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The Olympics Torched

Let the Games begin ... without us.

It has been said that the upcoming Olympic Games will effectively open up China to the world--and thus to democracy--and that the members of Communist Party's inner circle, knowing that China will be observed and scrutinized as never before, will find it in their best interests to present a good image of their regime.

In reality, we find that the exact opposite has occurred.

They have expelled the poor and the unproductive from the cities.

They have accelerated their demolition of the "hutongs," working-class neighborhoods, in the center of Beijing.

In fact, they have increased the number of homeless crammed together in the shantytowns, because there is no clear policy on relocation or housing--further underscoring the phenomenon of urban poverty they were supposed to be fighting.

They have jailed thousands of suspected dissidents, often without trial. Citing Article 306 of their Criminal Law of 1997, they have incarcerated, arrested, kidnapped or otherwise neutralized courageous lawyers suspected of "manipulating or destroying evidence."

They have cleaned up the press, too.

They purchased parabolic antennas from the French company Thales that allow them to reinforce their Great Wall with sound waves that scramble all American and British radio broadcasts in Chinese.

There have been more riots in the countryside, but the local press has not mentioned them.

The rate of executions has not slowed, but this doesn't seem to shock the international press, which is of course free to write whatever it wishes.

They have also failed to even address the trafficking of organs taken from the bodies of executed prisoners.

The extensive system of "laogai," forced labor camps, continues to churn out goods.

In short, the facelift that the Chinese government hoped to achieve has not worked. In fact, the only tangible result has been an increase in human rights violations.

Now the government has unleashed the most brutal repression the Autonomous Region has suffered since the one imposed by Hu Jintao when he was provincial party secretary 19 years ago--a few months before the events in Tiananmen Square. That is when Jintao, now the president of China, gained a reputation for being an "iron man" and earned his Party stripes.

What are the exact circumstances surrounding this new repression?

How much credibility should we accord the official logorrhea that evokes Tibetan "separatism" and the will of the region's spiritual leaders to use the resonance of this period to finally make their voices heard?

In any case, it doesn't matter.

Because what is important is that they shot at the crowd in cold blood, just as they did 19 years ago.

What is important is that, as I write this, the provincial capital, Lhasa, has been transformed into a war zone, patrolled by police officers in armored cars, cut off from the rest of the world.

What is also important is that the regime has again shown its supreme, sovereign indifference to the moods of the despised West. What is important is that, having learned from our cowardice in the face of the massacres in Darfur and the violence in Burma, the Chinese know--or think they know--that we will not budge even if they tear Tibet apart.

In the face of such cynicism, I believe that there is still time to use the firm language they think we're too afraid to utter.

It is not too late to use the threat of boycotting the Olympics as a weapon, as a way to demand that, at the very least, they stop the killing and begin following the provisions of the Autonomous Region's constitution to the letter--especially where personal freedoms are concerned.

Beijing won't give in? Boycotts in general don't work? Well, I say to naysayers, we will never know if we don't try. We have nothing to lose if we do try--and the Chinese and Tibetan people have so much to gain!

We shouldn't be mixing sports and politics? We shouldn't deprive the world of the great celebration that is the Olympics? Fine, I say to our sporting friends. But we must not reverse our roles, either. It is the Chinese who are ruining the celebration. They are the ones flouting the Olympian principles. They are the ones who will be hoisting the Olympic flame atop Mount Everest and, along the way, climbing over the bodies of assassinated men of peace and prayer.

And finally, it is because of the butchers of Tiananmen and Tibet that next August, the athletes competing for medals--athletes who have been transfused, juiced up, transformed into near-robots--will be running, wrestling and parading in stadiums stained with blood.

There is still time to salvage it all: sports, honor and lives.

There is still time to take the same risk Barack Obama did, to remind the Chinese of the possibility--merely the possibility--of a boycott, to say at once "yes" to Olympic ideals and "no" to the Games of Shame.

The clock is ticking.

French philosopher and writer Bernard-Henri Lévy is the author, most recently, of American Vertigo: Traveling America in the Footsteps of Tocqueville and Ce Grand Cadavre a la Renverse. Translated from the French by Sara Sugihara.