It may or may not be true that if Americans are from Mars then Europeans are from Venus, but it is undeniably true that sometimes we speak two very different languages, even when that language is English.
The fact of the matter is that the modern European, for a multitude of reasons, exhibits a worldview that leads him or her to conclusions about current events that are radically different from those one would expect from a mainstream American, be they liberal or conservative.
For example, an American is likely to view the President's ringing endorsement of freedom of religion in China as a simple advancement of a principle that we not only hold dear but one we hold to be universal and fundamental to any proper understanding of international rights. As has now been widely reported, the President spent his morning yesterday in Beijing at a government-approved Christian church to attend services with his wife. Speaking to the press pool, President Bush said:
Thank you all. We started our day here going to a church service that was really uplifting. I was -- I wasn't sure what to expect, and I can tell you that the service was full of spirit, and the preacher gave a really good sermon. She was -- I'm sure you made her nervous with all the cameras and everything, but she was really good. And it was a wonderful way to start the morning.
As I mentioned to the President, as well as to you all on the steps of the church, a society that welcomes religion is a wholesome society, it's a whole society. And I felt like the church service was a affirmation of my strong belief that people should be able to worship freely, and I shared that with President Hu.
It was clear to all that the very visible President of the United States, by attending church services in this manner and by raising the issue directly with the Chinese Government, was bringing the question of religious freedom to the forefront of the U.S.-China relationship. As the President of a republic firmly committed to freedom of religion and democratic reform in China, the President's interests in this regard are clear.
This being the case, it was very interesting to see how this issue was playing in the European press. Typical of the genre is this morning's breathless report in the Financial Times
, which noted:
George W. Bush put human rights and religious freedom at the centre of the U.S.-China relationship yesterday, attending a church service in Beijing and urging the government to allow Chinese Christians to worship openly without state interference.
But human rights campaigners in the US said the immediate consequence of the US president's visit had been a round-up of several Christian activists who were forced to leave the capital while Mr. Bush was there. They also reported an extensive crackdown in nearby Hebei province, including the arrest of a Roman Catholic bishop.
* * *
Responding to reports of dissidents detained before their visit-a normal practice by Chinese state security but nonetheless still embarrassing for the Bush administration-Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state, said the US would raise its concerns "quite vociferously."
Leaving aside for a moment the fact that all reports clearly show the President making a case for religious freedom in general and not just more freedom for Christians, itself a common error among a European press a little too fervently wishing to portray Bush as a bible-thumping moron, it is exceedingly unclear as to why, exactly, the fact that the Chinese government feels so threatened by priests and pastors that it has to round them up in what can only be described as a clear violation of any agreed-upon standard of international law and in direct violation to any number of treaties signed on to by the PRC is an embarrassment for the Bush Administration
. Clearly, it is monstrously embarrassing to any self-respecting Chinese, but why should the President hide his face for standing up for what we believe is a fundamental right?
What do the Europeans want? That we all be quiet with regard to what we believe in the hopes that no one will ever take offense? Or is it that we simply have nothing left that we believe in worth bothering the Chinese over? Or is a ridiculously over-the-top reaction by the Chinese security services really just all Bush's fault because he recklessly put religious Chinese in harm's way by speaking his mind?
Have we really come to this? Are we really expected to go around not speaking of anything of worth since it might offend the Chinese or the Muslims, who in turn may do nasty things because we've angered them? Isn't it obvious how such an outlook leads to quietism, defeatism, cynicism? Isn't it obvious how racist this worldview is where the Big Bad White Man is always responsible for things, even one Chinese arresting another?
The thing is, and this is where I really find fault with Bush and become exasperated with him, Bush cannot win. He should act accordingly. After all, what would the Financial Times
had said if Bush had raised no human rights issues and instead focused entirely on the economic issues facing the two countries? You know the answer to that as well as I do. Some smarmy, sharp-tongued Brit would have done yet another tiresome "the Americans talk a big game when it comes to human rights but in the end it's the dollar that matters and they're all a bunch of self-righteous hypocrites" piece.
Bush can't win, and in that certainty he should find his liberation and fight as he should. The fact that he doesn't goes a long way to explaining the current conservative angst.