When Steven Spielberg finally resigned as artistic director to the 2008 Summer Olympic in Beijing, the filmmaker of "Schindler's List," and the founder of an oral history by Holocaust survivors, said: "I find that my conscience will not allow me to continue business as usual.
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 (whose benefactor is China)."
Reporting from Beijing, the Associated Press (Feb. 13) said that Spielberg's compelling act of conscience "could be a major blow to Beijing's promotion of the Aug. 8-24 Olympics as a symbol of China's integration into mainstream global society" after that nation "has invested billions of dollars and its national prestige into what it hopes will be a glorious showcase of China's rapid development from impoverished agrarian nation to rising industrial power." Last month, during his legacy tour of how his compassionate conservatism has indeed benefited a number of countries in Africa, George W. Bush did not include Sudan, let alone Darfur, in his schedule. And, in response to Spielberg's refusal to help glorify the amoral nation that buys two-thirds of genocidal Sudan's oil and provides much of its arms that kill thousands of black Africans in Darfur, Bush said firmly: "I'm going to the Olympics. I view the Olympics as a sporting event." This was the same person who then said in Rwanda that the genocide there "is a reminder that evil in the world must be confronted."
He called on all nations to stop the killing in Darfur. He has been a compassionate conservative in a number of respects. But his current moral blindness in giving his imprimatur by attending the Olympics (an event which, in itself, is part of China's quest for absolution for the massacre of students calling for democracy in Tiananmen Square — and that nation's continuous, ruthless crushing of religious and political dissenters) is a permanent stain on his legacy.
Oh, he's mindful, the president says, of the suffering in Darfur where, in January, the Sudanese army and its militia from hell, the Janjaweed, burned down towns in Darfur, leaving more corpses.
"I must confess," Bush said while in Africa, "I'm a little frustrated by how slow things are moving (to get the full U.N.-African Union force into Darfur)." But he's looking forward to enjoying the grand tourneys of athletic prowess in Beijing. Listening to his conscience, Prince Philip of England has decided not to attend the Genocide Olympics. But the British Olympics Association, over which the prince has no authority, has commanded all British athletes qualifying for the Summer Olympics to obey a clause in section 4 of the contract they'll have to sign that states: "Athletes are not to comment on any sensitive issues" while they're in Beijing. The Daily Mail newspaper in London has reported the BOAC confirms that any athlete who refuses to sign that gag rule won't be able to travel to the Communist host of the games. And if a signer then speaks out in Beijing, he or she will be shipped back home on the next plane. Among the competitors covered by this edict are the Queen of England's granddaughter, Zara Phillips, and marathon runner Paula Radcliffe, a world-record-holder in that sport. Considering that the roots of some of our nation's basic civil liberties of conscience and speech originated during very hard-fought battles throughout British history, it is all the more embarrassing, to say the least, that while a member of the British Royal Family, who is also a supporter of the Dalai Lama, exiled by China, is repelled by the prospect of attending the Summer Olympics, the president of the United States does not want to miss this resplendent sporting pantheon. During his African trip — Bush, speaking with casual disdain of the kind of people who would use the Olympics to pressure China to get Sudan's inhuman tyrant, Gen. Omar al-Bashir, to stop the mass killing and raping — said (Washington Post, Feb. 15), "I mean, you got the Dalai Lama crowd. You've got global-warming folks. You've got, you know, Darfur," Bush said. Golly, who would want to be associated with such a "crowd"?
While Belgium and New Zealand are also prohibiting its athletes from expressing offensive political opinions as guests of China, Jouko Purontakanen, secretary general of the Finnish Olympic Committee, will not silence that country's athletes. He told The Daily Mail: "Freedom of expression is a basic right that cannot be limited." But keep in mind that Section 5 of the International Olympic Committee Charter — which applies to all of the worldwide competitors this August — insists there be "no kind of demonstration, or political, religious or racial propaganda, in the Olympics sites venues or other areas." I am willing to bet that there are American athletes who, unlike our president, will speak directly and publicly from their conscience during the Beijing Olympics, reminding the world why these are increasingly called The Genocide Olympics.
Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights and author of many books, including "The War on the Bill of Rights and the Gathering Resistance" (Seven Stories Press, 2004).