Commentary Magazine


Spielberg Withdraws from the Olympics

Yesterday, Steven Spielberg announced that he had severed his role as artistic advisor to this year’s Summer Olympics, which begins in August. “I find that my conscience will not allow me to continue business as usual,” he said in a statement. “At this point, my time and energy must be spent not on Olympic ceremonies, but on doing all I can to help bring an end to the unspeakable crimes against humanity that continue to be committed in Darfur.”

China is committing no such crimes in Darfur. It is, however, providing crucial material support to the government in Khartoum as well as diplomatic help, especially in the U.N Security Council. That government, in turn, is sponsoring the Janjaweed militia, which has rightly been accused of genocide. So far, about 200,000 to 400,000 people have died according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Spielberg, by refusing to continue his work on the opening and closing ceremonies, implicitly says that participation in the Olympics is tantamount to supporting the atrocities, including mass murder and rape, taking place in western Sudan.

In the wake of the famed director’s withdrawal, Human Rights Watch has asked others to think about their personal responsibility. “These influential players should be prepared to show the steps they are taking to address the worsening rights climate in China, or they risk being tarnished by a human rights debacle,” said Minky Worden, the group’s media director, yesterday.

Worden raises a fundamental issue: At what point does personal participation imply guilt? Beijing’s response is predictable: “As the Darfur issue is neither an internal issue of China, nor is it caused by China, it is completely unreasonable, irresponsible and unfair for certain organizations and individuals to link the two as one,” the Chinese embassy in Washington said in a statement yesterday. Beijing’s position, however reasonable it seems on its face, is unconvincing simply because the tragedy in Darfur would not be occurring were it not for China.

Today, there is a growing sentiment that China is too damn close to the Janjaweed militia. On Tuesday, 25 individuals, including Nobel peace laureates, called on Chinese President Hu Jintao to take steps to end the slaughter sponsored by Khartoum. Whether Beijing likes it or not, people are starting to make the connections between death in Darfur and the celebrations in Beijing. It is high time we examine our national—and personal—responsibility for China’s acts because we are enabling the Chinese regime through our policies of engagement.

“Repression in China is on the rise, and Olympic sponsors, governments, or world leaders—especially those planning to attend the Games—can’t pretend otherwise,” said Worden. At least Prince Charles is on the side of the angels. He has said that he will not attend the Games. President Bush, however, is going to Beijing in August for the spectacle. Regrettably, he has tried to lessen his personal responsibility by saying that he is doing so only as a sports fan. As Spielberg has just shown us, however, that is not possible in today’s climate. Let me quote Bush to Bush: you’re either with the Chinese autocrats or against them.

And if you’re with me, you insist that your leaders in Washington not associate themselves with ugly events taking place in Darfur by supporting the extravaganza in Beijing.