By Tenzing Jigme
It was a typical winters day in Minneapolis with light snow falling endlessly and cold freezing wind blowing the snow in your face. The snows alright, but the cold wind could get really frustrating. I was on my way to Denver from the twin cities on a United Airlines flight. Judging by the weather you could tell that most flights were either being cancelled or delayed that day. None of the customer service representatives could predict how long the delays would be. There was a candle light vigil taking place in downtown Minneapolis that evening and if I knew how long my flight was delayed for, I could’ve made it to the vigil and been in time to catch my flight. Similar vigils were taking place all over the world in honor of those brave Tibetans who since March 10, 2008 have been speaking out and protesting against the atrocities committed by the Chinese in Tibet. Earlier at the airport, I bought a copy of the Time magazine that featured His Holiness the Dalai Lama on the cover. The article in the magazine covered all the ongoing events inside Tibet, like the protests in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet and the reaction of Tibetans living in exile including His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
The gentleman sitting next to me on the plane noticed the magazine and in a low voice said, “that man is amazing”. I looked back and shook my head in agreement. After we were airborne and comfortably seated, he would ask me if I was a Buddhist too. I do consider myself a Buddhist and try my best to follow Buddhist principles but like most am not perfect. Then we spoke of the current situation in Tibet and the violent protests. He said the beauty of Tibetans is their non-violent approach and that they should never resort to violence because then they wont get international support. I reluctantly agreed and then asked what he did for a living. His name was Sgt. David and sitting next to him was his friend Sgt. Reyes. They were both in the US army. Sgt. Reyes was paralyzed from his waist down after being attacked by militants in Ramadi, Iraq. It was a roadside bomb that hit his vehicle. Sgt. David was in a tanker and Sgt. Reyes in another one behind. The bomb was detonated right where Sgt. Reyes’s vehicle was. “We caught the guys who did it though,” said Sgt David proudly, “I looked him (the guy who apparently pulled the trigger that set the bomb) in the eye and kicked him in the face before I shot him.” Sgt. David had now been in the army for about six years. Like many others he joined the army right after 9/11. There was a sense of nationalism and loyalty towards America in him, that I had never quite experienced before. “I love my country,” he said, and he was ready to put his life on line for her. I have always been against the war in Iraq but I did see where he was coming from. This war for him was about America and Americans. President Bush and his friends may have had a different agenda for going to war but not Sgt. David. He is a true American hero defending the freedoms of all those that live in his country.
During this two-hour flight we touched on almost every subject from Iraq to Iran, General Petraeus, President Bush, and even Presidential candidates Obama, Clinton and McCain. But the part of our conversation that confused me the most and almost every time baffles me when I think back, is his attitude that Tibetans should always remain on the course of non-violence. I strongly disagreed and mentioned that sometimes violence is essential which is why America was at war with Iraq when maybe the conflict could have been solved in a non-violent approach. So we both agreed to disagree on this issue.
These days when we watch the news, one can definitely feel a sense of pride among Tibetans. The heroics of those Tibetans in Tibet have given new life and energy to the Tibetan freedom movement. Tibetans living in Exile in various parts of the world have all done their share to highlight the Tibet issue with much success. Usually it takes His Holiness the Dalai Lama to bring attention to our cause but today it is ordinary Tibetans who have been bringing the awareness of the world towards our country. Monks and nuns and masses that have just about had enough of the Chinese repressive policies being forced upon them in Tibet have now become violent. Although non-violence is a core philosophy of our Buddhist culture, the recent actions have shown to us that maybe it is alright to be violent at times. Non-violence is convenient but violence sometimes is a necessary evil.
Despite this, for those of us living in exile there is also a feeling of helplessness. Feelings of I want to do more but what can I do or how can I do what I want to do for my people in my country. I am sure Sgt. David felt the same after 9/11. The only difference between Sgt. David and us is that he could enlist himself in the US army to go fight for his country, whereas we Tibetans in exile remain a helpless observer. I wish we could do more than just pray and protest. Recently many world leaders and governments have condemned China on their human rights record and have urged the Chinese government to hold talks with the Dalai Lama to resolve the issue of Tibet. Yet china remains defiant, bold and undeterred. One really wonders when they will take us seriously. They say it takes two countries to go to war. Are we ready? Note - The names of people in this article have been changed with respect to their privacy. To hear more from Activist/Musician Tenzing Jigme visit his website at www.myspace.com/tenzing07