in contrast, insists that the games are a boon to China’s openness and suggests that the strong views expressed in this debate are themselves proof of the depth of the divide to be bridged and thus the wisdom of the decision to award the games to Beijing.

Certainly the debate has served to underscore the range and complexity of the issues surrounding the Olympics, which today (just as in ancient Greece) are far more than just a sporting event. So far the voting is running about two-to-one against the proposition. Let us see whether that remains so through the closing stages, which I once again remind all participants should remain courteous and to the point.

FEATURED GUESTS’ COMMENTS

Alfred Senn

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) did not “make a mistake in awarding the Games to Beijing”.

Authoritarian regimes have usually done well in playing the game of Olympic politics. Members of the IOC criticised the opening ceremonies in Los Angeles, and they certainly objected to the open commercial competition in Atlanta. They welcome hosts who will show them respect, spend money freely and maintain the proper order.

The Games officially go to a city, but everyone knows that they in fact go to a country. China, like Japan in 1964 and South Korea in 1988, wanted to assert its place in the world. Beijing and China fit the IOC’s mould perfectly, especially when we remember that China lost its first bid by a narrow and controversial margin. When the Chinese bid a second time, the IOC had to show them a little favour.

Arguments both pro and con may endow the Games with a quasi-religious character, speaking of sacred traditions. The Games’ founder, Pierre de Coubertin, envisioned a religion of the athlete, a faith seeking perfection of the body. Juan Antonio Samaranch backed away from his assertion that the Games were “more important” than the Catholic Church and then declared that the Games were “more universal than any religion”. The Games were sacred in ancient Greece, but modern allusions to the myths of ancient Greece have no real substance. Remember: in the ancient games men competed naked and women were not allowed to watch. There were, moreover, no team sports and of course no television.

The Games do have a distinctive mystique, but at this point they are in fact reality television. Money is the name of the game-television money, corporate money-and also ratings. The demonstrations against the torch relay have probably intensified interest in the Games. If the Games go ahead as scheduled-in 1906 Rome surrendered the 1908 Games after Mt Vesuvius erupted-the television ratings will surely be high. The IOC will be pleased; NBC will be pleased.

With that we come to the cameras. Beijing may well have erred in its structuring of the so-called torch relay. The Olympic flame travelled directly from Greece to Beijing. The subsequent torch relay, replete with People’s Guard, constituted advertising, setting specific times and places for live television coverage. “Oh, my heart, what more could you desire!” Demonstrators calling attention to Darfur and Tibet obviously had to welcome the opportunity to appear in front of cameras. They could not have bought that kind of television exposure.

In the past, we have seen many arguments that the IOC made mistakes. In the 1980s alone commentators successively called Moscow, Los Angeles and Seoul mistakes. However, the IOC owns the Games, and it makes its own judgments on the results. The IOC will probably conclude that the Beijing Games provided spectacular television viewing, and it will consider the Games a success. On the other hand, with the help of complaining journalists, we will have learned a great deal about China.

Dr. Yang Jianli

China is the world’s most populous country, the fourth largest economy, and the second largest consumer of energy and natural resources. In our highly integrated and interdependent global community, engagement with China is an imperative for the 21st Century.

As far back as the 1970’s, the U.S. Administration of Richard Nixon realized this imperative when it made its historic outreach to Beijing. Some thirty years later, His Holiness, The Dalai Lama of Tibet, whose people are among the most persecuted by the Chinese government, echoed this same imperative in a letter to me dated May 8, 2008:“China today is an emerging world power. The international community has acted wisely by making efforts to bring her into the mainstream of the world economy.”

Based on this imperative, one can-and I submit should-state that the awarding of the 2008 Olympics to China is consistent with the necessary goal of integrating China into the global community.

The recognition and status that the world bestows on an Olympic host opens the door for dialogue, where the denial of such a status does not. Furthermore, the status of Olympic host comes with responsibilities for meeting standards of behavior regarding human, civil, and political rights, some of which are clearly stated in the Olympic charter, others which are implied as fundamental to a member of the world community. Failure to meet these responsibilities gives the world community the opportunity, and even the obligation, to engage the Chinese government in a constructive dialogue regarding their failures.

Therefore, the issue before the world community must evolve from whether it was a mistake to award the Olympics to China-which today is a static and moot discussion-to developing strategies during the pre-Olympic focus on China to affect change through constructive dialogue and negotiations. Now is the perfect time to send the Chinese government a message regarding its poor human rights record.

We must clearly communicate specific minimal standards, which if not met will result in specific actions regarding the levels to which the world communities will participate in the Olympic activities. Several nations have already taken steps in this direction by announcing that they would not attend the opening ceremonies. And even an individual-director Steven Spielberg-made a protest statement against China’s Darfur culpability when he publicly withdrew from his position as Creative Director of the Olympics.

I submit that such conditional actions are the most constructive way to influence China’s improvement of its human rights record. I further submit that the world community should unite around a specific set of conditions, which if not met, would result in reduced levels of participation determined by the individual governments.

The four conditions that I propose are:

  1. The Chinese Government must grant full and unrestricted access of the press during the Olympic Games.
  2. The Chinese Government must remove the firewall that blocks the flow of information across the Internet.
  3. The Chinese Government must declare the right of return to all Chinese dissidents who are now blacklisted from returning to China because of their participation in the Tiananmen Square demonstrations.
  4. The Chinese Government must free all political prisoners, specifically those still in prison since, and as a result of, the 1989 demonstrations at Tiananmen Square.

These four conditions are specific, reasonable, achievable, and consistent with international standards and the spirit of the Olympics. China’s execution of these conditions would be a demonstrable movement towards improving its human rights situation.

It is important to realize that the world community presently holds the upper hand with respect to China’s integration with the world community. China both desires and requires international recognition and acceptance to continue its rapid economic expansion. Without this economic growth, the Chinese government will lose legitimacy and standing with its own citizens. The Chinese government’s relentless drive for economic growth demands that China continue to engage, and continue to do business with the world, even in the face of constant pressure on the human rights issue. We must not lose this small window of opportunity to engage and promote change.

Such action by the world community will send a clear message that the Chinese government will take very seriously. Moreover, such engagement with specific actions tied to specific consequences will establish a quid pro quo framework for future constructive engagement with China, as we welcome it to its rightful place at the table of the international community.

Daoud Hari

I would first like to extend, on my own behalf and on behalf of my family and the friends of my former village, our sorrow and our hope for peace to the people of China who are suffering so terribly from the recent earthquakes. May that horror soon be over and may healing come to those families.

It is important to keep our thinking extremely clear when we face grave political situations, particularly where thousands of people are dying right now in Darfur. It is very easy but very wrong to respond to a great wrong by bringing suffering to people who are relatively innocent. This is, for example, why it is of course very wrong to hurt people in a marketplace or in an airplane or a city office building in order to put pressure on a government. Great leaders like Gandhi and King teach us that, in pursuing justice, we must never push the pain of change upon others; we must accept it ourselves instead.

The Olympics is forcing one of the world’s most rigid systems to change. The appointment of the communist party’s rising star Xi Jinping as the Olympics “czar” this past spring is very un-Chinese. Widely acknowledged as the future leader of China, Xi will have to internalise all that is at stake for China in these games and contend squarely with the Catch-22 of political change. China will be a different country after the games – whether the Chinese Community Party likes it or not.

This is true even in the present instance, like Darfur. It is easy to think that the athletes of the world should suffer and the people of China, so proud of their Olympic games, should suffer to make a change for Darfur, when perhaps we do not wish to suffer in the least ourselves.

What I am suggesting, and certainly what the great moral leaders of peace have taught us, is that it would be wiser for us to take some of that pain upon ourselves. For citizens of democracies, such self-sacrifice might simply be the modest cost in time of a telephone call or a stamp on a letter to a few elected leaders, with simple messages voicing concern about the situation in Darfur and the hope these leaders will work to stop the killing and the removal of people from their native lands. If millions of people will only suffer this little trouble themselves, far more can be accomplished than making athletes suffer instead.

If people think that this is not enough, then they might decide to take “time out for Darfur” in their purchases of goods made in China and let the Chinese embassy in their country know what they are doing and that they are doing so to encourage China to find a way to peace in Darfur instead of selling weapons to the genocidal regime there. Yes, this might very unfortunately make people in Chinese factories suffer somewhat, but it will make us, as consumers who enjoy inexpensive Chinese goods, suffer the most, as it should be. And this, too, will be more effective than keeping locked in their homes the world’s athletes, who are best used as ambassadors of peace and person-to-person friendship.

Our leaders should not attend the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, and tourists and journalists should stay at home as well.

I saw with my own eyes the weapons and munitions made in China left behind by the government of Sudan and the Janjaweed, that were used to kill my brother and so many, many others. China also sells many weapons to other African countries in conflict. People who demand an end to such things must demand action first of themselves against their own comfort. That is the best rule in these things.

Victor Cha

It was not a mistake to award the Olympics to China, and President Bush should attend the games.

If I were still advising the White House on Asia, I would argue that to boycott the games or the opening ceremony would achieve nothing but a symbolic snub of the Chinese. It amounts to a checkmark in the box labelled, “Have you done your share to protest the Olympics?” On the other hand, if Bush attends the games (for which the Chinese would be eternally grateful), and then has private meetings with Hu in which he presses the case on Tibet, Burma or Africa, that would be infinitely more productive in terms of trying to produce changes in Chinese behavior.What often gets missed in all the noise about boycotts is the process of political change that is being spurred on by the Olympics. Beijing’s leaders have bitten off more than they can chew. They face an inescapable Catch-22 when it comes to their cherished Olympics. They seek the Olympic limelight to showcase China’s greatness, but they must pay the price for that limelight in terms of intense pressures for political change. To ignore these pressures would embarrass China and spoil their big coming out party.

And so China is changing. In Sudan, Hu stated in 2004 that Chinese aid to Khartoum is “free of political conditionality.” His trade ministry official was more blunt, “We import from every oil source we can.” But since then, Hu has pressed for Sudan’s acceptance of a UN-African Union peacekeeping force in the country to stop the bloodshed, and in March 2007, quietly removed Sudan from Beijing’s preferred trade status list, effectively taking away incentives for Chinese companies doing business in Sudan. Chinese envoys have made uncharacteristic stops at refugee camps, and then contributed the first non-African forces to the UN PKO effort. In Burma, the Chinese have quietly hardened their stance toward the military junta after the September 2007 crackdown against peaceful monk demonstrations. Beijing cut arms sales to the regime and played an instrumental role in getting UN representation on the ground.

Beijing did not step up on either issue until after NGOs, entertainers, politicians, and athletes linked Sudan and Burma to something the Chinese held very dear to their own prestige. Pre-game pressures affected political change in a way that years of diplomacy could not.

Moreover, pre-Olympic changes in Beijing’s foreign policy will not melt away once the Olympic spotlight dims. This is because every adjustment made by China is met with higher expectations from the world for Beijing to do more. So even after Beijing committed PKO troops to Sudan, Steven Spielberg still resigned as artistic director, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu still demanded Beijing take more steps. This is the slippery slope of change that Beijing has now embarked upon with these games.

Critics are right that Beijing has shown no flexibility on domestic human rights, but the last thing that these dissidents want is for the world to skip the games. On the contrary, they want the world to witness their plight.

Diwali…

In some days, we will be celebrating the Diwali festival. Ouf, my mum has already started making general cleaning of the whole of our house. 🙂 That’s why i got inspired to write an article on this great festival before celebrating it.

Deepawali or Diwali is certainly the biggest of all Hindu festivals. It’s the festival of lights (deep = light and avali = a row i.e., a row of lights) that’s marked by four days of celebration, which literally illumines the country with its brilliance and dazzles all with its joy. Each of the four days in the festival of Diwali is separated by a different tradition, but what remains true and constant is the celebration of life, its enjoyment and goodness.

The Significance of Lights & Firecrackers

All the simple rituals of Diwali have a significance and a story to tell. The illumination of homes with lights and the skies with firecrackers is an expression of obeisance to the heavens for the attainment of health, wealth, knowledge, peace and prosperity. According to one belief, the sound of fire-crackers are an indication of the joy of the people living on earth, making the gods aware of their plentiful state. Still another possible reason has a more scientific basis: the fumes produced by the crackers kill a lot of insects and mosquitoes, found in plenty after the rains.

Why do we celebrate Diwali?

It’s not just the festive mood in the air that makes you happy, or just that it’s a good time to enjoy before the advent of winter. There are undoubtedly mythical and historical reasons why Diwali is a great time to celebrate. And there are good reasons not just for Hindus but also for all others to celebrate this great Festival of Lights.

  • Goddess Lakshmi’s Birthday: The Goddess of wealth, Lakshmi incarnated on the new moon day (amaavasyaa) of the Kartik month during the churning of the ocean (samudra-manthan), hence the association of Diwali with Lakshmi.
  • Vishnu Rescued Lakshmi: On this very day (Diwali day), Lord Vishnu in his fifth incarnation as Vaman-avtaara rescued Lakshmi from the prison of King Bali and this is another reason of worshipping Ma Larkshmi on Diwali.
  • Krishna Killed Narakaasur: On the day preceding Diwali, Lord Krishna killed the demon king Narakaasur and rescued 16,000 women from his captivity. The celebration of this freedom went on for two days including the Diwali day as a victory festival.
  • The Return of the Pandavas: According to the great epic ‘Mahabharata’, it was ‘Kartik Amavashya’ when the Pandavas appeared from their 12 years of banishment as a result of their defeat in the hands of the Kauravas at the game of dice (gambling). The subjects who loved the Pandavas celebrated the day by lighting the earthen lamps.
  • The Victory of Rama: According to the epic ‘Ramayana’, it was the new moon day of Kartik when Lord Ram, Ma Sita and Lakshman returned to Ayodhya after vanquishing Ravana and conquering Lanka. The citizens of Ayodhya decorated the entire city with the earthen lamps and illuminated it like never before.
  • Coronation of Vikramaditya: One of the greatest Hindu King Vikramaditya was coroneted on the Diwali day, hence Diwali became a historical event as well.
  • Special Day for the Arya Samaj: It was the new moon day of Kartik (Diwali day) when Maharshi Dayananda, one of the greatest reformers of Hinduism and the founder of Arya Samaj attained his nirvana.
  • The Pope’s Diwali Speech: In 1999, Pope John Paul II performed a special Eucharist in an Indian church where the altar was decorated with Diwali lamps, the Pope had a ‘tilak’ marked on his forehead and his speech was bristled with references to the festival of light.

From Darkness Unto Light…

In each legend, myth and story of Deepawali lies the significance of the victory of good over evil; and it is with each Deepawali and the lights that illuminate our homes and hearts, that this simple truth finds new reason and hope. From darkness unto light – the light that empowers us to commit ourselves to good deeds, that which brings us closer to divinity. During Diwali, lights illuminate every corner of Mauritius and the scent of incense sticks hangs in the air, mingled with the sounds of fire-crackers, joy, togetherness and hope.

If you are away from the sights and sounds of Diwali, light a diya, sit quietly, shut your eyes, withdraw the senses, concentrate on this supreme light and illuminate the soul.

I know I do, and normally I don’t even open them anymore. It seems to just take up too much of my time to sift through them or download whatever power point presentation comes along with it.

I realise I might be losing out on some fun things, but really, some of my contacts just don´t seem to have anything else to do but to forwards emails, guess that shows who is working for a boss and who is not.

Anyways, I did receive another one the other day and the title actually caught my attention, and after reading it, I decided to share it with you guys to start off the week on a happy and inspirational note, to clear up the Monday morning blues.

Please note, I have no idea who wrote the piece in the first place, so if please contact me if you are the author or know who wrote it and I will give credit where credit should be given!

Being a veterinarian, I had been called to examine a ten-year-old Irish Wolfhound named Belker. The dog’s owners, Ron, his wife Lisa, and their little boy Shane, were all very attached to Belker, and they were hoping for a miracle.

I examined Belker and found he was dying of cancer. I told the family we couldn’t do anything for Belker, and offered to perform the euthanasia procedure for the old dog in their home.

As we made arrangements, Ron and Lisa told me they thought it would be good for six-year-old Shane to observe the procedure. They felt as though Shane might learn something from the experience.

The next day, I felt the familiar catch in my throat as Belker’s family surrounded him. Shane seemed so calm, petting the old dog for the last time, that I wondered if he understood what was going on. Within a few minutes, Belker slipped peacefully away.

The little boy seemed to accept Belker’s transition without any difficulty or confusion. We sat together for a while after Belker’s Death, wondering aloud about the sad fact that animal lives are shorter than human lives. Shane, who had been listening quietly, piped up, ‘I know why.’

Startled, we all turned to him. What came out of his mouth next stunned me. I’d never heard a more comforting explanation.

He said, ‘People are born so that they can learn how to live a good life – like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right?’ The Six-year-old continued, ‘Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don’t have to stay as long.’

Live simply.
Love generously.
Care deeply.
Speak kindly.

Remember, if a dog was the teacher you would learn things like:

  • When loved ones come home, always run to greet them.
  • Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joyride.
  • Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure Ecstasy.
  • Take naps.
  • Stretch before rising.
  • Run, romp, and play daily.
  • Thrive on attention and let people touch you.
  • Avoid biting when a simple growl will do.
  • On warm days, stop to lie on your back on the grass.
  • On hot days, drink lots of water and lie under a shady tree.
  • When you’re happy, dance around and wag your entire body.
  • Delight in the simple joy of a long walk.
  • Be loyal.
  • Never pretend to be something you’re not.
  • If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it.
  • When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by, and nuzzle them gently.

CHERISH EVERY MOMENT OF EVERY DAY!

Artificial life…

Artificial life… I wonder how many have been cheated by the title into believing that we are going to be talking about homunculi and other life-like organisms made in laboratories. We will not even be talking about the philosophical aspects of becoming God and creating life. However, this article is far from being inappropriately titled. Artificial Life is a reality, and most of us have been leading an artificial life without realising it. Indeed how can we call that unnatural life full of social, academic and personal pressures, if not ‘artificial’ life?

We are born free, but life is not. As we take our first breaths, priorities and responsibilities are immediately forced upon us – the first of them being our parents. Undeniably, these set up a social character by developing a lifestyle. Today these lifestyles restrict the possibilities of exploring life, and unfortunately there are prominent phenomena helping the cause.

By teaching a child a few rhymes, the alphabet and counting numbers within the four walls of dimly lit classrooms and few grown-ups interacting with them, a preset of life is being created. These hinder a child’s natural learning ability by experiencing things. And thus, the natural ability of human to learn from experience and the inquisitiveness is replaced by an artificial learning method. Practical learning is not to be seen, and by the end of schooling he finds a set of formulae and a few futile experiments, with the equipment given to him, as the experience gained in the better part of his learning stage. This underlines the fact that the current educationist methods irrefutably create closed minds and restricted lifestyles. As such, this continues in the college, graduation and in life.

Here learning takes place only through mugged up notes, and ‘success’ is your ability to reproduce them in examinations and to happily and comfortably forget them thereafter. Some time later, you get a scorecard to show how much you have forgotten, instead of showing how much you have learnt. Irrefutably, this is happening in our universities, colleges, schools and the like. Even though students are provided with learning equipment, a well qualified faculty, a disciplined, dynamic and dedicated leader such as a Principal or a Dean, the effort goes into creating a set of pre-programmed bots who can hardly find interest in wonderful things in nature. Here the main assets of humanity, such as creativity and imagination are stabbed, and killed. This can explain to a certain extent that earlier, discoveries or inventions were accredited to a sole person, or two. However, nowadays, a group of individuals combine their reduced abilities and patent their product to a company. This apparently creates human-waste that goes not into sanitation, but into society.

Interestingly, this is what society wants of us – to become human robots, incapable of doing anything other than what it wants of us. We could consider ourselves to be nothing more than the peripherals of the computer; with each part doing nothing more than what it has been programmed to do. Take any part of it, and the computer as a whole ceases to work. And each part alone is nothing. Society is that computer, and we are the peripherals. We have been geared into becoming nothing more than parts of society. We blindly follow the presets given to all of us, and our individuality becomes nothing more than the ‘unique’ job we do.

It would be good if we were simply robots, but we cannot deny that we were once human, perhaps even for one breath of our life. We are as much affected by this forced lifestyle as a lion forced to become vegetarian. This results in frustration and anxiety – the prime cause of crime. Whether it is desirable or not, nobody can obliterate the fact that academic pressures are built up in an individual from the tender age itself, much before he starts to make an independent living. The joy in learning things by experimentation is snatched and the heavy competition against similar individuals adds to the pressure, agitating him further. And too much frustration against an invisible enemy causes the person to either lash out against himself, or against society.

There are things which can be done only during the age when you have the zeal and the time to do them. These pressures, starting from academic, leading to social and resulting in personal, hinder us from enjoying those subtle things in life which form sweet memories and help you stay young at heart forever. Finally when you are seemingly well settled in life with a sloggy job, unhappy family, poor health and unsatisfactory lifestyle you are either too old to change these things, in spite of your hefty bank-balances, or you do not have the heroic and brave young heart to flip your life and enjoy the other side.

Waking up to the sunshine falling on my face;

Feels like being washed off sleep, to the last trace…

How many busy days lay ahead, my heart doesn’t know;

How tired I may ever be, my body doesn’t show…

Life, as it is coming, is lighting up hope;

Of finding my self worthy living on this globe…

Not money, not babes and not food now I care;

But it is the attitude that challenges me to take up any dare!

Hindus today are often asked to express goodwill for Islam and help minority Muslims in India, who often fell oppressed under the Hindu majority rule. However Hindus are also minorities in various Islamic countries. Therefore the complementary question must arise, is there any Islamic goodwill for Hindus, particularly in Islamic countries? To look at Hindu-Muslim relations only within the borders of India where Hindus are a majority can be misleading. The entire context of these relations throughout the world and historically must be examined.

Hindus traditionally are tolerant people and have provided a refuge for many religious refugees, like the Parsis, the Syrian Christians and the Jews. India is the only country that never oppressed the Jews. Even today there are a number of Islamicsects like the Ahmadiyas, the Bohras and the Sufis, and other religious movements originating from Islamic countries like the Bahais, which may not be tolerated in Islamic countries including Pakistan, and exist and flourish in India. In fact there is a greater diversity of Islamic sects in India than in any Islamic country today because of the religious tolerance traditional to Hindu-majority India. When Muslims lived under Hindu rule in pre-Independence India they were not obstructed from practicing their religion, subject to forced conversion, religious taxes, or prevented from building mosques. The same is true of Muslims in India today. They are allowed to practice their religion without interference from Hindus.

Muslims, on the other hand, do not have such a history of tolerance starting with the first chaliphs of Islam who set out organised armies to conquer the world and marched to the very borders of India. During the period of Islamic rule in India most Hindu temples in the country were destroyed, including many that were rebuilt during that period. Hindus had to witness the ongoing destruction of their most holy places because of Muslim intolerance of other religions. The number of temples destroyed runs in thousands and it is difficult to find even a handful of temples in India that were not either destroyed or defaced by the Muslims. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Hindus were killed in wars and genocide or turned into slaves. this included many religious leaders like various Sikh and Hindu Gurus whom the Muslims executed. Hindus endured forced conversion and a heavy religious tax to convert them.

Yet this oppression for Hindus has not ended. Even after the Partition of India in favour of the Muslims, the Hindus left over in Pakistan and Bangladesh have suffered terribly. They have no real political or economical influence and the law seldom protects them. This problem of Islamic intolerance of Hindus goes for beyond the borders of the Indian subcontinent. Strictly Islamic countries, like Saudi Arabia, do not allow any other religions to exist within their border. No Hindu temple can be built in such Islamic countries by the Hindus who work there. You will not find any Hindu temples in Mecca or other Islamic holy cities. Hindus who have gone to work in the Gulf countries are not allowed to practice their religion in public, or bring any of their Hindu holy books with them. Even in India today Muslims do not tolerate and often attack the Hindu religious processions that may go through or near their neighbourhood. This is a holdover right from the Islamic period in India when Hindus were prevented from publicly expressing their religion in Muslim predominant communities.

Saudi Arabia insists that India sends only a Muslim ambassador and the Government of India meekly complies, not even raising protest! How would Islamic countries, in which Hindus are a minority, respond if the Government of India insisted that they sent only Hindu ambassadors? Certainly it would not be tolerated. Most instance of Muslim goodwill to Hindus occur in countries like Indonesia which were only recently and partially Islamised. It is not owing to Islam, which is intolerant in its heartland, but owing to the prior Hindu culture of the people. The more Islamic these countries become this tolerance is likely to decrease.

Today with growing global communication and the awakening of oppressed groups throughout the world, Hindu criticism of Islam is increasing. Hindu intellectuals are question-ing Islam not only historically but also spiritually, particularly its actions in India relative to Indian religions of Hinduism and Buddhism. The Hindu influenced political parties routinely complain against appeasement of the Muslim minority in India.

That Hindus may criticize other religions may be surprising to those who know the history of tolerance in Hinduism. It may cause them to think that Hindus are becoming intolerant. However, the other side of the issue must also be examined. That Hindus are becoming critical of Islam may not be so surprising to those who know of the ongoing oppression of Hindus by Muslims.

Hindus today are awakening to an understanding of the thousand years of oppression they underwent during nearly a thousand years of foreign rule by the Muslims and the Europeans. Their religion and culture was constantly under siege throughout the period. When Hindus today criticize the British rule of India and its efforts to Christinise India, it is generally regarded as understandable. However when Hindus criticize the Islamic period which was similarly a foreign rule and far more brutal than the British period, with a more determined attempt at conversion, it may be labelled as Hindu intolerance of Islam (suggesting that there is Islamic tolerance of Hinduism, which has yet to be demonstrated). But if British rule and Christian intolerance of Hindus can be questioned, so can, similar action done by Muslims.

Just as blacks and women are, making an issue of their historical oppression, seeking an acknowledgment of it, and trying to correct it, so are Hindus. This is perfectly reasonable and modern, not fundamentalist and backward for them to do so. There is probably no other religious or political group in the world that has been slower to protest its historical mistreatment than have the Hindus. Hindus are the least organised socially and politically of all religious groups. The fact is that Musli8ms have routinely treated Hindus badly and this trend has continued. Not merely as Hindus but as human beings, Hindus have a right to draw the line.

Long oppressed groups, like the Blacks in America, may react with anger or even violence when they awaken to the fact of their oppression and seek some rectification of historical wrongs. Hindus today similarly are becoming more aggressive. Should this become excessive it would be regrettable, but it is not without justification and does not mean their basic reaction is wrong. Hindus now are no longer willing to meekly accept domination and abuse by Muslims in the name of communal harmony. This is just another human community no longer of its human rights. It is about time that Hindus have taken this stance and it can only help other oppressed groups gain their legitimate rights as well.

The question is how will Muslims react to this trend? Will they recognize the legitimate anger of the Hindus against them, take some responsibility for the problem, and seek to correct it? Or will they react with hostility and refuse to acknowledge the history of violence that Muslims have without doubt perpetrated against Hindus? Will they take the opportunity to create peace or will they inflame Hindus further by ignoring the mistakes done in the name of their religion? Muslims throughout the world are quick to condemn any oppression of Muslims which occurs in any part of the world. Should they be surprised or feel that it is wrong if Hindus begin to adopt such attitudes and start challenging the oppression of Hindus by Muslims?

In Hindu-Muslim dialogue since the time of Gandhi has generally been a matter of Hindus trying to please or accommodate Muslims. This led to the Partition of India in favour of the Muslims and the allowance of Muslim personal law for Muslims in India (but not, we might add, Hindu personal law for Hindus in Pakistan). The question is seldom asked what are Muslims willing to concede to Hindus in order to create peace with them? Perhaps because Muslims are a minority in India it is not considered what they should give but only what they should receive. However there must be reciprocity for there to be trust. And the Hindu-Muslim issue is not limited to India but to all lands where these two faiths meet. If Muslims throughout the world are intolerance of Hinduism, how can Indian Muslims expect Hindus in India not to be suspicious of them?

Muslims sometimes complain that they are discriminated against in India, and that they are not represented in the government. They must also consider the plight of Hindus in Muslim countries. How many Hindu political leaders have there been in Pakistan and Bangladesh? I believe the answer is zero, even though, at least in Bangladesh the percentage of minority Hindus is on par with that of Muslims in India. There have, however, been Muslim President, Members of Parliament, chief ministers of State and cabinet minister of India has increased since Partition while the Hindu population of Pakistan and Bangladesh has dramatically decreased.

Clearly Muslims in India are treated much better than Hindus in Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Gulf countries. There are no Hindu prayers or songs allowed on Pakistani prayers and songs which can be found on Indian television. Pakistan history books still vaunt Islamic leaders like Mahmud of Ghazni and Aurangzeb, who destroyed temples and killed Hindus on a grand scale, as great and pious Muslims and great Pakistanis.

The treatment of Muslims in India cannot be devoured from the treatment of Hindus in Islamic countries. if Muslims in India want to be treated better, they must make efforts to get Hindus treated better in Islamic countries, who are much more likely to listen to their protests than those of Hindus. Muslims cannot rightfully expect better treatment from Hindus if they do not consider the plight of Hindus as will. There must be a concern for discrimination against all human beings, regardless of their religion, not looking out for Muslims and ignoring the plight of non-Muslims.

The further question arises, if Muslims want the goodwill of Hindus what are they willing to offer in order to receive it? Do Muslims think that they should have the goodwill of Hindus without offering anything to the Hindus in return? Can they really think that their his-tory merits the trust and affection of Hindus? While Muslims may feel offended by Hindus, they should remember that in their history they have done little to consider the feelings of Hindus or help them out. It is they who have historically been aggressively attacking Hindus, not Hindus who have sent armies into their countries in order to convert them.

Hindus do have an historical right to criticise Islam, which continues to target them and malign their religion.

Muslims routinely condemn Hindus as idol-worshipers, which is hardly an accurate, much less a sensitive rendering of Hinduism, which is a vast religion containing all avenues of human spirituality from devotional worship of images to yogic meditation.

Muslims in India recently had a great opportunity to redress the wrongs of history by giving the disputed Beburi structure back to the Hindus. It would have created much goodwill between the communities and proved to Hindus that Muslims in India, unlike most Muslims throughout the world, were not anti-Hindu. After all, Muslims had not worshiped in the Baburi monument for over fifty years and it never was one of their main holy sites. What did they have to lose by giving it back? It was built on the main hill in the Hindu sacred city of Ayodhya to humiliate the Hindus, not to peacefully worship God. However out of their pride and intolerance the Muslims have not taken advantage of this opportunity. They are unwilling to recognize the validity of Hindu complaints against them, which makes their own complaints against the Hindus lack any credibility.

Many Muslims and other have argued that Hindu temples were not destroyed out of religious reasons but from political motivation. Therefore the blame for this destruction is not with the Islamic religion, which is one of peace, but with political leaders who are prone to violence in order to hold power whatever their religious background. If this is the case Muslims should be happy to return such Hindu sacred sites as Kashi and Mathura. Mosques on these two sites of well known Hindu temples were built only three centuries ago by the tyrant Aurang-zeb, who killed his own brother, imprisoned his own father, and murdered Sufis as well as Hindu and Sikh leaders. If Islam as a religion is not responsible for the destruction of these Hindu temples but the arrogance of such as Aurangzeb, Muslims should not cling to such monuments as sacred. Otherwise Muslims are in fact saying that the destruction of temples and their replacement with mosques has a religions sanction, which is to equate their religion with such tyrants.

Yet this condition is hardly hopeless. there is much that Muslims can do to gain the trust of Hindus, who are a peaceful and tolerant people. But this issue is mainly in the hands of the Muslims. Hindus cannot make peace with Muslims who are unwilling to give up their oppression of Hindus or their targeting for conversion. Muslims should be willing to consider doing the following if they are sincere about peace with the Hindus.

  1. Muslim leaders should make an official apology for the massive destruction of temples and killing of Hindus that was common under their rule in India and by their invading armies. One can use the example of the Christians apologizing to the American Indians or the Blacks for similar discrimination and oppression.
  2. Muslims should give back to the Hindus Ayodhya, Kashi and Mathura mosques that were built by Babur and Aurangazeb on Ramjanmabhoomi, the Kashi Vishwanath Shiva temple and Krishnajanmabhoomi, just as they did not try to hold on the Somnath after Partition of India. This could be a peace offering for all the Hindu temples destroyed by Muslims through history.
  3. Muslims should invite Hindu swamis and religious leaders to speak at their mosques to explain to the Muslims masses what Hinduism really teaches. In the same way Hindus should invite Islamic leaders to speak at their temples. Muslim countries should allow Hindus to preach and build temples, particularly for Hindu workers in those countries. They should also invite Hindus to talk and preach their religion in order to dispel Islamic misunderstandings about Hinduism.
  4. Muslims should be willing to accept Hindu names for God like ishvara as good as Allah. Hindus should also accept Allah as a name of God as many of them already do.
  5. Muslims should be willing to accept the great teachers of India-based religions as divinely inspired, including those of recent centuries like Sikh Gurus or Ramakrishna, just as Hindus honour many Sufis and Islamic saints.
  6. Indian Muslims should complain to Muslim countries that discriminate against Hindus. They should criticize Pakistan and Bangladesh for the destruction of Hindu temples that has gone on there in recent times.

Of course it is doubtful whether this will occur any-time soon, even on one of these points. If this is the case, Muslims should ask themselves, if they are unwilling to make such gestures of goodwill to the Hindus why should they expect Hindus to respect and honour them in return?

You cannot repeatedly trample on a person and his culture and then expect him to help you when you are in need.

Muslims, who claim to follow the will of God, think clearly on the history of Islam, and how members of your religion have mistreated Hindus and denigrated their religion. Think of how your religious leaders portray the Hindu religion even today. Would you be quick to embrace a group who treated you in the same way?

Yesterday, i was on campus, at the university, while an international student suddenly asked me a question. The question was very thought-provoking, and a very intelligent one. He labelled himself as an Atheist. However, seeing the red ‘rakshasutra’ on my right hand, he became in a very pensive mood, and started questioning me. Nevertheless, the main question which he asked me was:

“I would like to know, as a non-Hindu, what are the main reasons why I would consider Hinduism as true or at least more true than than any other Religion?”

This question is more complicated than you may appreciate. I hope this is not too much information, but I do want to help you understand this important question.

Among the common teachings of Hinduism that I consider important are the following three principles:

These determine one’s life.

  • Karma: actions and reactions
  • Dharma: Righteousness, truth, religion
  • Marga: Destiny, one’s natural course.

As these three factors play out in our lives we go through many experiences and lifetimes that are harmonious with our Karma, dharma and marga. Hindus will tell you that not all paths are “equal,” however as the Rg Veda tells us, “Truth is one, the sages call it by different names.” Therefore, the various religions are intended to reach people where they are. Of those who practice their religions we read:

Bhagavad Gita: 9:23: Also those who are devotees of other gods, and who worship them, endowed with faith, they actually worship Me alone, O son of Kunti, but by a lesser method.

Regardless of the religion one practices, all worship goes to the Ek Devata, the One Supreme Being. Of course, which is the highest is a matter for debate. Most Hindus would say that the best or highest religion is that whereby one grows spiritually.

As we read in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 3.9.1:

“Then Vidaghdha, son of Shakala, asked him, “How many gods are there, Yajnavalkya?” Yajnavalkya, ascertaining the number through a group of mantras known as the Nivid, replied, “As many as are mentioned in the Nivid of the gods: three hundred and three, and three thousand and three.”

“Very good,” said the son of Shakala, “and how many gods are there, Yajnavalkya?”

“Thirty-three.”

“Very good, and how many gods are there, Yajnavalkya?”

“Six.”

“Very good, and how many gods are there, Yajnavalkya?”

“Three.”

“Very good, and how many gods are there, Yajnavalkya?”

“Two.”

“Very good, and how many gods are there, Yajnavalkya?”

“One and a half.”

“Very good, and how many gods are there, Yajnavalkya?”

“Ek [one].”

First, we must understand that Hinduism is not a single religion like Christianity, Judaism, Islam and so on, it is the composite of many different religious traditions melded into an intended unity. These diverse religions, when taken as a group, are known as the Sanatana Dharma or Universal Truth or Way. The name “Hinduism” is a slang term that has generally been accepted as though this were a single religion. Similar to the way the Religious Society of Friends are better known as “Quakers,” an originally pejorative term that they chose to embrace.

“Hindus” differ one from another in many significant respects and over the millennia the principle deities they worship have shifted and transformed as well. Today, the majority of Hindus worship “forms” or “emanations” of Vishnu/Narayana, Siva/Rudra, or Devi — generally speaking. Practically no one worships Lord Brahma as a principle deity, although all acknowledge his role as temporal creator.

Most Hindus conceive of God in transcendence, which is to say, they readily acknowledge that the specific names and forms attributed to “God” are but limited conceptions of That Which Is Beyond comprehension (apart from Self Realisation).

Many Hindus worship various forms of Visnu/Narayana such as Sri Krsna (Krishna), Sri Ramacandra, Lord Narayana etc. They follow the teachings of scriptures such as the Mahabharata, the Srimad Bhagavad Geeta, the Ramayana and so on. They also accept all of the standard texts like the Upanishads, Puranas and so on.

Others conceive of God in forms of Lord Siva (Shivah, Rudra…) and his consort Parvati, and revere scriptures such as the Tirukural (a classic of couplets).

Others worship the Goddess (Devi) in various forms, as Kali, Durga, etc. and read scriptures such as the Devi Gita, the Devi Mahatmya and so on.

These of course are only the more significant divisions.

In popular Hinduism (i.e. as commonly practiced by the people), most honour all the various deities. Families tend to have what is known as an ista devata or familial “house god” that is honored as well. For instance, a Vaisnava worships Lord Vishnu, however at home he/she might specifically worship Lord Rudhra due to tradition or some specific event in the family’s past. This appears like polytheism to those who do not properly understand what is being done.

Despite this, the concept is generally held in mind, even if it is not usually voiced, that, as the ancient Rg Veda says, “Truth is one, the sages merely call it by different names.” or as cited above, there is only Ek Devata, one true God, despite the seeming plurality.

For one who principally worships Lord Siva, the worship of Lord Visnu is not problematic. There may be some “sibling rivalry” that argues that Siva is higher than Visnu or vice versa, but in the end, Hindus believe that Truth is One.

Then there are the multitudinous demi-gods (or lesser gods) who fulfill specific “functions,” for instance, when beginning some new undertaking both Vaisnavas, Sivaites and worshippers of the Great Goddess will often invoke the blessings of Lord Ganapati (the elephant-headed Lord Ganesha, son of Lord Siva and Goddess Parvati).

For most Hindus, the true identity of “the ultimate God” is not what matters and is seldom discussed or even considered, there are exceptions. The important thing is what we might consider “spirituality” or the living of a spiritual life, and tradition. Hindus understand that God transcends all superficialities, diversities and personal preferences. Hindus therefore worship the One God in diverse forms that best suit their individual or community needs and traditions.

Then there is the arguably more philosophical side of Hinduism, often referred to as Vedanta, or the “End of the Vedas.” Masters such as Srila Sankara (circa 800 CE) developed the Path of Impersonalism, wherein the various deities are seen metaphorically rather than as literal gods and goddesses to be worshipped. This understandings remains quite popular as well.

Buddhism, which began as part of the Sanatana Dharma, presents a similar view.

Although Sikhism now exists as a separate religion, it did develop within a Hindu context as well and it is important to note the ten Sikh guru’s developments here, where the One God is seen as Sound (Nam) that transcends all form and yet, unlike with the Impersonalists, continues to be considered an individual “God” existing in nirguna (hence Sikhs have altered the traditional meaning of this concept). Many Hindus accept this teaching as well.

So much could be said, but in my opinion, the strength of Hinduism is its diversity and its reliance, insistence even, of experiential spirituality. While there are creeds and doctrines, many of them, for Hindus these are merely ways of expressing the inexpressible. There is room within Hinduism for everyone.

Feel free to write back any time if you have any question or comment to make!
~Krishna Athal

  • BALGOBIN LOR.. LA LONGUE VIE

BALGOBIN ti p asiz lor ene banc, li ti p manz socola, ene après lot! Apres 6eme socola, ene boug ki ti p asiz lor mem banc, dire li..

‘Beta..Pas manz tou sa socola la, pas bon pou toi. To pou gagne acne, to ledant pou pouri, to pou vine gros.’

BALGOBIN repone, ‘Mo dada ine vivre ziska 107 banané.’

‘Einn’ boug la repone. ‘To dada ti p manz 6 socola?’

‘Non do gogot’ repone BALGOBIN, ‘Mo dada pas ti p veille zafer dimoune li! Mové pilon!’

  • BALGOBIN LOR…PHILOSOPHIE

Miss demane bane zelev, ‘Si ena 5 zoizo lor ene lakaz et zot bez ene ladan coute bal, comier pour rester?’

Miss apel BALGOBIN.

BALGOBIN repone, ‘Aukene pas pou rester.. avek ene coute bal, tou pou sauver! Hahaha’

Miss repone, ‘La bonne reponse c’est 4, mais mo content to facon penser.’

BALGOBIN repone, ‘Miss, mo ena ene question pou ou.

Ena 3 fam ine asiz lor banc p manz ice-cream:

1er la p souce ice cream la so la creme.

2eme la ine met ice cream la net dan so la bouche et li p souce cone la.

3eme la p morde cone la.

Lakel dan sa 3 fam la ki mariée?’

Miss, vine rouge..li repone, ‘Mo penser seki ine met ice cream la net dan so la bouche et ki p souce cone la.’

BALGOBIN repone, ‘La bonne reponse c’est sa fam seki ine met bague mariaz.. mais mo content ou facon penser.’

  • BALGOBIN LOR…MATHS

BALGOBIN retourne lakaz depi lekol, li dire sorpa line gagne F dan maths.

Bolom demane li ‘Kifer??’

‘Miss ine demane moi, ‘2×3 comier fer?’ mone dire li 6,’ BALGOBIN repone Bolom.

‘B li bon!’ Bolom dire li.

Wai, b lerla li demane moi 3×2 comier fer?”

‘B pas meme gogot sa!!’ Bolom dire li.

BALGOBIN repone: ‘Moi si mone dire li meme zafer!’

  • BALGOBIN LOR…GRAMMAIRE

Ene zour, dan classe, Miss demane tou bane zelev seki kapav servi meme mot 2 fois dan 1 sel phrase..lev zot lamain.

Li demane Jean.. Li repone, ‘Mo papa ine achter ene zoli robe pou mo mama, mo mama ti p paret zoli ladan.’

Lerla li demane BALGOBIN… Li repone ‘Hier soir mo ser dire morpa ki li enceinte.. Bolom repone: Liki mama!! Bel Liki mama!!!’

  • BALGOBIN LOR…ENGLISH

BALGOBIN goes to school, and the teacher says, ‘Today we are going to learn multi-syllable words, class.

Does anybody have an example of a multi-syllable word?’

BALGOBIN says ‘ Mas-tur-bate.’

Miss Rogers smiles and says, ‘Wow, BALGOBIN, that’s a mouthful.’

BALGOBIN says, ‘No, Miss Rogers, you’re thinking of a blowjob..I’m talking about mas-tur-bate.’