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Fresh Reads from the Science 'o sphere!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Perils Of Being Moderate

It's common shorthand these days, especially for mainstream new agencies, to label people who don't have strong opinions as "moderates".

I think this is a misnomer that confuses the vast majority of the people who are simply apathetic and don't care either way, with individuals who have deeply considered the topic and genuinely hold a moderate stand.

And the way that "moderate" is used also gives a false impression of safety - I mean, if a person holds such a reasonable stand, embraced by the majority and buffered away from all those "extremists" in society, who would ever want to attack her?

A good question.

On the 7th of April, Chinese Paralympic fencer Jin Jing (金晶), who was one of the Olympic torchbearers during the relay in Paris, was attacked by pro-Tibet protestors attempting to wrestle the torch away from her.

Her steadfast protection of the Olympic torch against the unruly demonstrators initially turned her into a celebrated hero in China. In addition, many Chinese citizens were enraged by the incident and blamed the French government for allowing it to happen.

As the sentiments continued to rise, numerous Chinese citizens decided to boycott the French retailer Carrefour as a show of anger towards France.

Jin Jing appealed to the crowds to be prudent in handling calls to boycott Carrefour. She felt that the first victims of such a boycott are likely to be the many Chinese employees at Carrefour.

This is a clearly a moderate stand, coming from the victim of the attack herself.

The response?

Many Chinese netizens immediately called her a traitor and launched a barrage of personal insults at her. The respect and admiration for her quickly transformed into frenzied rage against her.

Jin Jing is not the only person to be facing fierce attacks for her moderate stand. Grace Wang (Wang Qianyuan 王千源), a student at Duke University who tried to encourage dialogue between pro-Tibet protesters and pro-China protestors, was also branded as a traitor.

Her predicament is even worse - she needs police protection at Duke, and her family in China had to go into hiding because they received death threats.

It's not easy to be a moderate, because you can end up being shot by both sides.

Sometimes the most vicious attacks may actually come from "your side".

There are many tragic examples in history.

On 4th November 1995, Yitzhak Rabin, the first native-born Prime Minister of Israel, was assassinated.

He was shot, not by a Palestinian, but by a right-wing Orthodox Jew.

Rabin had been deeply involved in the Middle East peace process, resulting in the Oslo Accords in 1993. For his efforts, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994.

However, many right-wing Israelis considered him to be a traitor for giving away land that rightfully belongs to Israel. The Oslo Accords caused deep divisions in Israeli society, ultimately culminating in the fatal shooting.

Prominent individuals often get singled out as targets for extremists of both sides, but sometimes there is no safety in numbers.

Even a large group of people can become victims.

During the Rwandan Genocide of 1994, Hutu militia groups planned a large-scale murder of the Tutsi minority in their country. However, the first people to be targeted in the mass killings were in fact a number of moderate Hutu politicians.

Members of their "own side".

They were silenced because they could help stem the fever pitch of anti-Tutsi sentiments that had rapidly escalated in Rwanda. Without their voices of reason, the Hutu militia could then play up the pent-up emotions of huge crowds of Hutus and incite them to violence.

Thousands of Hutus, along with about 800,000 Tutsis, perished during the genocide.

So you can see that being "moderate" is not some lazy, default state that people lapse into when they don't give a shit about anything.

I would argue that very few people have the courage to maintain a moderate stand when huge adversarial groups of people face off against each other. When you are neither "us" nor "them", you become "them" to both sides. Dichotomies, even false dichotomies, have immense social power.

Much easier to adopt an extreme stand and enjoy the absolute solidarity and power that it provides.

There aren't many genuine moderates in society, but without them, peace is very difficult to achieve.


Anonymous said...

Ji jing is right about the job losses if Carrefour draw out of china.(at least she is thinking)
Moderate? The Anti Tibet democracy is frightening in the fact that they are rioting in their Host country( who are providing them services like education that they seem unable to get at Home kinda sad esp since france give them a place to study).
The only thing i can think of is ingrates.
Therefore I shop more in carrefour while avoiding china product like those apples that I like.

Lim Leng Hiong said...

To Anon 11:01,

Yes, a salient weakness of my article is that I did not clearly define what "moderate" means. A dictionary would define it as not extreme or excessive, though those are highly subjective terms.

I think that when two adversarial groups clash with each other, the moderate stand is one that neither group considers to be "one of them".

As for host country dynamics, I believe that host citizens feel happy if the guests are grateful for the education and employment opportunities there. Even happier if the guests pick up the language, some local customs and cultural quirks that they can show off to their friends when they return home.

Host citizens generally do not like their guests to constantly rant about how inferior they are compared to the guest country and how lousy they are compared to the USA.

I'm quite sure they also do not like rioting.