February 05, 2006
"No Offend Chinese Women": Denmark and the Mutation of Organized Protest
Before getting around to a somewhat longer entry or entries on the issue of the efforts to prune Danish blasphemy, let me begin a contrarian line (against the prevailing 'Aqoul trend) by examining a MENA issue in an appropriate place: China. Once upon a time, there was a great movement towards democracy by students in China. It failed at Tiananmen Square but it almost got off the ground. I bring this up because few recall the mass demonstrations by Chinese students a few months earlier around the country (but especially around Nanjing) that started the mass action process. These were not pretty; behavior was riotous and appalling. And the issue was rather vile: "No Offend Chinese Women", you black devils! More vile than the silly "No Offend Prophet Mohammed" over the Danish newspaper cartoons. As the referenced (and accurate) Wikipedia article is quoted below, I ask the question of those with better on the ground knowledge -- does the organiziing of MENA passions in this particular Danish cartoon issue bode well in a "silver lining" sense for creating spontaneously-organized networks of popular voices against repression in the region?
On December 24, 1988 two male African students were entering their campus at Hehai University in Nanjing with two Chinese women. The occasion was a Christmas Eve party. A quarrel about correct identification between one of the Africans and a Chinese security guard, who had ordered the Africans to register their guests, led to a brawl between the African and Chinese students on the campus which lasted till the morning, leaving 13 students injured. 300 Chinese students, spurred by false rumors that a Chinese man had been killed by the Africans, broke into and set about destroying the Africans' dormitories, shouting slogans such as "Kill the black devils!" After the police had dispersed the Chinese students, many Africans fled to the railway station in order to gain safety at various African embassies in Beijing.
It gets bigger.
By this time, Chinese students from Hehai University had joined up with students from other Nanjing universities to make up a 3000 strong demonstration which called on government officials to prosecute the African students and reform the system which gave foreigners more rights than the Chinese. On the evening of 26 December, the marchers converged on the railway station whilst holding banners calling for Human Rights and political reform. Chinese police managed to isolate the non-Chinese students from the marchers and moved them to military guest house outside Nanjing. The demonstrations were declared illegal, and riot police were brought in from surrounding provinces to pacify the demonstrations which lasted several more days.
Anti-African demonstrations spread to other cities, including Shanghai and Beijing. These were smaller than the Nanjing protests, though the Beijing protests were one of the currents which lead to the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. . . .The course of the Nanjing protests went from Anti-African sentiment to banners proclaiming Human Rights. The Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 came 4 months after the Anti-African protests in Nanjing and some elements of the Nanjing protests were still evident, such as banners proclaiming "No Offend Chinese Women".
(I recall the above vivdly because at the time of the Tiananmen Square slaughter, an African co-worker, otherwise a free-market anti-communist political (classical) liberal, kept emerging from the TV room grinning, cheering, and thrusting his fist in the air as the Chinese troops were reported slaughtering the students; it was not hard to guess why.)
Does today's "No Offend Prophet Mohammed" have a chance of becoming a set of networks and activist confidence to accomplish something bigger, and possibly, better?
Posted by Matthew Hogan at February 5, 2006 09:45 AM
Filed Under: Political Development
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doubt it, but let's hope some good comes from all of this.
i don't think i ever read about the leadup to tiananmen square before. i'll have to ask my friend whose mom was a paramedic there on the day of the protest what her mom remembers re: the cause.
Posted by: drdougfir at February 5, 2006 12:54 PM
Well, my personal thesis is that the entire brouhaha is the work of the patchwork of Salafiste seperatists (enabled in Syria, for example, by the government - I should think Beiruit was an example of Syrian meddling as well and you know I am not inclined to overdone paranioa there) deliberately trying to create alientation between Muslims and the West.
So, as to the last line, is a set of networks going to develop, I would say it is there and responsible for the nonsense (esp. the violence).
Will bigger and better come from it? I hope not, the networks likely represent the worst Jihadi Salafiste extremists and I don't particularly care to see them pull in more people. They probably will, however, given the juvenile Western response in some quarters, to throw fire on the even more juvenile state in MENA.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at February 5, 2006 01:33 PM
The only problem I see with this analysis is that the people actually protesting against the cartoons are conservative reactionaries, not liberal students. If it happened in Iran, I may hold out some hope.... but we've got some members of religious parties in Pakistan (who protest when someone farts, frankly), militants in Palestine, some nutters in Indonesia, the tightly controlled Syrian faction, and some Lebanese people. If they were students, maybe there could be more calls for freedom, but these are your standard "we take offence at anything we don't like" crowd.
Only Iran has a glorious tradition of students regularly going against repressive govt tactics AFAIK.
Posted by: Sunny at February 5, 2006 02:39 PM
According to one report, the mob gathering in Syria was well organized, with several groups arriving at the same time, coordinated by cell phone. That level of organization would have to come from an existing network, which makes it one of the usual suspects, which are unlikely to let this develop in the direction of a general democracy movement (at least in that area).
I suppose there's an off-chance that having that many people together might have resulted in a chance meeting, a productive conversation, looser tongues. Or that this triggers a move towards greater public involvement, that years later snowballs into something productive. Maybe in areas of the Middle East where the protests were largely peaceful, something might develop, but you'd have to contend with the pre-existing networks there too.
Posted by: zurn at February 5, 2006 03:29 PM
I am unsure if the fact that the current provocateurs are illiberal necessarily may control where it all will go, which is why I cited the China example, it was hardly liberal students who chanted kill the black devils.
I think I'll get to it in another entry as it hits on a Grander Theme -- that political participation is more about mechanics than ideology. I am reading elsewhere less of organized mobs than of relatively ordinary persons passing along emails, expressing sincere outrage, inquiring into products to boycott, etc.
Meanwhile, for real long MENA perspective, a blast from ancient Turkey (Ephesus), Christianity, and old-time Western kuffar ("Diana Akbar!") on an episode of self-interested manipulated warpath because of blasphemy, and a plea for due process. Plus ca change:
[Acts ch. 19:] For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver temples for [the Goddess] Diana, brought no small gain to the craftsmen . . . .
"Sirs, you know that our gain is by this trade; And you see and hear, that this Paul by persuasion hath drawn away a great multitude, not only of Ephesus, but almost of all Asia, saying: 'They are not gods which are made by hands'. . . our craft is in danger to be set at nought, but also the temple of great Diana shall be reputed for nothing. . . ."
Having heard these things, they were full of anger . . .and the whole city was filled with confusion . . . .All with one voice, for the space of about two hours, cried out: "Great is Diana of the Ephesians!"
And when the town clerk had appeased the multitudes, he said: "Ye men of Ephesus. . . if Demetrius and the craftsmen that are with him, have a matter against any man, the courts of justice are open, and there are proconsuls: let them accuse one another. And if you inquire after any other matter, it may be decided in a lawful assembly."
Posted by: matthew hogan at February 6, 2006 04:21 AM
Mira Sorvino wrote a thesis about the Nanjing riots? Wow.
Posted by: Tequila at February 10, 2006 08:01 AM