Universal freedoms

hose asking for the removal of a recent Tibet photo exhibit on campus should probably avoid appealing to a student newspaper for their cause.

Last week, an exhibit sponsored by the Calgary Chinese Students’ and Scholars’ Association was displayed in MacEwan Student Centre’s north courtyard. Photographs of Tibetan culture, religion and landscapes made up most of the exhibit, complete with captions and a simple explanation speaking of a unified China. After speaking with representatives from the CCSSA, the Gauntlet learned that the intentions of the photos were to spread knowledge about the Tibetan culture–they were not meant to inflame or anger those working for the "liberation" of Tibet. The CCSSA obtained the photos from the Chinese Consulate in Calgary. Nonetheless, to those familiar with the specifics of the Tibet situation, it was obvious the exhibit furthered the Chinese government’s perspective.

It is true the exhibit had a particular slant and it wasn’t immediately apparent who was behind it. It is also true the perspective spoke in absolute terms: it portrayed a form of truth to those who might be unfamiliar with the legitimacy of the Chinese government’s claim over Tibet. However, this is where the criticisms of the exhibit end. Subsequent requests to take down the display constitute a violation of basic freedoms to express an opinion and cannot be acted upon.

We all know the Chinese government is authoritarian. We also all know the Chinese government is prone to exercising its power in a most abrasive fashion, sometimes placing little value on individual human lives. However, as various Chinese heads-of-state have said over the years, the greater good of stability often takes precedence–had the Tiananmen demonstrations been successful, they say, China could have completely destabilized. Of course, this didn’t give the government the right to execute its people as grimly as it did. And yet these same officials would state they were only acting in the greater name of peace. Perhaps what we should be arguing about is how to attain that peace.

The unfortunate truth is that the Chinese government has a certain vision for its country, and this vision is exercised in photo exhibits and in places like Tibet. The other unfortunate truth is that we cannot censor information like this as doing so would apply censorship unequally.

Since the September 11 attacks, most media organizations have been lining up to support America’s war. Little else receives coverage, and most media is shouting the same tune. To criticize such efforts is to be unpatriotic, and as such, people are very sensitive to the information they receive. Under such a situation, statements to the contrary are deemed insensitive and in bad taste, regardless of whether the message has any value or not. The fact is these messages must reach people, allowing them to decide for themselves.

Universities are perhaps the best venue for these questions to surface as we have some of the best minds available to critically analyze information and deem it what we wish. If we end the dialogue by shutting down political statements we disagree with, we will cut the arteries of information that supply an open and democratic society.

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