Paul Surtees believes HK people need to get off the fence and take a stand against escalating violence
Over these most-recent troubled months for Hong Kong, the level of violence displayed by protesters has increased exponentially. Indeed, some observers say that in taking ever-more extreme violent actions, their protests have crossed the line from being generally anti-government in nature to being markedly anti-social, and indeed seem currently to be straying still further into the realm of unmistakable terrorism.
A thought was long ago posited that “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Clearly, it is high time for more ordinary Hong Kong citizens to call an end to a dangerously developing situation that is becoming pointlessly and gratuitously more destructive week by week. Planned and vicious mass attacks upon government buildings, infrastructure, and police officers have come to be the norm here, which is a lamentably parlous situation for the smooth running of any city.
Apparently, behind the remaining unanswered demands from the protesters is a strong call for greater democracy in Hong Kong; to wit, universal suffrage to seats in the Legislative Council. But we can nowadays see that many of those pressing such demands notably fail to exhibit that level of respect for the political views of others, which is a vital component of the very democracy they seek. Seeing mobs of black-clad youngsters viciously attacking those they disagree with is a sickening sight. The stabbing of a policeman as he was returning home after his shift was another outrage, and morally indefensible.
Hong Kong is blessed with a world-class MTR network. Seeing young hooligans smashing up stations - as has happened widely - represents a level of nihilism that is sad to observe. What can breaking ticket machines, security cameras and turnstiles possibly do to help promote greater democracy here?
It is truly shocking to hear that schoolchildren, some as young as 12, have been found hoarding and distributing Molotov cocktails
It is truly shocking to hear that schoolchildren, some as young as 12, have been found hoarding and distributing Molotov cocktails. For the safety of their own children, many Hong Kong parents need to be much more proactive in guiding their school-age offspring away from engagement in street battles alongside mobs of violent, and mostly slightly older, hotheaded youths. Indeed, the parents of universityage youngsters could readily do the same, for fear that before long, someone will get killed - and that someone could be their own son or daughter.
Just as internet nerds blatantly attack anyone who displeases them online while retaining their own anonymity, which gives them a feeling of safety, the wearing of face masks by violent protesters deliberately makes them anonymous - and such anonymity encourages them to take ever-more aggressive steps. Isn’t it time we follow other developed democracies’ common-sense practice of forbidding the wearing of masks at public demonstrations? The anonymity provided by the masks emboldens those individuals to anti-social acts that they would normally not do if they knew they could be identifi ed.
The element of the mob mentality comes into play here as well: Otherwise more-restrained individuals cannot easily in the heat of the moment pick up a makeshift weapon and join a hyped-up crowd in attacking the police. The infectious “team spirit” involved here is built up by many of them wearing their team “uniform” of black shirts, face masks, helmets and gas masks; by their being mostly young; and by the sheer peer pressure of numbers committed to attacking a “common enemy” - in this case, our disciplined police officers, whose bravery has kept anarchy at bay over the last three months for us.
It is a legitimate way to express your opinions by participating in an orderly march of protest. But we have now reached a stage where not just a handful - but in fact many hundreds of out-of-control protesters - seek to make their points by vandalizing public buildings; by blocking and setting fires on busy streets; by besieging police stations; by throwing gasoline bombs, bricks, and all manner of dangerous objects at the police lines; by smashing up MTR train stations; by blocking the movement of MTR and airport trains; by attacking the airport check-in facilities; and more besides. Such actions cannot be justifi ed as part of a protest action. They increasingly look more like the actions of terrorists.
Anti-government protest marches have long become a regular feature of our city landscape. But such marches in recent months have clearly been hijacked by a few hardcore extremists bent on attracting public and media attention to their cause by disrupting people’s lives through interference with the public transport networks. It is about time that the public should, in unison, demand “cease and desist!” of such a nihilistic way of calling attention to their demands.
There have been several rallies of those who oppose such violent tactics. Their message of peace needs to become louder. Let us try to add to their voice. Sitting on the fence and hoping it will all go away is no longer an option. All Hong Kong people must now stand up and be counted!
The author is a university lecturer and veteran commentator on Hong Kong affairs.
HONG KONG NEWS