Where are the Boston Celtics? Where’s ESPN? NBA.com? U.S. network coverage?
In a rational world this man would be front-page news. File photo
In a rational world Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter would be front-page news. His biography is an American Dream for the global age: The journeyman player is Turkish, was born in Switzerland, went to high school in Southern California and college in West Virginia, and has played professional basketball in Turkey, Greece, and a half dozen American cities. He will become a U.S. citizen sometime in the next couple of months. These days he plays for a team in New England named after an ancient Irish tribe. He is truly a man of our age, with a global platform.
Kanter, who is Muslim, is also the only player in the National Basketball Association who has spoken openly and defiantly about the Chinese government’s brutal oppression of Uyghurs, Tibetans, and other ethnic minorities primarily in the Middle Kingdom’s west provinces. On Wednesday he tweeted a 2:46 minute video of himself in a black t-shirt featuring an image of the Dali Llama. The video was entitled “Dear Brutal Dictator XI JINPING and the Chinese Government.” Even before the first viewer clicked play, in nine words Kanter showed more backbone than the rest of the NBA ecosystem combined.
He eviscerated Beijing and its treatment of Tibet and its people. “I’m here to add my voice and speak out about what is happening in Tibet,” he began. “Under the Chinese government’s brutal rule, Tibetan people’s basic rights and freedoms are nonexistent.” He detailed the abuses, from denial of basic rights of speech, association, and religion to the arrest, “reeducation,” torture, and murder of Tibetan civil leaders. He said that as a result of “stifling cultural genocide” more than 150 people had burned themselves alive in the hope that their dramatic sacrifice would call attention to their cause.
He concluded his video by addressing Xi Jinping personally, gesturing with a brawny forearm and stabbing a finger toward the camera, “Brutal dictator of China, Xi Jinping, I have a message for you and your henchmen. I will say it again, and again, and again, and again, loud and clear. I hope you hear me: Free Tibet, Free Tibet, Free Tibet.” If the video doesn’t move you check your pulse.
On Friday he doubled down by tweeting a second video. In the new video, which clocked in at 3:16, Kanter wore a shirt emblazoned with “Freedom for Uyghur” and spoke about China’s equally brutal suppression of Uyghurs as well as Kazaks, Tajiks, and other Muslim minorities. He called out leaders of Muslim countries worldwide, telling them their silence was complicity. He ended by again calling out Xi personally. By the end of the day the video had nearly half a million views.
Kanter is no stranger to this kind of crusade. In 2013 he tweeted criticisms of Turkish president Recep Erdoğan. After a failed coup in 2016 Erdoğan purged political opponents in the country’s bureaucracy, judiciary, and police and military and jailed tens of thousands of perceived political enemies and other dissidents. As a result of Kanter’s tweets the country revoked his citizenship and briefly imprisoned his father, who was released only after Kanter brought international attention and pressure to bear. Vox has called him a “major enemy” of the Turkish leader, and he regularly receives death threats. He cannot leave the United States until he becomes a citizen, because Turkey has issued an international arrest warrant for him, the political equivalent of the fatwah the Ayatollahs issued against Salman Rushdie in the 1990s.
Courage in an age of cowardice
It’s telling: The more Xi Jinping drags China toward tyranny the more supine the U.S. political and business classes become. An internet search for “Enes Kanter NBA Tibet” returns stories about “backlash,” “the NBA’s China problem,” and how China has blacked out Celtics games. NBC News ran a headline, “NBA facing fresh China backlash after Enes Kanter slams ‘dictator’ Xi over Tibet,” complete with scare quotes around an accurate description of the Chinese leader. Back in 2019 the Washington Post and others criticized presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg for claiming Xi was not a dictator. In 2018 NBC itself ran an extensive opinion piece about Xi returning China “to one-man rule” not seen since Mao Tse-tung. What a difference a couple-three years make.
The one story you won’t find is about Kanter’s courage. You won’t find any stories about the actual human rights abuses he raises, which occur by the million on a daily basis. Though his videos already have attracted over 1.5 million views and have thousands of comments, you won’t find statements of support from his employers, his league, or his teammates and peers. All are silent. Then again, Kanter so far is faring better than former Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, who the league forced into a humiliating apology after he tweeted tepid support for human rights protests in Hong Kong.
Fact is, aside from the uniqueness of his life story Kanter’s words and actions should not be notable in this country — or rather, he should be a voice in a chorus. That he is an island is itself an indictment of American corporate and political leadership.
When was the last time you saw a “Free Tibet” bumper sticker in Hollywood or Manhattan? When was the last time an A-list celebrity stood with Tibet, or a famous rock band — say, one that call themselves “Rage Against the Machine” — played a Tibet benefit concert? For the record that would be 1999. These days you won’t hear much about Tibet, much less Xinjiang, but you will see the sorry spectacle of A-listers begging the Chinese Communist Party’s forgiveness for horrific transgressions like once inadvertently calling Taiwan a “country.”
The fact that calling a brutal dictator a brutal dictator is controversial in the United States of America in 2021 shows just how far down the path of illiberalism we’ve traveled. Self-censorship on behalf of an adversarial power that recently tested a hypersonic, globe-spanning, nuclear-capable missile. It makes people like Kanter that much more essential. Hardly a week goes by without a headline about another American corporation selling out to China in the name of the almighty bottom line. In a coincidence worthy of The Matrix, on the same day that Kanter posted his Tibet video the considerably less stouthearted CEO of the country’s third largest corporation announced a new round of self-censorship at Beijing’s behest. Apple has blocked the Yahoo! news app from Chinese devices. This is a particularly dire step because Yahoo! was one of the last foreign news services available to the Chinese public.
America desperately needs more Enes Kanters, just like we need more Dave Chappelles, Joe Rogans, Bari Weisses, Joel Kotkinses, and others. It’s not just the right thing to do: Every American corporation that bows to China is not just selling out its own country, it isn’t just hammering another nail into the coffin of global human rights. It’s selling out its own long-term viability. China’s interests in foreign corporations are precisely coterminous with the extent to which those corporations provide some benefit to the Chinese Communist Party, whether in revenue or, more often, China’s ability to copy and duplicate those corporations’ products. To not realize as much is to be reckless or mad.
The NBA seems unaware of the profound asynchronicity of its relationship with Beijing. China doesn’t need the NBA, and as the government’s response to Kanter’s tweet shows it can terminate the relationship quite literally with the flip of a switch. The NBA is an entertainment property, and China’s government has made development of its own domestic entertainment industries, including sports, a national priority. The China Basketball League already is the preeminent men’s sports league in Asia, with further international ambitions. And the NBA isn’t just self-censoring, it’s self-sabotaging: Prostrating to China has helped to wreck the league’s reputation here at home and contributed to record low ratings.
The saddest part of America’s ongoing capitulation to the Chinese government, up to and including the dictatorial thug Xi Jinping and his Beijing mafia, is that we’re selling our own future. Americans should stand with Enes Kanter. In a rational world he would be the toast of the NBA. Hopefully being the toast of sane people the world over is some consolation.
Support independent journalism and opinion! The all aspect report relies on readers like you.
Make a monthly donation
Make a yearly donation
Choose an amount
Or enter a custom amount
Thank you! Your contribution is processed securely by stripe.com.
Your contribution is appreciated.
Your contribution is appreciated.DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly