- Op-Ed -
BERLIN - Two people recently “disappeared” into the vastness that is China. The whole world is talking about one of them: Edward Snowden whose revelations about digital spying by the National Security Agency have fueled fear and indignation. Big Brother, your name was and is USA.
Nobody is talking about photographer and documentary filmmaker Du Bin who unlike Snowden was not able to give interview after interview in (still) semi-free Hong Kong. Instead he was carted off by Beijing police on May 31, and his whereabouts are presently unknown. And yet Du Bin’s revelations may be far more explosive than Snowden’s. For the first time, he dared to document the torture and murders in the Chinese “re-education” labor camp Masanjia, where inmates make products sold primarily to Western markets.
A cry for help had already reached the West from the camp: upon opening a box of Halloween decorations made there, an American housewife in Oregon found a hand-written note in rudimentary English from an inmate describing the unbearable torture of 15-hour work days, with guards beating up prisoners to make them work faster on exports destined for all points west.
News of the note made it through various media, some human rights organizations started beating the drum, but no major cry of outrage was heard -- even though there are hundreds of such camps in the People’s Republic, where prisoners slave to service consumerism.
No need to speculate about the relative lack of interest. In the West, a generalized howl of protest only rises when crimes and misdeeds can be attributed to Western players -- Nestlé, Shell, Adidas or McDonald's, for example. And the ritual has nothing to do with structured self-criticism by free societies, being on the one hand generalizing and hysterical, on the other based in callous ignorance. If the Attac and Occupy activists of this world, the Naomi Kleins and Michael Moores, the Jean Zieglers and Slavoj Zizeks, really took their emancipatory impulses seriously, they would hold demonstrations in front of every Chinese institution in the Western world.
Granted, the lack of interest by now has a long tradition – and the list of examples is depressing. To this day the atrocities of the Vietnam War are the best-documented in the world, while the mass murders after the Soviet march into Afghanistan in 1979 haven’t even been suppressed because they were never truly acknowledged in the first place; and yet Moscow’s aggression marked the actual start of the war in the Hindu Kush, which continues to this day.
The Iraqi prison of Abu Ghraib also only began to “exist” for the Western public when Americans were accused of misconduct, while Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch had already warned about the far worse torture that had been taking place there in Saddam Hussein’s day. During the Chechen War there were curious ups and downs of public outrage: What was not forgiven of supposedly pro-West Boris Yeltsin was shrugged off by self-described nationalist Vladimir Putin. Other countries, other mores -- and Grosny is awfully far away.
The same pattern played out prior to 1989: indignation at the Pershing-2 missiles at American bases in West Germany, while Soviet SS-20 rockets were quite simply ignored. The hypocrisy continues into 2013, as we hear loud calls for the boycott of products from the Israeli West Bank and outcries about “sexism“ in our societies, while little is said about the fate of the many young men and women in EU-funded Palestinian areas -- murdered in the name of “honor” because they were “adulteresses” or homosexuals.
Apologists for selective outrage never fail to point out that we should clean our own houses before criticizing the way others keep theirs, or that hyper-self-criticism is one of the defining signs of Western democracies – the same democracies that on a parallel track are being accused of being so profoundly undemocratic. This sort of babble, which by the way has made great headway into politically correct circles, is less concerned with forging the way for concrete improvement than it is with demonizing the Western way -- whose advantages are always taken for granted.
Alleged rapist Julian Assange is a particularly prominent example of this: as WikiLeaks initiator, he used to be mainly concerned with exposing western countries, but he apparently finds it not the least bit odd to be holed up in London asking for "political asylum" from Ecuador -- a country whose authoritarian president Rafael Correa strangles critical journalism.
And the pattern is now playing out in Edward Snowden’s case: An agitated public once again finds confirmation that the West is dominated by dark forces of which “we” are the victims – during the German census of 1987, it was the "Big Brother State," today an unholy alliance of Facebook, Google and American secret service.
The excessiveness of the criticism is a major hindrance to efficient action. "Consumer terrorism" and "amusing ourselves to death" are examples of the sort of self-hate slogans we come up with, and they also serve to give us victim status while the really desperate people in our world are hardly suffering from too much consumerism or amusement.
The story of the note from the inmate in the package of Halloween decorations is thus highly symbolic: The real horror lingers behind the fake horror. How much longer do we collaborators with inhuman dictatorships want to keep ignoring that fact?