Mark Steel: So Tibetans have been brainwashed by a rogue...

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Surely no one with a fragment of humanity can fail to be moved by the protesters in Tibet, not so much because of their courage and optimism, but because in one clip on the news they were on horseback. That's how to arrive at demonstrations. Imagine if there was some protest at the local town hall, and just as it was petering out it was joined by the "Save Luton Library Cavalry". Then the leader fiddled with his knee-length beard, announced "Councillors, prepare to meet your doom" and laughed with a threatening high-pitched cackle before jumping off his horse to drop-kick the mayor. Then it could all be portrayed in a film called Placards of Fury.

But mostly it seems the Chinese government are working hardest to live up to their stereotype. For example, the Communist Party Tibet Daily described the protesting monks as "Loyal running dogs of the Dalai Clique." You'd know if someone from the Tibet Daily got a job on the Shepton Mallet Gazette, because the articles would begin "On Saturday there was a demonstration by pensioners who object to the proposed closure of the sub-post office in Wickton Street.

"It was organised by proprietor Mrs Henderson, a poisonous feudal decaying rat, lickspittle bourgeois stooge of her stamp-peddling reactionary camel-dung husband, the so-called Mister Henderson."

Similarly, if the Communist Party chief in Tibet was seriously trying to persuade neutrals of his case, he might not have referred to the Dalai Lama as "A devil with a human face, but the heart of a beast." To be fair, this sort of language might be what's needed to liven up political debate in this country. Then on Question Time, Dimbleby could say: "So Frank Dobson says you're a devil with a human face and the bowels of a hyena – how do you respond to that, Shirley Williams?"

The Chinese government's claim that the situation in Tibet amounts to random criminal violence, which the military are trying to deal with calmly, might be open to question, given that one side is protected by armoured vehicles and the other side is protected by loose-fitting silky orange cloth. Maybe the Tibet Daily will inform its readers: "Kindly policemen faced further anarchy yesterday when batty Buddhists tried to DAZZLE them with their blinding robes. A spokesman said: 'We had no choice but to open fire. Some of them had gongs, and if they'd started using them as frisbees who knows WHAT damage they'd have done?'"

The Chinese government may add its flourishes to its justification for brutality, but in general the language is familiar. It's similar to the line put forward by any empire when faced with an uprising: "an anarchic minority, opposed to progress, funded by outsiders" and so on. Back in the days of the Cold War, this type of scenario led to the most splendid hypocrisy, such as Western leaders cheering heroic trade unionists in communist Poland but supporting the army that was murdering heroic trade unionists in capitalist Chile. But there was another infuriating side to that situation, which is that most people who considered themselves "on the left" had an affection for the communist countries. Speaking to them about some vile dictator in Eastern Europe was like talking to a woman who insists on going out with a grotesque bloke. You'd say "Can't you see – he starves his population and there's no free speech and he puts dissidents in gulags," and they'd reply "Aah but you don't see the gentle caring side of him like I do."

Then they'd cheer heroic trade unionists in capitalist Chile but support the army that was murdering heroic trade unionists in communist Poland.

So yesterday, with a touching hint of nostalgia, the Communist Party paper the Morning Star told us anyone who supported the Dalai Lama was "A fool or a rogue," and the fact that there have been riots in several cities "is evidence they were put up to it by someone", and suggests "someone who had fundamentalist power over these people." So Tibetans are defying a powerful army because they've been brainwashed by a 72-year-old with glasses who presumably chants his orders up a mountain, and as they echo round the valleys his followers stare into the distance and say robotically "Orders – from – master – must – get – crushed – by –tank."

The marvellous modern twist, however, is that now Western leaders and Rupert Murdoch want to be friends with the Communist leaders of China as well. What a feel-good story it is, communists and captalists finally settling their differences, and realising they have so much in common, such as the desire to shoot teenagers protesting for freedom – and all in the name of freedom.

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