Hong Kong's Red Guards taste blood

September 22, 2017 18:08
The targeting of HKU professor and Occupy campaign co-founder Benny Tai is seen as part of a much wider attack on Hong Kong's civil society. Photo: Bloomberg

Should Hong Kong's re-born Red Guards have their way and succeed in getting Benny Tai thrown out of the University of Hong Kong, does anyone seriously think they will stop there?

Of course not, as the increasingly hysterical campaign to get Tai dismissed from his post does not even seek to disguise that it is ideologically driven and targeted at the Occupy Movement co-founder not because of his actions but because of his ideas.

In other words Tai is guilty of the Orwellian-named 'thought crime'. Naturally the slavering democracy baiters try and drape themselves in a rule of law garb but rather blow their cover by suggesting that because Tai is on trial for civil disobedience the verdict is irrelevant as he must be guilty, regardless of due process.

Then they drone on about how he and 'those like him' are poisoning the minds of students with their foreign-influenced ideas and lack of loyalty to the Motherland. Interestingly they take it for granted that Hong Kong students are both stupid and naïve enough to believe everything they are told, thus they need to be protected from 'incorrect ideas'. (The real fear however is that they are quite bright enough to sort out things for themselves.)

At this point you might have expected a stout affirmation of academic freedom and assertion of autonomy from the University's vice-chancellor, Peter Matheson, who will shortly flee back to Britain after losing the unequal battle against Arthur Li, the far more wily and determined Chairman of the University Council who has ensured that in political matters Matheson is reduced to the role of hand-wringer-in-chief.

In this instance Matheson has chosen to make a number of mealy-mouthed on the one hand and on the other type of remarks – all notably lacking in a blunt statement that under his watch no one is to be hounded out of the university for political reasons.

Other timid academics have taken their lead from Matheson, the so-called liberal in the pack. Their silence and ambivalence is being gleefully noted by the Red Guards in shiny shoes because they have an instinct for identifying cowed people. They seek to intimidate and silence those who oppose them and, lamentably, are doing pretty well.

That's not to say that there are no brave academics or a lack of students who fully appreciate what is at stake here. Indeed their tenacity has been impressive but, unless I am imagining things, it seems that their numbers have dwindled. Members of the academic community who were once prepared to put their heads above the parapet have now remembered that they have what are usually described as 'family commitments'.

As an aside it always amuses me to see that the timid are somehow believed to have greater family commitments than the brave, but it was ever thus.

Were all this merely some obscure academic matter it would matter far less than it does but, of course, this goes way beyond the universities. The targeting of Benny Tai is part of a much wider attack on civil society and liberty. And it follows a resolutely similar pattern of attacks by ideologues and enemies of freedom in every corner of the world whereby various degrees of intimidation and brute force they lash out at all areas of free expression where their hateful ideology is likely to be challenged.

In the Cultural Revolution Red Guards ransacked their professors rooms, forced them to kneel and apologize for their wrong thoughts and in some cases tortured them to death. Thank goodness things have not reached this stage here, say the dogged optimists who rather hope that the bad omens of what is to come will somehow evaporate as good sense reasserts itself.

However the wonderful powers of evaporation are not to be relied upon, what stops these bullies in their tracks is what stops all bullies in their tracks – namely resistance because the reality is that most bullies are cowards who will keep strutting around until they are stopped.

So, if they taste blood with the expulsion of Benny Tai you can be absolutely sure that they will be looking for more. The only blood (figuratively speaking, of course) they don’t like the taste of is their own.

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Hong Kong-based journalist, broadcaster and book author