Be positive: a quick comment on comments

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I recently talked with Terry Townshend for a podcast looking at a campaign, being led by Chinese birders, to tear down illegal nets that are widespread across the countryside. Even, because that’s where the birds are, in nature reserves. Terry asked that overseas birders/conservationists (anyone really) leave a comment at http://www.chinesecurrents.com/baohuniaolei.html to applaud the campaigners, because – as he stressed – the messages would make a difference in China and show that people everywhere wanted to support the campaign. Messages of support would be tweeted via weibo (a sophisticated Chinese version of ‘twitter’ with literally hundreds of millions of users). This could be a fantastic way to encourage China’s birders and citizens to take a stance against illegal mist-netting. It could make a real difference to China’s birds…

I say ‘could’ because I don’t see how a number of the comments can be re-mailed. I don’t want to single anyone out, and I do understand that passions run high when birders (like me) think about Siberian Rubythroats and Dusky Thrushes being trapped and sold as cagebirds or eaten, but writing generalities that disparage all Chinese helps no-one. It’s Chinese birders that are leading this campaign. It’s mainly Chinese birders and Chinese people that are pulling down the nets. If a Chinese website called for comments to help support British birders stop wildlife crime, what would the reaction be if comments were left calling all Brits ‘raptor poisoners’ or saying the equivalent of ‘Stop your cruelty you fox-hunting, egg-thieving British b*stards’? It would cause an online riot.

Yet, time and time again, well-meaning ‘online activists’ stereotype whole people (and that obviously means stereotyping the activists too). I have been involved in Korean conservation for more than a decade. Many petitions calling on Koreans to stop eating dogs are currently circulating. I’m vegetarian, I wouldn’t eat a dog (or a lamb, pig, or chicken) if I was starving, but I also know that neither would many, many Koreans. Korean activists themselves are fighting what is a cultural tradition in their own country. That’s not easy and this sort of activism is new in Korean society. It’s hard for them and they welcome our support. Conversely abuse hurled at Korea and Koreans in general is extremely unhelpful and self-defeating. Barriers go up against generalities like these, not come down. And how can it possibly advance a cause in a strong, economically powerful country to make crude generalities along the lines of ‘Stop eating dogs you primitive morons’ or ‘F… you stop eating pets or I’ll never buy a Samsung phone again’?

The same is true regarding Japan and whaling. Very few Japanese go whaling, few people eat the meat, most Japanese understand it ‘looks bad’ to the outside world. We could – should – support Japanese welfare organisations fighting hard to stop the industry. Instead many – again presumably well-meaning – online activists use racist language, swear, and make ridiculous threats about economic boycotts that will never have any impact (the same goes for threats made against China of course). That simply reinforces the frequently-heard argument that ‘foreigners’ are just racists who don’t understand the country or the people they’re attacking.

Most East Asians are extremely polite and respectful with each other. Activists usually try to change deeply entrenched beliefs and attitudes in what are strongly nationalist and very proud countries through example. It may seem to some people that the changes we want to see are happening very slowly, but how quickly are we in Europe – with our long history of NGOs and democratic activism – sorting out the huge problems of illegal mist-netting in Cyprus, the demolition of raptors on grouse-moors, the slaughter of migrant birds in France and Italy, the abhorrence of foie gras and veal production?

Please, if we’re asked to support something, then let’s support it. Support the people who are taking the risks and taking a stance against traditions they may have grown up with. Support not denigrate, support not take a cheap shot against whole peoples and countries. Support positive change and we might actually help the people doing the work on the front line instead of hindering them.

 

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About the author

Passionate about animal welfare and conservation, veggie and dairy-free, I live in the Wiltshire (UK) countryside. I birded the world for twenty years before quitting my airline job and am now freelance. I co-founded Birders Against Wildlife Crime and Birds Korea. Trustee of the League against Cruel Sports On Twitter @charliemoores

6 Comments

  1. Ann Davies says:

    Well said Charlie – it’s just too easy for people to stereotype a whole nation or community.

  2. An excellent post, Charlie. There is a small but growing band of Chinese birders and conservationists. And, as you say, they are taking risks and challenging practices and cultural norms that have built up over generations. They need our support. Showing that we care is positive and gives these people hope, energy and inspiration. The impact of the comments is already being felt with many Chinese birders ‘tweeting’ the website address and the gist of the comments to tens of thousands of followers… and there is a corresponding surge in Chinese media articles on the subject. This is fantastic and a tribute to those people who have taken the time to show support. These comments really do make a difference. Thank you!! However, that said, it would be a great shame if the debate in the Chinese media switched focus to rally against foreigners due to one or two well-meaning but badly worded comments. So I encourage all new commenters to bear this in mind…!

  3. Joe Freebirn says:

    Well said Charlie – it is always worth the moment it takes to acknowledge those who have the courage to stand by their convictions and do what is right, despite perhaps the consequences to their own person. I wish them nothing but success in their efforts.

  4. Charlie Moores says:

    Thanks Ann – and it’s counter productive too

  5. Charlie Moores says:

    Thanks Terry – and of course thanks for pointing so many of us towards the campaign in the first place. I agree with everything you say, and the risk indeed is that more nationalist elements in the media (of whichever country is being discussed) will try to deflect criticism by changing the debate into ‘outside interests’ and ‘attacks on our identity/culture/tradition’ (which is all too common).

  6. Charlie Moores says:

    Thanks Joe – and I agree 100%. It’s a bit of a bugbear of mine that some western activists don’t understand how hard it can be to stand up and ‘go against the crowd’ in countries where that is not just unusual but against the cultural norms. Or the huge difference positive encouragement and support can make on the ground.

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