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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

The Tyranny of the Com

June 3, 2008

Claude Arpi
June 2, 2008

Born in Angoulême, France, Claude Arpi's real quest began 36 years
ago with a journey to the Himalayas. Since then he has been an
enthusiastic student of the history of Tibet, China and the
subcontinent. He is the author of numerous English and French books
including. His forthcoming book, 'Tibet: the lost Frontier' (Lancers
Publishers) will be released soon.

We are living in a strange world. It is called the 'modern world.'
Everything turns around one word, 'Communication' or 'Com' for the
initiated ones.

Last week, I watched an eye-opening program on French TV. It narrated
the story of President Sarkozy's first year in office and his mastery
of 'Com'. The reporters analysed the way the President and his
collaborators 'made' Sarkozy's image.

While previous Presidents ran 'behind' their image, Sarkozy's team is
always in advance; managing to dictate to the media his dynamic image
in his public and private life (with hardly any separation between the two).

It is not easy job, but it is done extremely professionally; perhaps
more meticulously than the script-writers climbing the steps of
Cannes. A daily script is prepared in the minutest detail. The
example of Col Khadafi's visit to Paris was given. It was a disaster
on the level of human rights (but excellent for business).

To erase the negative aspects from the collective consciousness ("Did
he come to wipe his bloody feet on the doormats of France?" Rama
Yade, the pretty Minister of State for Human Rights had asked, to
mitigate the sale of nuclear plants to the tyrant), a diversion was organised.

The President would visit Euro Disney with his new girl friend (now
First Lady). The information on the staged outing was selectively
leaked to friendly photographers who were requested to take some cool
pictures. In the process, 'human rights' in Libya were forgotten; the
media had turned a new page.

Each day is thus planned to 'create a story' and catch the public in
a grasping serial. Of course, the Art of Story Telling, as the
Americans call it, is not limited to France or Europe. It was in fact
a brain child US 'Com' specialists. Totalitarian regimes such China
have also shown that they have mastered the game, though it is easier
for them than in the supposedly 'free' world.

Only the Indian Prime Minister seems to be clueless about the latest
'Com' techniques. An explication could be that in any case if he
keeps the image of a dull and self-effaced leader, it benefits many.
It avoids ruffling larger feathers.

Interestingly, something that the Com wizards had not taken into
consideration was the Internet. When Sarkozy insulted someone who
refused to shake hands with him, "Casse toi, pauvre con" (poorly
translated as "Get lost, you stupid jerk"), months of work by his
communicators went down the drain. One hour after the incident, the
video was on the net for everyone to watch.

A similar misadventure happened to the leadership in Beijing who had
not thought of confiscating the mobile phones of thousands of
Tibetans who demonstrating against the Han domination over Tibet.
When riots occurred in 1989, the media only got a hazy picture and
that too many months later.

This 'Com' culture also came to mind while witnessing the fate of the
Burmese people and the poor coverage by the Indian media of their
terrible present tragedy.

The tyranny of the 'Com' has far more serious consequences here. In
September last, the military junta clamped a curfew in the main
cities of Burma; hundreds of deaths by bullets were reported.

By the same author: As Dalai Lama gains, Tibetans lose | Read all
Claude Arpi columns

The world stood by Aung San Suu Kyi and her people. Fellow Nobel
Peace Prize Archbishop Desmund Tutu declared: "We admire our brave
sisters and brothers in Myanmar and want them to know that we support
their peaceful protests to end a vicious rule of oppression and
injustice," while the Dalai Lama addressed the junta: "As a Buddhist
monk, I am appealing to the members of the military regime who
believe in Buddhism to act in accordance with the sacred dharma in
the spirit of compassion and non-violence."

Of course, in terms of 'Com', Burma (or Myanmar as the dictators have
decided to call the battered nation) continued to be in the news for
a few weeks. It was not bad! Millions felt sorry for the courageous
lady but slowly the news coming from one the worst military
dictatorships stopped pouring in. And then, silence! Aung San Suu Kyi
and her people were forgotten.

This is the usual fate of news; if news remains the same, it can not
be called 'news' anymore. Does the system not constantly require
'breaking news'?

As Beijing was not ready to put its foot down and tell the generals
that the time has come to sit at a negotiating table and discuss the
future of the nation with the representatives of all the Burmese,
nobody could stop Burma from disappearing from the media radar.

The Tibetans did better; they managed to break news for nearly two
months, generating thousands of articles, analyses, TV programs, etc.
A few months before the Olympics, it was the greatest possible
disaster for Beijing's image. The 'Com' experts could also say that
it was not professionally done from the Tibetan side, as there was no
chance to sustain the momentum till the Games. But they managed quite
well compared to the CCP's mammoth propaganda machine.

Except for a few dictators here and there, the people of the planet
were on their side. So much so that several Head of States had to
hurriedly revise the 'Com' strategy vis-à-vis China. Sarkozy was one
of the first who did so: he thundered, threatened and later kowtowed
to Beijing when the latter 'got really angry'.

During all this time, everyone had forgotten Burma.

A great natural calamity in Sichuan has helped the Chinese 'Com'
masters to mitigate the Tibetan disaster and polish their image which
had taken a beating with the unrest of March/April. Suddenly all the
TVs of the planet left the Tibetans to left to their fate.

Little will now be known of the aftermath of their rebellion and the
bloody repression unleashed by Beijing. Images of a compassionate
Chinese Premier consoling survivors of the terrible earthquake in
Sichuan Province replaced the Tibetan flags on our screen. As the
Washington Post put it: "The popular hero of China's earthquake
rescue effort isn't a strapping firefighter or a seasoned cop - it's
the country's bespectacled premier who's been clambering over piles
of rubble to rally victims in the hardest-hit areas."

Suddenly millions rightly felt close to the people of Chinese in its
hour of agony. The world felt sad for China. It brought out an
important aspect of the Olympic Year h which had been overlooked: the
quadrennial Olympic Truce; in antiquity, it marked the beginning of
the Human Spring.

While the Tibetans managed to put some pressure on China through the
'Com' campaign, while Beijing succeeded to control the damage in the
aftermath of the earthquake, Burma has remained in the background.
For Aung San Suu Kyi and her countrymen there was no truce. Cyclone
Nargis battered the coast of Burma (with a tally probably crossing
two lakhs dead). Though an entire region is totally devastated, the
Indian media preferred to forget the inconvenient truth.

The Junta might not be India's best friends, but we are 'engaging'
them (like Hitler was 'engaged' in the 40's!). As a consequence, the
crimes committed by Burma's military junta remain under wraps.
General Than Shwe, the self-styled boss of the Junta knew three days
in advance that the cyclone was coming; he did nothing. True, his
life was not endangered; he was holed up in his new insulated
capital. He must have believed that it was his good karma to have
moved from the former capital Rangoon to the far-away Naypyidaw last
year. The superstitious general had not left his destiny to his luck;
this important move had been decided after consulting the stars. The
75-old General is said to be obsessed with astrologers who divine his future.

But what about his people? He probably had more important issues to
think about. Ailing from kidney complications, diabetes and colon
cancer, Shwe has become increasingly worried about his health.

But how to explain the Indian media's quasi silence?

The Sichuan earth quake was probably more exciting. Further, the
cricket league had to be covered!

Though we are living in a world where 'Com' is sovereign, I wonder if
a tragedy such as Cambodia in the 70's when Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge
massacred more than 2 million of their countrymen were to reoccur,
would the media leave their market defined parameters to try to put a
halt to the carnage?

It will probably depend on the ratings.

The views expressed in the article are the author's and not of
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