In Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, a huge clock is counting down the minutes until the start of the Summer Olympic Games on August 8, 2008. With construction zooming on new sports stadiums, public parks, and stunning skyscrapers, a Chinese official exuberantly told The New York Times on April 17: “The Olympics are coming and everyone wants to show their best.”
But around the world, other preparations are being made to show China at its worst. On the fourth anniversary of the genocide in Darfur—Sunday, April 29—demonstrations abounded in Stockholm, Budapest, Lagos, Berlin, and other cities, including London, where a seven-foot hourglass of fake blood was erected for Tony Blair to see. Hundreds of protesters were involved at each bristling site.
And, as Agence France-Presse reported, a letter from Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial (known for its unsparing exhibits) went to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon: “[Because of] a genocide that took place while the world was silent, we feel a special obligation to raise alarm on Darfur.”
Next March, China will start the longest Olympic torch march in history, described by the Associated Press as “an 85,000-mile, 130-day route that will cross five countries and scale Mount Everest.” Among those cheering on the route will be celebrators—but also some involved in a growing worldwide campaign to boycott the “Genocide Olympics” and otherwise shame China for its deep criminal involvement in Darfur as Sudan’s chief investor, arms supplier, and protector at the U.N. Security Council.
Nervously aware of the growing momentum of the “shaming” campaign, Chinese officials have been visiting Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, publicly advising President al-Bashir to be more “flexible” in allowing U.N. troops into Darfur. But China also continues to oppose any sanctions on the National Islamic Front government and has shown no flexibility in its hard line on the U.N. Security Council.
While scorning the boycotters of the Summer Olympics as “either ignorant or ill-natured” and “doomed to fail,” Chinese leaders are engaged in a campaign to “protect” the sanctity and reputation of the Olympic games themselves:
“We are against any attempt to politicize the Olympic games,” says Sun Weide, spokesman for the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games. “That is against the purpose and principles of the Olympic Movement.” (Indeed, there are no mass rapes or mass-murder events at the Olympics.)
That pious statement appeared April 26 in a detailed Wall Street Journal report, starting on the front page of its Marketing section—showing that the Journal regards the “shaming” and boycott movement an important story for its international audience.
Reporters Shai Oster and Geoffrey A. Fowler noted that “more than almost anything, Beijing fears a tarnished image,” all the more because “the latest changes in Sudan appear to have bolstered the belief of boycotters and other activists that the way to Khartoum passes through Beijing.”
And International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge sighs: “We certainly are going to get more of this [agitation for a boycott]. We know that.”
Not only are the Summer Olympics going to be targeted, but boycotts will also be aimed at sponsors like Panasonic, General Electric, Coca-Cola, Visa, McDonald’s, and Johnson & Johnson. Furthermore, The Wall Street Journal reports, the corporate sponsors of the games are spending “tens of millions just for the right to use Olympic logos on their marketing.” Consider the counter-logos that shoppers intent on ending the genocide will affix to these products before putting them back on the shelves.
China has engaged Steven Spielberg to orchestrate and direct the opening and closing ceremonies in 2008. As quoted by Eric Reeves, the historian of this genocide, Spielberg publicly pledged: “All of us are dedicated to making these Olympic opening and closing ceremonies the most emotional anyone has ever seen.” (More emotional than Sudan’s Janjaweed’s mass raping of black women in Darfur?)
An example of the kind of searing heat that can be directed at a famous participant in the preparation of the games in Beijing is that when Mia Farrow—deeply involved in Darfur—disclosed Spielberg’s “emotional” role in the Summer Olympics, the flustered showman said he’d not known about the genocide, but had just found out about China’s involvement. (How, after all the coverage of China’s mutually profitable partnership with Sudan, could he not have known?) Spielberg has now written a tepid letter to Beijing asking China’s chieftains to use their influence on Sudan. He has not indicated that if the murders and rapes keep on, he’ll resign his master-of-ceremonies role at the Genocide Olympics. But he is sorely embarrassed, the poor man.
As the organizing effort compelling China to get its partner Sudan to end the genocide takes shape, I will be alerting those of you who want to get involved. Already, there is a grassroots, staffed operation that can provide a range of information: Olympic Dream for Darfur (firstname.lastname@example.org). Its companion website is dreamfordarfur.org.
The leader of Olympic Dream for Darfur is Jill Savitt, formerly with Human Rights First. Senior adviser to the project is Smith College’s Reeves, who has done more than anyone I know to keep a meticulously accurate record—and analysis—of Sudan’s multiple crimes against humanity. His website is worth looking at regularly, including its “Genocide Olympics” pages: sudanreeves.org.
Olympic Dream for Darfur is not a boycott operation. Its focus is on organizing activities to put persistent pressure on China to force Sudan to end the mass murders and mass rapes. Among such actions, with more to come, are international teach-ins, rallies, vigils, and counter Olympic relays in a series of countries to vividly call attention to China’s complicity in genocide. That’s for openers. Also coming, Savitt tells me, “will be other creative actions that people can dream up.”
I’ve told her that I expect that many of those contacting Olympic Dream for Darfur will also—on their own—get involved in boycotts of the Summer Olympics and of its corporate sponsors.
Unlike Eric Reeves and his colleagues, I am not opposed to boycotts of the Olympics or the corporate sponsors of the games. But all I can do is write. Jill Savitt, Eric Reeves, and all the others involved in Olympic Dream for Darfur are not just writing and talking—they are doing something, and I hope you will keep in contact with them. And if you intend to visit the Summer Olympics, don’t just sit there.
Mia Farrow, meanwhile, has a message for our fearless leader: “President Bush has asked for more time. Tell it to the mother whose children are on fire.”