Olympic headaches grow: Another terror plot?

Beijing announced dozens of arrests in the Uigher territory of Xinjiang province this morning, claiming another terrorist plot against the Summer Olympics.  This apparently differs from the plot last month to use jets in a 9/11-style attack, thwarted by the crews of the planes — another purported plot about which China has provided few details.  At the same time, the International Olympic Committee has publicly acknowledged that this Olympiad has become an unprecedented crisis:

The government said 35 arrests had been made and explosives seized in heavily Muslim north-western Xinjiang province.

It is not clear if the alleged plot is the same as that announced last month, when China said police in January had smashed a bid to attack the Games.

Xinjiang is home to a number of Muslim Uighurs, some of whom want independence in the region they call East Turkestan.

The development was announced by Ministry of Public Security spokesman Wu Heping at a news conference.

He was quoted by AFP news agency as saying: “The violent terrorist group plotted to kidnap foreign journalists, tourists, and athletes during the Beijing Olympics and, by creating an international impact, achieve the goal of wrecking the Beijing Olympics.”

The Uighers claim that Beijing has used them for scapegoats, dreaming up terrorist plots to distract attention from the building political clash between China and the West for its human-rights abuses.  That would sound convincing if it weren’t for the Uigher participation in al-Qaeda and other radical Islamist groups.  Uighers comprise a significant portion of the foreign fighters in nearby Pakistan and Afghanistan.  If AQ wanted to attack the Olympics — a sparkling target, considering the international attention it receives — it would almost certainly exploit their Uigher connections to get close enough to stage attacks.

While we try to figure out who to believe, we can ask ourselves why the IOC put themselves in this position.  As it turns out, the IOC is asking themselves the same question:

IOC president Jacques Rogge said Thursday the turmoil surrounding the Beijing torch relay and the politically charged buildup to the Summer Games posed a “crisis” for the Olympic movement.

Rogge urged China to respect its “moral engagement” to improve human rights and to fulfill promises of greater media freedom. He reaffirmed the right of free speech for athletes at the Beijing Games. …

Rogge was asked whether he had second thoughts about awarding the games to Beijing seven years ago.

“I’ve said that it is very easy with hindsight to criticize the decision,” he said. “It’s easy to say now that this was not a wise and a sound decision.”

Easy to say now?  It was easy to say then — and many people did.  China already had a number of issues regarding slave labor and ethnic oppression that should have disqualified them from the Games.  The problems the IOC has today are, in the memorable words of Jeremiah Wright and Malcolm X, just the chickens coming home to roost in a predictable manner.  With the world focused on Tibetan independence, the IOC couldn’t have predicted the massive protests that its Olympic torch procession would encourage?

Rogge says that the IOC felt it could force political change on China by awarding it the 2008 Olympiad.  So far, that hasn’t worked out well at all.  Beijing still hasn’t committed to allowing fully free reporting by journalists nor blogging by athletes, insisting on supervising their communications.  Human-rights issues have not only been ignored but have gotten worse in Tibet as a direct result of the Games.

The IOC’s problem isn’t hindsight, it’s moral blindness.  It’s far too late to change the venue for these Games, but the headaches the IOC has are entirely self-inflicted.  It would do well to recall them when considering future bids from oppressive regimes.