Protests in Hong Kong took yet another violent turn this week when a man was set on fire by agitating youngsters. A chilling video surfaced on Monday that showed the victim arguing with a group of protesters before someone douses him with a liquid and sets him on fire. The man was said to be in a critical condition. Meanwhile, in a separate incident Hong Kong police shot and critically wounded a protester. This deviated from the standard practice of using rubber bullets or firing in the air. But then again, the Hong Kong protesters have become increasingly violent in the last five months and have willfully attacked police personnel and engaged in wanton vandalism and arson. In fact, yesterday at the Chinese University protesters battled police with home-made petrol bombs.
As I have said before, the moment a popular movement turns violent it loses moral authority. After all, only the state can have monopoly over violence. Therefore, no matter how legitimate the demands of the Hong Kong protesters are, taking recourse to violence cannot be justified under any circumstances. And setting a man on fire just because he has a different point of view is abominable. As a matter of fact, the protesters have already gone too far and painted themselves as anarchists. I just don’t see how the Hong Kong government or the government in Beijing can agree to the protesters’ demands at this point. It would be akin to a capitulation of the authority of the state.
If the protesters continue on this path they will soon lose all sympathy. In fact, Beijing may be waiting for this point to aggressively intervene in Hong Kong. And if that happens, the protesters would have done the most damage to Hong Kong’s special status under the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ formula. Let’s face it, the entire international community recognises that Hong Kong is part of China. And neither can Hong Kong swim away from China. Therefore, the protesters should have moulded their movement in a strategically mature way to get their demands met. In fact, they have already secured their primary demand of scrapping the controversial extradition bill that would have seen fugitives being extradited to mainland China. After that, demanding an inquiry into police brutality and asking for a direct election system for Hong Kong could have been done tactically. But asking for Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam’s resignation and agitating on this score is both impractical and ironical. If the protesters want to protect and enhance Hong Kong’s democratic way of life, they should try to defeat Lam democratically.
In many ways today’s technology-driven world holds greater potential for disorder and mischief. Thanks to the reach of social media, smart phones and other communication technologies, getting people emotionally charged and mobilising them is easier and faster than before. In such a scenario, one has to guard against nefarious elements – both domestic and foreign – fomenting chaos and violence. It is a tricky issue that pits basic freedoms against overall security of society. This is why the line must be drawn under violence. Popular movements should mobilise peacefully in pushing for their demands. If they turn violent, then the state has every right and obligation to intervene to prevent chaos. Hong Kong protesters should realise this and go back to peaceful protests.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.