Last night I was bummed out about Chinese government propaganda about Tibet. You may know that tomorrow is Serf Liberation Day in Tibet, an observance of the “glorious liberation” of the Tibetan people by Chairman Mao. I understand that tomorrow it will be 50 years since the last free Tibetan parliament was broken up by China.
Here’s a typical Xinhua photograph of happy liberated Tibetans preparing to celebrate. You just know Tibetans spontaneously throw on matching ethnic attire and carry icons of the Chinese Communist Party while grinning insanely. The white scarf draped around the picture frame is a nice touch.
But I went to bed last night thinking about Ground Zero in Manhattan. One of the several points of contention that has held up reconstruction there is propaganda. For a time the righties wanted to turn the hole in the ground in the Financial District into a glorious tribute to Dear Leader Bush and the glorious liberation of Iraq.
One plan I remember was to prominently display in a visitors’ center a billboard-size photograph of an Iraqi voter — a happy Iraqi voter, mind you — happily waving a purple finger. Some of us who were actually in Manhattan on 9/11 had this crazy idea that what should be memorialized is, you know, 9/11. Not bleeping Iraq, which didn’t have a bleeping thing to do with 9/11.
People dug in their heels and would not budge, so the hole in the ground is still mostly a hole in the ground.
Construction of the “Freedom Tower” has begun, but lo, according to the New York Post the Port Authority has decided not to call it the “Freedom Tower,” but One World Trade Center. Naturally, righties are miffed because some of us don’t appreciate “freedom.”
I do appreciate freedom, which is one reason it’s a relief to me the tower won’t be called the “Freedom Tower.” That name is so, like, Xinhua. I would have had to put quotations marks for irony around “Freedom” every time I keyboarded it.
Rightie propaganda to the contrary, what happened on 9/11 didn’t revolve around the issue of political oppression versus political freedom. It revolved around the fact that some religious fanatics worked themselves into a homicidal rage and killed a lot of good people for no sane reason. If you want to give the tower a name that actually means something relating to 9/11, call it the Rationality Tower. Or, the Peace, Love and/or Compassion Tower would work for me also.
“They hate our freedoms” never was an honest answer to the question, “Why did al Qaeda attack the U.S.?” Al Qaeda didn’t give a bleep about our freedoms, one way or another. A more honest answer would have been “Because they’re crazy.” It was fanaticism that drove them. Certainly, the Western Powers — not the U.S. alone — have a history in the Middle East that doesn’t always shine with the glory of righteousness. But there were many other, saner ways that any outstanding grievances could have been remedied.
The objective for the 9/11 attacks was to goad the U.S. into attacking a Muslim country, which is what Osama bin Laden had wanted for years. That would, he thought, provide the impetus to rally the Muslim world against the West. And, by golly, the idiot righties and the idiot Bush Administration were all too happy to give Osama bin Laden what he wanted.
Maybe we should call the thing the We’re Sorry We Took the Bait Tower.
I think the Chinese genuinely want Tibetans to be happy they are “liberated,” or at least to pretend they are. Any expression to the contrary enrages the Chinese so. Monks are routinely hauled away and tortured merely for possessing a photograph of the Dalai Lama. What is the point of the torture, except to act out rage?
By the same token, by many accounts President Bush was obsessed with wanting the Iraqis to thank him for liberating them. And the Right complained perpetually that news media “weren’t telling the real story” about what was going on in Iraq. If you listened to them closely, you suspect they longed for the kind of news reporting that Xinhua provides the Chinese about Tibet, an alternate reality I call “the happy happiness of happyland.”
They wanted mass parades of Iraqis waving American flags and images of Dear Leader Bush. Instead, they got a guy throwing a shoe. And I understand that guy has been sentenced to three years in prison for throwing a shoe. That’s about what a Tibetan monk gets if he’s caught with a photo of the Dalai Lama.
And the Right is pissed that we can’t use the word “freedom”? My dears, “freedom” means to a rightie what “liberation” means to the Chinese Communist Party — raw exercise of power.
I did a riff on the word freedom and what it means to righties back in 2005. “What we can see unfold before our eyes is the appropriation of the word freedom to mean ‘policies of the Bush Administration.’” I said then. And I quoted Riverbend,
We’re so free, we often find ourselves prisoners of our homes, with roads cut off indefinitely and complete areas made inaccessible. We are so free to assemble that people now fear having gatherings because a large number of friends or family members may attract too much attention and provoke a raid by American or Iraqi forces.
You’ll remember that Riverbend was so happy in Iraqi happyland she and her family went into exile. Happy days.
Update: Based on responses so far to David Dunlap’s New York Times website post, I’m not the only one who cringes at the name “Freedom Tower.” It will always be the World Trade Center, said one commenter. A New Yorker, I bet. Also, a whopping majority of responders to a Gothamist poll say they prefer One World Trade Center to “Freedom Tower.”