Sunday, June 18, 2006

Sound familiar?

To those who still care about the "debate" or lack thereof regarding the Sammy-Siu Yee "indecent assault" poll on their popular phone-in radio show whose audience composed mainly of young people, does the following excuses that would be used by U.S. Republicans to valiantly defend that vile Ann Coulter sound familiar?

We all know that is not how things work in today's America where environmentalists and Quakers are viewed as threats, but vitriol-spewing right-wing extremists are supposedly just misunderstood. And as much as I like the make-them-take-a-stand suggestion, that will also only work in a world where politicians are honest and genuinely care about the common folk. In reality, politicians are skilled at avoidance. In this case, something like the following scenarios would be more likely:
1. [to a republican ideologue]
Q: Do you agree with Coulter?
A: I respect Rep. Murtha and obviously I wouldn't wish violence against anyone, but I think the humorless liberals and the liberal media are blowing this way out of proportion. It wasn't in the best of taste, but those who know her know that she is passionate and can sometimes get carried away with respect to her unusual sense of humor.
Q: So you're condoning this threat?
A: I am not condoning threats, especially non-existent ones. I am condoning freedom of speech rather than political correctness.
And so on.
2. [to a media outlet]
Q: Aren't you afraid you will be seen as agreeing with her positions by giving her air time? A: Her opinions are not ours, but like everyone she has the right to express them.
Q: Everyone? So we can expect to see Michael Moore on your show in the future?
A: Yes [which will, of course, be an outright lie].
And so on.
However it plays out, the republogues will avoid getting nailed down and try to use the opportunity to make points against liberals. When they push for yes/no votes, they are just as interested in democratic obfuscations as they are the actual vote- they make for great sound bites to use as chum for ignoramuses.

(Original emphasis, Iconoclast comment, on Salon.com story regarding Ann Coulter's remarks of "fragging" Democrat Representative Jack Murtha)

One could easily see the parallel between how feminists and the general public are being vilified as "humourless prudes" in Hong Kong and those same unsavoury epithets being applied to the U.S. Democrats by their opponents in order to obfuscate their very legitimate arguments. In fact, the more I read of HK's mainstream media the more such unsavoury parallels I see in what passes for public discourses these days - Democrats in HK and the U.S. being villified as "unpatriotic" and "conspiring with the national enemies" by the sitting governments for daring to criticise their policies; the existence of blabbermouths on the progressives' sides (To Git in HK, Michael Moore in U.S.) which served as convenient strawmen for the opposing camp; and basically the utter uselessness of the Democrats in mounting any kind of genuine and effective opposition to the sitting government because of in-fighting and the lack of a cohesive message.

The utter uselessness of the Democrats in HK however is also a result of the utter confusion in political lineage of its present parties, with a complete blurring of lines between Left and Right as traditionally-understood in the West, as well as a lack of education regarding the differences between social versus liberal democratic traditions.

The difference between HK and the US is that the Right and the Left are completely reversed: the Communist Left in HK is very very different from the Liberal Left in US, or the Socialist Left in Ireland and the UK, for that matter. The split between the fiscal and the social in Hong Kong could not be more stark: conservatives in the social sense is a very different kettle of fish to conservatives in the fiscal sense. Whilst almost all of the 8 millions HK populace would be very libertarian and almost neo-liberal in their economic leanings, which stemmed from a cultural reaction against the Communist ethic in Mainland China (which itself is currently going through a honey-moon period of embracing market economics); the vast majority of Hong-kongers would not identify themselves as socially conservative (in contrast to the US bible-thumping conservative Right-wingers), as these are characteristics that they would assign to the Communist Left. In fact, while Bible-thumping is the remit of the morally-conservative Right-wingers in the U.S., in HK Christians are broadly seen as those who support and champion socially-progressive measures.

The really sad thing about the Sammy-SiuYee affair is that it has been politicised beyond recognition over what should have been a straight-forward issue of balancing your freedom to swing your fists to end where your neighbour's nose begins. Feminists who are pioneering promoters of sexual freedoms for women were being labelled as humourless nuns too uptight to understand sex, or as moralistic "C-9" (gossiping housewives) having nothing better to do than to meddle in young people's affairs. Very few people see such unfounded stereotyping as another stinging attack on women and their right-to-dissent, instead, "sophisticated" commentators pride themselves on analysing this as a political game of tit-for-tat: the enemy of your enemy is your friend and so, by the same token of illogic, the feminists must be at fault because their voices were used to chime in with the HKSAR government's agenda in suppressing freedom of the press. If one dares to voice the common liberal idea of balancing rights with responsibilities as understood in the West, she would be attacked as daring to collude with the government in compromising freedom of speech, much like the Republican example above.

So the common meanings of Left in the West are rather lost in HK, with the label being used to signal that you're supporting the Chinese Communist Party rather than identifying yourself as socially progressive. It's a huge irony that "Long Hair" wears his collection of Che Guevara t-shirts day in day out and yet he's seen as a champion against the Mainland Chinese's illiberal edicts, an irony produced by the fact that the CCP is currently neither socialist in social welfare (much like New Labour, no?) nor was it ever progressive on matters of individual liberty (sticking true to its Stalinist guns).

At the same time, you have Liberal Democrats like Martin Lee - with his blind faith in free market economics during the Asian financial crisis, and ill-conceived calls for Western support to initiate democracy in HK when the governments in those same countries (US and the UK) are cynically betraying the very ideals of democracy to their own citizens - serving as a reverse rallying point for those moderates who would not otherwise be as fervent in supporting the Mainland Chinese government. As a result legitimate Social Democrats like Cheung-Yan Lee - who are concerned with social welfare issues as well as right for self-governance - are smeared as "British poodles" because they also happened to call themselves "Democrats".

The amazing thing is that, independent politicians, who should really have known better, are prepared to continue to saddle themselves with this label. However, without a general understanding of the meanings behind the Left/Right labels and, more importantly, the difference between the Anglo-Saxon versus the Continental European models of democratic capitalism, "Democrats" in HK will be continually misunderstood and villified by the voting public, because the majority of HK people are labouring under a misapprehension. So in addition to seeing the "democratic" ideals being taken in vain by quasi-democrats, be prepared to see more false accusations against legitimate promoters of civic freedoms by those who are supporting anything but, and/or by those who are too naive to know the difference or too feckless to care.

I really want to get over the whole Sammy/Siuyee affair, yet I despair for Hong Kong sometimes, I really do.

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