29 November 2013

Some animals are more equal...

Again with reference to the late great Mr Eric Blair (whom many of these somewhat oblivious pro-EU, neoconservative types ironically take as the progenitor of their tribe), the excellent Neil Clark writes:
One thing’s for sure: if you live in the US or Western Europe, and haven’t spent the last three days locked in a wardrobe, you’re probably well aware that protests against the Ukrainian government have been taking place in Kiev.

That’s because western news networks and media outlets are making sure that you know about them. ‘Tens of thousands rally in Kiev for closer EU ties’ the Washington Post posts this AP article . ‘Thousands protest Ukraine’s rejection of trade ties’ says the New York Times.

Leading western media outlets have not only have deemed the protests to be a major story, but their reporting makes it quite clear whose side they are on. Here‘s the New York Times talking about two of the protestors.

For young people, the future is brighter with Europe,” said Maria Lyskenko, 20, a student, who stood with her friend, Alyona Zorina, also 20, holding a sign that said, “Europe = Future Ukraine”. Ms. Zorina said that President Viktor F. Yanukovich was acting out of selfishness and self-interest in deciding not to sign an agreement with the European Union.

In its report on the protests, CNN quotes a Mr David Kramer of ‘Freedom House’, described as ‘a US-based nongovernmental organization’. “He (Yanukovych) has left his country vulnerable to Vladimir Putin's threats and pressure”, Kramer told CNN. “That will be Yanukovych's legacy if he doesn't reverse course.

It’s revealing to compare the highly sympathetic, high profile western coverage of the Ukrainian protests with the way other protests have been covered in recent years.

Last summer I was in Spain, at a time when there were massive nightly demonstrations in Madrid against the government’s austerity program. I sent a text message to a friend in England to ask if he had been following events in Spain and how they had been reported back home. He said that he hadn’t seen or heard anything on British television about the protests.

It’s not just the Spanish protests of 2012 which failed to receive the coverage they warranted. There have been widespread anti-austerity protests across Europe in recent years, but none of them have gained as much attention as the current protests in Ukraine. Everyone has a right to protest, but it seems that some protestors are more equal than others.
Truer words were never spoken. This was also known to be true back when Western news media covered the ‘white ribbon’ protests in Moscow in glowing terms, but refused to cover the counter-protests, which drew as many if not more people than the anti-Putin ones. And what failed to be noted about these Ukrainian protesters, which drew largely regional support from Lvov and the Polish March, was that they were organised in part by the far-right racial-nationalist Svoboda movement - essentially the Ukraine’s neo-Nazis. (Small wonder they want closer ties with Germany, but I do highly doubt it’s for warm and fuzzy democratic reasons.)

The EU is an economic deathtrap for the Ukraine, and Yanukovych seems to have dodged a bullet for the time being, as Steve Lendman of the Progressive Radio News Hour put it. The terms which the EU provided to the Ukrainian government for accession would have placed them at the mercy of the IMF and the ECB, and essentially in the same ghetto of permanent trade deficits (and the structural adjustments, with all that implies, that come with them) to which the PIIGS and much of EU-facing Eastern Europe belong, and to which Germany must keep adding more territory in order to sustain their current economic model. Some animals are more equal than others, indeed.

20 November 2013

Symphoneia or monasticism?

Cross-posted from Solidarity Hall:

Secular states and secular nations have this problem.

It’s a problem which has been approached by such major figures in philosophy as the Canadians George Grant and Charles Taylor, the English theologian John Milbank and several others. The economistic high priesthood of modern capitalism, the political high priesthood of the laicist republican nation-state and the cultural high priesthood of Hollywood, pop idols and mass consumerism, all serve to confine the reality in which we live. Having been birthed by the spreading suspicion that material benefit (wealth, power, goods, sexual pleasure) is the highest and the best end of human life, that suspicion has since calcified into the conviction that material benefit is the only end of human life – and that it is best furthered by precisely the articulators and self-appointed arbiters of secular reality: capital, the state and the cultural elite. But at the same time, we experience a contradiction, a ‘cross pressure’: a dissatisfaction and anger with secular reality, stemming from the countervailing suspicion that this is ‘not all there is’.

Sadly, the most common expression of this suspicion is in those transcendentalisms directly sanctioned and supported by the modern moral order of secular reality: moralistic therapeutic deism and the ‘spiritual-but-not-religious’ phenomenon, related to what philosopher Robert Bellah called ‘Sheila-ism’ (a wholly individualist re-purposing of religion). Various fundamentalist movements also make doomed attempts to refute modernism from within its own ontology – Islamism making use of the political ontology of violence or fundamentalist Protestantism making use of a scientific-materialist ontology to try to attack evolution. On the other hand, we have also noted other aesthetic counter-cultural expressions of this dissatisfaction which deserve careful attention: punk (including steampunk and cyberpunk), heavy metal, goth, emo and the strange, self-protecting phenomenon of hipsterism. Most or all of these latter emphasise some ethic of authenticity and a social spirituality – which is to say, a truer spirituality – emphasising something other than material benefit. But these are all expressions, to some extent, of the ‘cross pressure’ facing people living within a secular reality which is flattened to include only things immanent.

Though I realise I wade out into dangerously Hegelian waters by saying so, it is tempting to view this problem, and these expressions of resistance, as various attempts at a negation, a rejection of the social facts of secularism. But, given the heterogeneity of these expressions, and the dominating logic of the secular state which extends over and tries to explain and police these expressions, it strikes me that there will likely be no easy ‘synthesis’. What can be done, however, is to look to the roots of this logic.

John Milbank would likely begin by saying that ‘once upon a time, there was no secular’. Whether or not this is true (and I tend to think it is), it is absolutely true that the secular did not always have the iron grip upon the public imagination that it does now. Within Christendom, the state had to share its time and its space with the expressions of a church which could lay its own claim upon the moral imaginations of its laity – so influential was this claim that it has continued to shape all of the secular theory which has followed it. For example, Milbank observed that the ‘social contract’ of Hobbes and Locke was based in an Enlightenment countermyth against Genesis about the human condition. Before him, Nikolai Berdyaev and Fr Sergei Bulgakov noted that Marxism was actually an eschatological religion portending a revolution rather than revelation, and seeking salvation in the proletariat as a messianic class.  In order to get at the roots of secular logic and the problems contained within it, it is thus vital to explore in further detail the engagement between the state and the Church. Fr Stanley Harakas, the Greek Orthodox priest and professor of theology, ethics and political theory, identifies four main patterns of state-church engagement in Christendom:

  1. Papocaesarism (theokrateia) – the subordination of secular authority to the church
  2. Caesaropapism (autokrateia) – the subordination of church authority to the state
  3. Laicity – the separation of the state, whether friendly or hostile, from all church affairs
  4. Harmony (symphoneia) – the complementarian, active accord between church and state, acting in distinct but mutually-supportive roles

Caesaropapism, or autokrateia (‘self-government’, that is, a government consisting of a single self), vests all power, sacral and secular, within a single body following the rules of the saeculum. Caesaropapism was followed first in the Byzantine Empire when the Emperor acted as the head of the Church, and the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople served essentially at the Emperor’s pleasure. However, caesaropapism began to take hold in the West as well, first in a mild form with the Investiture Controversy, then the Reformation and finally in the aftermath of the brutal Thirty Years’ War, in which the religion of the King defined the religion of all the people in his state.  The peace of Westphalia enthroned sovereignty, but sovereignty as defined by autocrats.

The movement of Christendom in a caesaropapist regime, especially in a modern context, tends to promote private pietism and acquiescence to the secular narrative of functionalism in accord with the will of the state, superimposed as it is over the Church. In other words, religion may be used to articulate certain ‘useful’ norms, to provide certain social services or to answer individual existential questions.  But it can make no claims on public space, let alone on public authorities! Its expressions are, of necessity, individualistic – and many of the reactions against the secular reality take refuge in such individualism. Susannah Black identifies fundamentalism and certain forms of evangelicalism and dispensationalism as Protestant reactions to secular caesaropapism, but I think that to these may also be added the ‘spiritual-but-not-religious’ types, moralistic therapeutic deists, Sheila-ists and even the politically quietist element within the Protestant mainline. Though politically opposed to each other, these groups still work out of the same social ontology.

The opposite reaction, therefore, may be seen as appealing, and this is especially a temptation for Roman Catholics. Papocaesarism first manifested in the High Middle Ages, particularly after the Schism which divided the Franco-Latin Church from the Slavo-Hellene one. In the name of reform against clerical abuses and laxity, the Franco-Latin Church under Leo IX and Alexander II and formalised theologically by Gregory VII, took on the mantle of fully-immanent, secular authority, and began adopting for itself the organisational stylings of feudalism (often explicitly, with the Popes as feudal lords!), and later of proto-capitalism. This movement to assume political power, and to proclaim ‘kingdom now!’, is tempting particularly in a secularist age where the Church has been reduced to a spectator in the public arena, but this movement is one which dooms itself the moment it has begun.

For the Western Church to begin aping the saeculum was a grievous error the first time around. In seeking to exercise the powers of government for itself, the Church began to give the laity and the saeculum grounds for the belief that the rules of the earthly powers, and not the rule of God, were primary. It became possible to imagine a social universal order forming without the guiding intelligence of God, and to begin asking questions about how the will of God might be changed. In addition, certain Western monastic orders (notably the Cistercians), with the assent of the Church to a fee-simple regime, began enclosing the land they owned and employing hired labour rather than the traditional feudal lord-peasant relationship, laying down the groundwork for a money economy and the rise of modern banking. From the newly-opened possibilities of philosophical voluntarism and nominalism, and from the first inklings of capitalist economic relations, sprang the Renaissance, Machiavelli’s neo-pagan political theory, the Reformation and the Enlightenment. Ironically, then, historical experience would seem to indicate that grasping at this-worldly power is one of the surest ways for the Church to lose her other-worldly authority.

Thus, we must look for alternatives other than papocaesarism. One will notice immediately that one of these alternatives is not like the others. Indeed, laicity is a modern invention, a product of the American and French Revolutions, and therefore has no name in Greek antiquity (in modernity, Greeks made up their own word for it, kosmikismos, though they also use the loanword laïkismos). The track record within the political concept’s short lifetime has been mixed. It could be said with some justice that laicity is either an unstable or metastable state: the tendency of formal laicity toward caesaropapism is demonstrated to a significant extent in the history of Communist states, including (for a modern-day example) China, where Party authorities appoint all religious leaders and register all officially-sanctioned forms of public religious expression. It also manifests itself in an official civic religion, beginning in the French Revolution but manifest to some extent in most representative regimes, which worships the might and right of the nation as embodied in its people. Examples of polities where this faith makes itself manifest include Kemalism in Turkey and naturally in the French credo of ‘liberté, égalité, fraternité’. In both countries there are harsh limits on what manner of religious expression is allowed in the public square, and in which the state, nationalism and the civic religion have a final and definitive claim on a citizen’s loyalties.

But it is possible to tip the balance in the other direction as well. Laicity and non-establishment in the United States, though in nowhere near as strict a form as in France, has tended to give free reign to mass religious movements beginning with the Great Awakenings – which exert their powers specifically within the public realm and attempt to capture and make use of democratic avenues of public power. This capture can be oriented to the public good (the movements to abolish slavery and to guarantee civil rights for blacks, for instance), or it can be oriented more destructively (the temperance movement and Prohibition, political Zionism and the dysfunctional marriage of neoconservatism and the religious right in more recent decades). But the result seems to be a kind of papocaesarism, one susceptible to identitarian politics and demagoguery – ironically, it is in America and in France where ‘kingdom now!’ theology seems to have the most draw on the popular imagination! But this papocaesarism is still flavoured by secular national mythbuilding: the religious right in the United States still by and large clings to an idea of America as God’s chosen ‘shining city upon a hill’.

Thus we are left looking at some kind of theory which advocates complementarity of powers – the symphoneia theory, popular amongst the Eastern Orthodox, first put into practice by Saint Emperor Constantine Equal-to-the-Apostles and explicated by Emperor Justinian. The symphoneia theory represents a brotherhood, a familial relationship between Church and state, with each one respecting the other’s proper duties but actively helping and supporting each other – the most common analogy from Scripture is the fraternal relationship between Aaron (the high priest of Israel) and Moses (the leader of the Israelite exodus), though it draws also from Pauline exhortations for believers to respect the state, to obey its laws, and to pray for its leaders. In turn, however, the state must respect the liminal boundaries of the Church. Saint Constantine, for example, never tried to enter into the Church councils as one of the bishops, either to rule over them or to be ruled by them, though he did support them from without.

Symphoneia is an ideal for a time, however, when government is aware in the light of the Christian witness of its ultimate accountability before the throne of Christ Pantokrator, and thereby of its temporal responsibilities to be just, to be merciful and to be aggressively compassionate. We now live in an age where Weberian ideals of impersonal efficiency are normative, rather than a Christianised ethic of virtue – striving after symphoneia in such an environment may be a wild-goose chase, or something even more dangerous. Two giants of American Orthodox social thought, Fr Stanley Harakas and Dr Vigen Guroian, have placed themselves at odds over precisely this question: does the impersonal, secular way of doing government, closed to any consideration of the transcendent, preclude any form of church-state engagement modelling itself on the Constantinian-Justinianic ideal?

Guroian fears that symphoneia may be precisely as unstable as laicity in such a case. He warns that the catholic ecclesiology of the churches laying claim to apostolic succession (Orthodox, Episcopal, Roman Catholic) is directly at odds with secular logic, because a catholic ecclesiology implies and demands a concern for the common good which the state, the market and the culture have systematically cordoned off.  He sees as unacceptable to any aspiration to symphoneia the American state’s insistence that it alone is competent to police the ‘conflicting’ claims of denominational Christianity. A state which has set itself up in a laicist manner, propounding a pluralist mythos in order to govern through sublimated warfare a vast array of heterogeneous projects, can never enter into a harmonious, equal and complementarian relationship with the one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

Guroian therefore presents (mirroring contemporary Catholic thinkers like William Cavanaugh and Alasdair MacIntyre) a ‘cenobitic’ option to the followers of Christianity in the United States – preserving the witness of Christianity through ‘discrete disciplined communities of faith’, with lay communities carrying forward from the Eucharist into the surrounding culture the ‘“sign that God, not the nations”, not politics, not economics, not science, nor business nor technology, “rules this world”’. I don’t think Guroian is being pietist or individualistic here; even if he is proclaiming something which might look in its formal tactics like a Great Awakening, it is posed as a direct challenge to the secular mythos, as opposed to capture of or accommodation to that mythos.

Worth considering, however, is that the positions of Dr Guroian and Fr Stanley are not necessarily at complete odds.  After all, the Early Church Fathers had the culture of a pagan empire to contend with, in many ways as driven by libido dominandi as our own—perhaps even more so, since the pagan Romans, without a history of knowing the Gospel, had fewer restraints upon their pride.  Even if symphoneia would have been difficult-to-unthinkable with a Roman state which saw Christians as a threat to be stamped out, perhaps we should keep that ideal in our hearts and minds to be extended, if ever another Saint Constantine or Emperor Justinian should arise, and a civil order more open to the promise of virtue should result.

It may very well be that the public fruits of our podvig, our Christian struggle for ascesis within the world, to live and thereby show a truer alternative to the problematic confines of secular state-market-culture, will not be seen or tasted within our lifetimes. As such, Dr Guroian’s cautions against misconstruing the structure of American society and against making ill-advised accommodations to it should be taken seriously.  All the same, Guroian’s ‘cenobitic’ option is not a despairing one. It would be wrong and a great disservice to the Holy Fathers and to the saints to think of symphoneia as a naïve pipe-dream. A catholic faith is inescapably a public faith, and giving over the public realm to those who deny any meaningful common good is not an open option for us.

11 November 2013

Motes and beams

Hansen Ding at Perfect Payload has a few choice words for first-world liberal leftists:
The first time I ever saw photos of death was when I was 5.

It was a war memorial opposite my grandparents’ house in Harbin, dedicated to the anti-Japanese WW2 partisans in Manchuria. There were stories of the utmost brutality, hopelessness and heroism - as well as an assortment of photos of massacres, rape victims and beheadings, all ready to be gawked at for a weekend family fun-time. One photo that stuck with me is the dissection of a partisan commander’s body - he and his unit were surrounded in the mountains, cut off, outnumbered and slowly cleaned out, men by men. By the time they dissected his body they found his stomach full of barks and roots - it’s what they had to eat to stave off hunger in their last days.

I was reminded of this Mao Ze Dong quote earlier today referring to Americans (regardless of what you think of Mao, and I don’t think that much of him, he was a rhetorical genius): “You grew up eating honey, and thus far you have never known suffering. In the future, if you do not become a rightist, but rather a centrist, I shall be satisfied. You have never suffered—how can you be a leftist?”

Now, this is not to say I have known true suffering. Yes, my parents came to Australia dirt poor - my entire family lived in a single bedroom in a rat infested terrace house in Redfern - but I was too young to have anything but a happy childhood, and by the time I really knew about poverty we were already middle class. But, there is something to be said of coming from a background where you knew about colonialism and poverty – true poverty. It comes from the stories you were told growing up, of family members from old photos and family trees who aren’t around, it came from growing up amongst the sites and memorials to desperate battles, public massacres and immortal martyrs. Call it a collective consciousness if you want.

I find increasingly that on issues of foreign policy and geopolitics, there is a huge disconnect between first world liberals/leftists and liberals/leftists from non-first world backgrounds. It’s about an issue of recognizing self-determination - true self determination – even if said self-determination came from the end of a Kalashnikov and a river of blood. A developed nation is rarely the product of a peaceful and dignified history. Western liberals & leftists do not seem to understand the mind of winter which occupies the people of most developing nations past and present. They are willing to erase all their achievements to point out the stains on their country, ignoring the fact that almost every country of note is incredibly stained – even Sweden had that psycho phase where they killed like 30% of the population of Germany in a war they had no business being in.

Too many leftists I know are all too happy call out liberals on all their BS at home but then afraid to deviate from the mainstream liberal view abroad – we should condemn the coup in Egypt, we should support the Tibetan resistance, Putin’s Russia is bad and of course the latest in the ceaseless opining of the paragon of morality that is the western liberal/leftist – “something something Lee Rhiannon something Sri Lanka bad something boycott CHOGM”.

So I am pleading with my comrades from western backgrounds:

Stop.

Not another thing for you to intervene on with the endless criticisms and Avaaz letter writing campaigns and flashy youtube videos. Just stop.

No, you don’t even need to go “educate yourself”, you just need to stop with the opining and moralizing - it’s literally that easy. I mean, educate yourself by all means and be aware, and spread that awareness if you want, but do not, I repeat, do not, go into yet another country and lecture yet another people to literally no effect aside from a lot of brown people feeling insulted. And definitely don’t do it at an event which is meant to be a moment of pride for a people and to celebrate whatever progresses made.
Hansen is quite worth reading any day, not least because he brings to the table the experience of growing up in the Anglosphere as the child of Chinese émigrés, and thus manages to speak about both cultures with both sense and good humour. We don’t always agree, of course; he’s much more of a social liberal than I am - to the point where, on Facebook, he even questioned in jest whether I even count as white! - but I have rarely met another commentator on these issues who manages to navigate them with his level of graciousness. (Certainly I don’t come anywhere close!) So do please read the whole thing, and keep a weather eye on Hansen’s blogging!

07 November 2013

Few brief links

A Facebook acquaintance of mine created an incredibly short two-dimensional Excel-based political quiz (yeah, I know, I’m a sucker for these sorts of things!), the Obnoxiously Short Political Ideology Test. I don’t think my results should come as a surprise to any of my gentle readers (80.95% communitarian), but if you are interested, please give it a whirl! Bit less slick and glitzy, but also orders of magnitude less obnoxious than other quizzes modelled on a similar concept.

Also, I recently watched a couple of interesting interviews on YouTube with Deep Purple frontman, co-father with Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin of heavy metal (and voice of Jesus) Ian Gillan, both from Russia. Very fascinating fellow, very intelligent. He touches on a wide array of topics: political correctness, war, the economy, the EU and its devaluation of democracy, Pussy Riot, culture, the devastation of globalisation on rural people, social networking and its effect on young people, 'progress' and the music industry. I’m not altogether comfortable with what appears to be a kind of Gnostic transhumanism and a sort of misanthropy which crops up every now and again, but he has some very good and thoughtful insights here:




Enjoy, gentle readers, and Christ in Our Minds!

05 November 2013

In Sadad, more crimes that cry out to Heaven


Forty-five more innocent civilians were martyred last week by Islamist rebels in Syria, led by the al-Nusra Front. His Eminence Metropolitan Selwanos Boutros Alnemeh of Homs and Hama, of the Syriac Orthodox Church, spoke out strongly about the incident:
Forty-five innocent civilians were martyred for no reason, and among them several women and children, many thrown into mass graves. Other civilians were threatened and terrorized. Thirty were wounded and ten are still missing. For one week, 1,500 families were held as hostages and human shields. Among them children, the elderly, the young, men and women. Some of them fled on foot travelling eight kilometres from Sadad to Al-Hafer to find refuge. About 2,500 families fled from Sadad, taking only their clothes, due to the irruption of armed groups and today they are refugees scattered between Damascus, Homs, Fayrouza, Zaydal, Maskane, and Al-Fhayle.

There is no electricity, water and telephone in the city. All the houses of Sadad were robbed and property looted. The churches are damaged and desecrated, deprived of old books and precious furniture. Schools, government buildings, municipal buildings have been destroyed, along with the post office, the hospital and the clinic.

What happened in Sadad is the largest massacre of Christians in Syria and the second in the Middle East, after the one in the Church of Our Lady of Salvation in Iraq, in 2010. We have shouted aid to the world but no one has listened to us. Where is the Christian conscience? Where is human consciousness? Where are my brothers? I think of all those who are suffering today in mourning and discomfort. We ask everyone to pray for us.
These are deadly crimes which, as our French and Latin brothers say, cry out to Heaven for vengeance. And insofar as the government of my country has waged war in Iraq and inflicted death, torture, suffering and mutilation upon its people; as it has turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the suffering of Iraq’s Christians; as it has supported a rapacious, greedy and ruthless apartheid regime in the Levant which dispossesses Christians and Muslims alike on a regular basis; and as it has armed and given comfort and aid to these murderers in Syria, I too am made guilty, and implicated in these crimes.

Our hands are stained with the blood of our brothers and sisters, for we have placed in the hands of Antichrist the weapons which destroyed their lives, and to our everlasting shame our leaders congratulate themselves on our humanitarian compassion in so doing! Unworthy as we are, let us do as His Eminence asks: let us pray for the martyred and for the refugees from Sadad, and let us speak out as His Eminence has done, on behalf of those who have been crying to the Heavens until they can no longer speak.

03 November 2013

This week in calling a spade a spade:


Alessandro Rippa in The Diplomat:
There is something profoundly disturbing about the way most Western media and Xinjiang scholars have reacted to the attack in Tiananmen Square last Monday. As has been widely reported, the attack left five people dead, two of whom were tourists, and 40 injured.

Shortly after the attack, in which a man with his wife and mother drove an SUV into a crowd of people and set it on fire, Chinese authorities identified the perpetrators as Uyghurs. Since then, Western experts have appeared in the media, attempting to shed some light on the tragic event...

What bothers me, in both analyses, is the facility with which the authors dismiss the attack itself. Paradoxically, as I was reading the pieces, I felt that they could have made the very same points without the attack even having taken place. What happened in Tiananmen, it seems assumed, is just another example of the repeated violence we have witnessed in recent years, ultimately rooted in Beijing’s disastrous policies in Xinjiang. But is this really the case? Isn’t Tiananmen a turning point?

What is hard to understand is why the attack in Tiananmen is rarely acknowledged as an act of terrorism. Granted, we don’t – and probably never will – have access to all the details, and yet I believe we have enough material to claim that the attack was clearly intended to be deadly. The place of the attack, moreover, certainly has major symbolic value as the political center of the PRC, but it is also packed with Chinese and foreign tourists at virtually all hours. It thus isn’t just politically charged, but also in the spotlight of international observers. I find it hard to believe that both these factors weren’t part of the attackers’ calculations.

Moreover, what generally makes terrorism so disturbing is the randomness of the victims. We are constantly reminded of this when something happens in Boston, London, Madrid or any other Western city. Media run stories on the victims, their backgrounds, and how they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Why hasn’t this been the case with Monday’s attack in Beijing? I have lived in Beijing for years and I visited Tiananmen many times. This summer, for the first time, my parents visited China. I took them to Tiananmen, I’ve got a picture of them in the very same place where the two tourists died on Monday. I could have died, my parents could have died. My Beijing neighbor, my Chinese teacher, my best friend: all could have died in Monday’s attack.

Why is it so difficult, then, to call the attack what it is: terrorism? Why do scholars and journalists (see, for instance the BBC and NYT) seem more concerned about the weakness of China’s claims that the ETIM was involved in Monday’s attack, rather than in the tragedy of the attack itself?
I do agree with the author’s scepticism (to some extent) about the existence of ETIM as an organised movement, though I stand completely by my prior assertion that Räbiya Qadyr is, to use the technical term, a total douchebag. And I don’t want to come off as glib or jaded here, since these are certainly good questions to ask which don’t necessarily have easy or straightforward answers. But there does seem to be a distressing pattern which conspiracy theorists are likely to make hay of: our media don’t pull any punches when calling such acts terrorism when they happen on our soil, and for good reason. The Boston bombing was an act of terrorism, pure, simple and dastardly. Yet we must keep in mind that our media have a horrific blind spot when it comes to terrorism overseas. The Boston terrorists were Chechens, about whose political radicalism Russia’s government warned us well in advance. Prior to the Boston bombing, Americans - particularly of the neoconservative mindset - were likely to view the Chechens not as terrorists but as allies and freedom fighters. The designation of ‘terrorist’ as commonly used in Anglo-American news media, therefore, seems needlessly selective and political. Terrorism is terrorism is terrorism, regardless of whether it is inflicted upon the civilian populace of nations whose governments we don’t happen to like at the moment.

This has been the case with China for a long time. The Uyghurs were considered the Tibetans with an unsung cause - even by yours truly at one point. (To be clear, I am far from saying now that the Uyghurs of Xinjiang do not have cause to be angry! The poverty and systemic prejudice are still points which the Chinese government must do far, far more to address.) But in the analysis we must never lose sight of the facts: five people are dead, the random victims of an attack targetted at a significant, symbolic hub of Chinese public life. And yet Western media are still placing the term ‘terrorism’ in this story inside scare-quotes, and are making sure to elicit as much scepticism of China’s government’s claims as it dares.

There are points where the hermeneutic of scepticism to which China-watchers are prone goes way, way too far, to the point where they come off as crazy or inhumane. I daresay that this is one of those points. Innocent people, including tourists, were killed. I would kindly advise China-watchers and ‘public intellectuals’ to stow the anti-CCP political crap for another day, and direct the outrage where it truly belongs. Just as we were all Bostonians then, and just as we were all New Yorkers twelve years ago, we should all be Beijingers now.