Over the last few weeks Australians have witnessed an extraordinary attempt at censorship by a foreign power. I'm speaking of course about the Chinese government and its sympathisers trying to stop the screening of the documentary, The 10 Conditions of Love, at the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF).
Their campaign has been totally counterproductive, giving the film and its protagonist, Rebiya Kadeer, far more publicity than they ever would have garnered without it. (Continues below)
The documentary is a portrait of this 62-year-old grandmother who's become the unlikely leader in exile of the Muslim minority Uighurs in the far western Chinese province of Xinjiang (or as Uighurs prefer to call it, East Turkestan). She is in Australia to speak at screenings of the film.
Kadeer was once a wealthy entrepreneur in China, and worked with the Chinese government to further the cause of her people. But after speaking out against the government, she was imprisoned. She left China in 2005 and now lives in the United States.
The trailer featured here is from the 54 minute documentary made by Australian filmmaker Jeff Daniels.
Kadeer is a tireless advocate for the rights of the Uighur people, and her efforts go well beyond this film. As well as extensive media and speaking engagements, she has also recently released an acclaimed autobiography, written with Alexandra Cavelius, called Dragon Fighter: One Woman's Epic Struggle for Peace with China.
Kadeer rejects claims by the Chinese government that she is a 'criminal' and 'terrorist'. She says her struggle is not religious, and she condemns Muslim extremists and terrorists. What she wants is peaceful coexistence with the Chinese, recognition of and respect for distinctive Uighur culture, and a degree of autonomy.
This sounds very reasonable, but as is evidenced by efforts to stop screenings of the film here and to prevent Kadeer's visit, Chinese authorities will have none of it. They lobbied hard against granting her a visa. But after extensive checks, the Australian government found the allegations that she had fomented the recent violent race riots in Xinjiang to be baseless. As a result a visa was granted.
The Chinese consul in Melbourne contacted the director of MIFF in an effort to have the film withdrawn, and our ambassador in Beijing received a dressing down over the issue. Other Chinese films were taken out of the festival in protest. This was followed by a series of cyber-attacks by Chinese sympathisers on the MIFF website in an effort to sabotage it.
While we are in thrall to the economic might of China, this incident is a timely reminder that it is a vast country governed by very different values. As Michael Elliott wrote in an essay in the latest issue of Time, 'China will not be just any old superpower ... its values (let us say harmony and stability, rather than liberty and justice) are not those of the West'.
Peter Kirkwood worked for 23 years in the Religion and Ethics Unit of ABC TV. He has a Master's degree from the Sydney College of Divinity.
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14 August 2009
Australians have a power to support and defend the Uihur people to fight for their right to a peaceful and just community wherever they are. Let us show that we are a generous and humane society governed by the rule of law and not by the rule of the gun as Mao preached.
14 August 2009
Those of us long in the tooth would regard Kirkwood's article as a bad joke. Censorship in Australia, both political and "moral", during the 50s and before was just as arbitrary as that currently exercised in China. Amongst others censors attempted to ban films favourable to Spain's legal government as 'hostile to a friendly government'; Eisenstein's famous classic Ten days that shook the world, the chinese classic whitehaired girl for political reasons. While violent (and worthless) Hollywood films were uncut, any hint of erotic material was reason for bans, the most famous being I love, you love" by Stig Bjorkman. Books also suffered, Lady Chatterley's Lover was one famous example, as were numerous others. There were even special censorship offices in each state, the Victorian State Attorney General banning a book on the grounds that he would not allow his teenage daughter to read it. (He had no teenage daughter). In the US there are currently laws which attempt to force librarians to divulge readers' borrowings to the political authorities.
As a member of a group which successfully fought censorship in those days I need to point out that political freedom is not peculiar to the west but needs to be fought for everywhere.
14 August 2009
As one 'long in the tooth' as Gerry writes, I beg to differ with his analysis of the 50s in Australia. Most of the censorship of that period was a form of "wowserism" based on morality and so called Christian values; as often as not ran by the DLP and its supporters like Bob Santamaria. There is no evidence of 'political correctness' being involved in the sense we have recently seen being used by the Chinese authorities.
At no time in my memory have we experienced in Australia the sort of rigid control on society as exercised by the Chinese Authorities. By the way, such control has been a feature of Chinese society for millennia. On a positive note such control has enabled the central authority to keep the Chinese civilisation functional. A breakdown of such control(loss of the "Mandate of Heaven" by the rulers) has led to disaster time and time again in Chinese History - a fact not lost on the present leadership.
We need to ensure our people are informed about this information, so they can deal with 'interference' from Chinese interests in our internal affairs. They must be informed such heavy handed tactics are unacceptable in Australia.
16 August 2009
Rebiya Kadeer is the 'Bin Laden' to Chinese. The Chinese should use the same phrase G.W.Bush used after 9/11 - 'You are either with them, or with us'.
I do agree that the Chinese government shouldn't try to stop her talking or her visit.
But if the Australia chooses to hold a 'terrorist' like Rebiya Kadeer, China reserves the right to invade Australia to fight ETIM just like Bush invaded Iraq and Afghan to fight Al-Qaeda.