BEIJING – Amnesty International has sent monitors to the scene. Palestinians are tweeting advice on how to cope with tear gas. Tibetan monks have showed up to offer prayers. Russian officials, Iran’s official news agency and China’s state-run media are offering lectures on human rights abuses.
What started as a small-town police shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old black man in suburban St. Louis has quickly become an international incident.
As the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., stretches into a second week, scenes of cops in military-like vehicles clashing with protesters are being beamed around the world. A global audience is watching the events with shock and sympathy – but also a sense of superiority and schadenfreude.
For countries that are often on the receiving end of human-rights lectures from Washington, the situation in Ferguson, Mo. – the violence, the race troubles and arrests of American journalists – has presented an irresistible opportunity to turn the tables and accuse the U.S. of hypocrisy.
“The Ferguson incident once again demonstrates that even in a country that has for years tried to play the role of an international human rights judge and defender, there is still much room for improvement at home,” China’s state-run New China News Agency said in a commentary published Monday, just hours before Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon ordered National Guard troops into the city. “Obviously, what the United States needs to do is to concentrate on solving its own problems rather than always pointing fingers at others.”
But Chinese media haven’t been devoting as extensive coverage to the Ferguson unrest as have their counterparts in Russia, where the story been featured prominently on TV news.
Russian officials have taken an even more strident tone – perhaps not surprising, given the toxic atmosphere between Moscow and Washington of late. Taking note of the unrest in Ferguson, the Foreign Ministry urged “our American partners to pay more attention to restoring order in their own country before imposing their dubious experience on other nations.”
The United States “has positioned itself as a ‘bastion of human rights’ and is actively engaged in ‘export of democracy' on a systematic basis,” but “serious violations of basic human rights and barbaric practices thrive” in the country, Moscow said in remarks Friday responding to a U.S. report to a United Nations committee on racial discrimination.
In Iran on Monday, Ferguson was top news, even overshadowing a magnitude 6.2 earthquake that injured dozens. The Islamic Republic News Agency, the government’s official news service, commented that “violence has become institutionalized in the U.S. in recent years, but since President Obama, the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner, came to the White House, the violence has intensified, and now it has erupted against blacks in Ferguson.”
Even in tiny countries such as Sri Lanka, which doesn’t have particularly strained ties with the U.S., the Ferguson situation has become a cudgel to hit back at Washington.
Taking umbrage over a U.S. security warning to Americans on Aug. 8 in connection with an increase in protests and anti-American sentiment in Sri Lanka, the island nation’s Daily News opined: “For the U.S. to issue a travel warning for Sri Lanka does seem odd at a time when there are race riots in Missouri.”
“The world is concerned about gun violence and its toll in the U.S., and even though the U.S. president says he is concerned as well, he has not been able to do anything about its epidemic prevalence,” the paper said.
Scenes of tear gas, Molotov cocktails and flash grenades in Ferguson have surprised many in Egypt, the Palestinian territories and other places where such violence is more common.
A popular blogger in Cairo, who writes under the pseudonym The Big Pharaoh, tweeted a picture from Ferguson and commented: “Nope, this is not Egypt or Turkey. This is in the USA.”
Mariam Barghouti, a university student and blogger in the West Bank city of Ramallah, has tweeted out tips for reporters and others in Ferguson who face tear gas from police.
“Remember to not touch your face when tear-gassed or put water on it. Instead use milk or coke!” she wrote last week.
After taking the highly unusual step of sending human rights monitors to Ferguson, London-based Amnesty International on Sunday called for state and federal probes into Brown’s death, as well as the tactics of Ferguson police. Atop the group’s U.S. website, its “Stand With Ferguson” campaign gets equal billing with its “Gaza Crisis” and “Panic in Iraq” briefings.
“Amnesty International has a long and tested history of monitoring and investigating police conduct, not just in foreign countries, but right here at home in the United States,” Amnesty USA executive director Steven W. Hawkins said in a statement. “Our delegation traveled to Missouri to let the authorities in Ferguson know that the world is watching.”
America’s persistent problems with gun violence and racial divisions – in a time with an African American president who advocates stricter gun control – are perplexing even to its closest allies.
Britain’s Telegraph newspaper published an opinion piece from a U.S. scholar explaining to online readers why “a black president couldn’t stop the Ferguson race riots.”
Meanwhile, Germany’s Der Spiegel interviewed a security expert who opined that what transpired in Ferguson could never happen in Germany.
In the U.S., “the police quickly appear very militarized. That would never be the case in Germany. We are very restrained in our use of guns; they are weapons of last resort,” said Marcel Kuhlmey, professor in the department of security management at the Berlin University of Economics and Law.
“In the U.S., it seems to me, the police are far quicker to resort to guns,” he added. “Even at the training stage, there is a much heavier emphasis on shooting” than in Germany.\