Sunday, May 22, 2011

Unexpected nuance

Here are two articles presenting more nuanced, complex sides to issues that I though were cut-and-dried.

First is an Op-Ed from the father of John Walker Lindh, the so-called American Taliban. He makes the case that his son's involvement with the Taliban didn't represent treason against the US. Lindh had signed up with a foreign army (the Afghan army) in spring of 2001, and fought to defend the then-government of Afghanistan against Northern Alliance insurgents. Apparently he never entered combat against US forces. The father compares his son's situation to that of Ernest Hemingway, who volunteered to fight for the Spanish Republic against fascist insurgents. Anyway, the situation has a level of complexity I'd never expected, as I never expected to sympathize with someone who'd been branded an al Qaeda fighter.

The second interesting article is by Peter Hessler, about the Chinese vision of Tibet. I've never known much about Tibetan history. My impression is that it's a region that has on-and-off been included in the Chinese empire, and that it has some solid and some not-so-solid arguments in favor of independence from China. Anyway, Hessler fleshed out my understanding considerably. He paints a picture in which Han Chinese see Tibet as the last undeveloped frontier of an increasingly prosperous China. Those he talks to feel an almost missionary-like duty to develop Tibet, comparing their purpose to that of the pioneers who colonized the US's Great Plains and the West. The problem is that in the case of the US, the idea wasn't to develop the West in order to improve life for those already living there (the Indians) but rather to exploit the West so as to make life better for US whites. Hessler's depiction of the Han in Tibet is not so explicitly genocidal, but all the talk seems to be about "developing Tibet", without reference to Tibetans. If this is the case, Tibetans have reason to fear, because the PRC project would not be to make life better for Tibetans in Tibet, but rather to make life better for the rest of the PRC, using Tibet for this means. At any rate, the issue is again more nuanced than I'd known, and the article did a good job of expanding my knowledge on the topic.

No comments:

Post a Comment