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August 2008

By Rajesh Oza

Olympic Boycott — Right or Wrong?

Dear PMG:

I just graduated from college with a degree in journalism and have received a wonderful opportunity to work in Beijing covering the Olympics. My job will be that of a behind-the-scenes staffer supporting the television reporters in front of the camera, but I am faced with a rather large dilemma: to go or not to go. I know that this is the chance of a lifetime. Most of my fellow-graduates are not getting jobs because of the economy So I feel especially grateful for this job, which allows me to be a part of the worldwide excitement surrounding the Olympics. But I also believe that China is exploiting Tibet and I feel that my going would be inconsistent with my protest against Chinese aggression. It feels unethical to not register my protest in my own small way.

Dear Friend,

“If the people resolve and carry out this programme of boycott and swadeshi, they would not have to wait for Swaraj even for a year.” (M. K. Gandhi)

“One of the objects of a newspaper is to understand popular feeling and to give expression to it; another is to arouse among the people certain desirable sentiments; and the third is fearlessly to expose popular defects.” (M. K. Gandhi)

Your letter presents two questions: (1) Will boycotting the Olympics make a difference to the Tibetan cause of self-rule? and (2) What is your obligation as a journalist? Some might suggest that as a recent college graduate you are too small to make a difference. They might argue that President Bush’s decision to attend the opening ceremony legitimizes everyone else’s presence at the Olympics. What is missed in this argument is that China is doing in Tibet (as well as in Xinjiang) exactly what the mid-19th century American policy of Manifest Destiny did to native populations in California— subjugation and forcible acquisition of their lands. No wonder that President Bush doesn’t have a moral upper ground in this case. But your letter shows that you do have a moral stance. Your boycott can make a difference if it helps Tibetans define “swadeshi” in this age of globalization. Your chosen profession, however, might suggest that you have an obligation to attend the Olympics. The code of professional dharma dictates that you must practice your duty as a journalist to cover an important world event. More importantly, if you can channel your courage and use your television role as a platform from which to “fearlessly? expose popular defects” of the Chinese domestic and foreign policy, you will make a bigger difference by being in Beijing than by being on the outside looking in.

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