Google, China, and genocide: web censorship and Tibet


Snip from an opinion piece posted by Oxblood Ruffin at Cult of the Dead Cow's website:

When content filtering targets a race of people for purely political reasons, and an American company provides the technology to enable that filtering, then it's time to shame the enablers. To date, Google has been criticized solely for providing China with the means to censor the Internet. But a tragic consequence of Google's collaboration -- and one that has been entirely overlooked -- is its contribution to the cultural genocide of the Tibetan people.

Cultural genocide is a scandalous charge. But what exactly does it mean? Raphael Lemkin, a legal scholar, was the first to use this term in 1933. Mr. Lemkin had some expertise on the topic both as an intellectual and as a Holocaust witness. According to Lemkin, the term means the "deliberate destruction of the cultural heritage of a people or nation for political or military reasons." Since no recognized academics dispute that "historic Tibet" has been subject to government-sponsored population relocation programs, creative map-drawing, and wholesale destruction of its cultural institutions, then by definition cultural genocide has taken place.

No Tibetans were consulted when the United Kingdom and China signed a series of imperial documents agreeing to divvy up Tibet according to their own interests. According to the People's Republic of China, suzerainty trumped sovereignty, especially when the occupied territory [Tibet] was weaker and its location was strategic in relation to one of China's historic adversaries [India]. It was also convenient that Tibet was rich in natural resources and had enough vacant real estate to absorb millions of migrant Chinese nationals.

And so began the physical genocide. In 1950, the People's Liberation Army "peacefully liberated" Tibet, something akin to saying that Adolf Hitler was a good friend of European Jewry. From 1950 to date, 1.2 million Tibetans have died as a result of mass slaughter, imprisonment, or starvation; 7.5 million Han Chinese have migrated into historic Tibet, now appended to Sichuan, Yunan, and Gansu provinces, and the more recently chartered province of Qinhai; over three thousand Buddhist monasteries have been razed and their cultural properties destroyed or plundered; and iconic religious leaders -- the recognized figureheads of traditional Tibetan culture -- have been forced into exile, imprisoned, executed, or kidnapped.

Cultural genocide is subtler than physical genocide -- its tools are less obvious. So now China can extend its dilution of Tibetan culture into cyberspace with expert assistance. Google has agreed to filter out every aspect of Tibetan life that the Chinese government finds offensive, leaving only propaganda, misrepresentations, and outright lies about Tibet and Tibetans. It's amazing. The Tibetan people spent thousands of years developing their history and culture, and Google managed to make it disappear in little more than a year with only a few algorithms.

Link to full txt. The author also points to the upcoming Human Rights and Media conference at Harvard, where debate around this topic and others will take place. Image courtesy Students for a Free Tibet, about the pic here.

Previously on BoingBoing:

  • Yahoo aided China in torture, says dissident in lawsuit papers
  • China dissident's wife: "Yahoo betrayed my husband."
  • Jailed Chinese dissident's wife to sue Yahoo for ratting out her husband
  • Yahoo rats out Chinese reporter to Beijing, writer gets 10 years in jail
  • China: gov to expand "Great 'Net Firewall," censor web even more
  • Report: Yahoo helped jail another Chinese 'net dissident, Li Zhi
  • Journalism school won't return Yahoo's controversial $1M grant
  • Report: Yahoo implicated in 3rd China dissident case
  • Yahoo could stay in China and stop sending its users to jail
  • Harsh words for US tech firms from House at China 'net hearings
  • Report: verdict confirms Yahoo helped jail China dissident #2
  • Xeni's LAT op-ed: war, blogs, news, and profit.
  • Amnesty Int'l. confronts Yahoo over jailed Chinese reporter
  • NPR "Xeni Tech": Yahoo may have aided in jailing of second China writer
  • Tech firms blasted over China policies on Capitol Hill
  • HK lawmaker: Yahoo unit had role in Shi Tao's jailing
  • Chinese activist to Jerry Yang: You are helping to maintain an evil system

    Reader comments: Here's a thoughtful criticism of this BoingBoing post, and the essay therein: Link.