By Tenzin Nyinjey
There is a widespread misperception among us that any news about Tibet is good for our freedom struggle. It is true that mainstream media help us inform the world about the plight of Tibet. However, as much as media informs the public about certain facts, it indulges in obscuring the same facts. Instead of educating readers, it confuses them. Instead of advancing freedom, it becomes a stumbling block by siding with authority. This is what Hanna Beech does with ‘Tibet’s next incarnation’ published in the latest issue of Time magazine!
The article begins by expressing severe doubts about the legitimacy of Lobsang Sangay as the leader of the Tibetan people. She writes that Sangay ‘has never been to Tibet, never breathed the thin air of the high plateau, nor spun a prayer wheel in the shadow of the great Buddhist monasteries.’
The truth is that one does not necessarily need to be born in Tibet to become a Tibetan. One could feel a strong sense of Tibetan identity through other means as well. What binds Tibetans on both sides of the Himalayas is the tragic fate our country suffers under the foreign occupation of the Chinese. We all feel the painful torments of our homeland—our very existence as Tibetan—being threatened with extermination! This existential pain, this thin, suffocating air of un-freedom we breathe—whether born in Tibet or in exile—makes us Tibetan today. Hannah Beech does not see these realities! Such naïve ignorance may be understandable, coming as it does from a person who never experienced what it means to be a colonized and oppressed people.
But what is unpardonable is the author’s near-complete silence on China’s destruction inside Tibet—the naked colonialism, racism and wiping out of a whole civilization! She even serves as a spokesperson for the Chinese colonialists. For instance, she expresses a sort of puzzle as to why Tibetans inside Tibet are not satisfied despite China’s bringing of what she calls as ‘modernity’ in the form of railways, roads and power stations’. Such a view reminds us of the Chinese colonial propaganda that Tibetans are ‘backward, uncivilized and ungrateful,’ not able to appreciate the marvels of modern science. Such lies were used by every colonial power in history to justify its violence against the native population.
Tibetans resent China’s ‘modernity’—railways, roads and power stations—not because they do not need them, but because they are used as tools of colonial oppression and consolidation, helping speed up the transfer of Chinese military troops and settlers on to the Tibetan plateau! Tibetans know that Chinese ‘modernity’ brings in rampant prostitution, gambling and alcoholism. Tibetans are ‘ungrateful’ of these ‘modern’ facilities, because they have been built by money extracted from the exploitation of Tibet’s rich resources. Tibetan people’s hatred of China’s ‘modernity’ is an act of resistance to the colonial occupation.
Beech also attempts to demoralize the awakening of political consciousness among Tibetans in exile after years of stagnation and apathy. Beech uses some effective weapons in this nasty project. For instance, she quotes the young Karmapa Lama as saying, “if our culture is gone, if our religion is gone, even if we get independence, what’s the point?” Like many influential Tibetans, the Karmapa is a bit confused. Tibet’s religious culture and independence are not contradictory. They are in fact indispensable to each other. Tibetan independence is the basis of our religion, culture and identity. They were built on a strong foundation laid by Songsten Gampo, during whose reign Tibet’s power and independence was at its peak. Tibet suffers degeneration today precisely because it is under a foreign military occupation.
Like many educated but arrogant westerners, Beech mocks what she finds as the ‘commercialization’ of Tibetan freedom movement—‘Free Tibet’ bumper stickers and other merchandise sold by Tibetan refugees in Dharamsala. Such insensitivity and hubris explains why the author is totally blind to other serious exile Tibetan activists, who often risk their lives by fasting unto death in the sweltering heat of Delhi. Even Tibetan musicians make her depressing. The rock band, JJI exile brothers, are “full of existential angst and very stoned.’ She rightly sees their nihilism but not their charming wit and humour much loved by both Tibetan and sympathetic western audience.
Beech thinks that a militant struggle will ‘rob the [Tibetan] movement of its moral sheen.’ Moral sheen? Perhaps she does not know that Aung San Suu Kyi refers to young Burmese militants who want a violent overthrow of the military junta as ‘freedom fighters.’ She is not impressed with the pictures of martyr Tsewang Norbu, ‘a burly monk wearing sunglasses.’ She does not write a word about Thupten Ngodup, another martyr who immolated years ago for Tibetan independence. Is it because Ngodup was not a monk and never wore sunglasses in life! She thinks the self-immolation acts by Tibetans as ‘futile,’ despite knowing that it was the Algerian Mohamed Bouaziz’s martyrdom that triggered the whole Arab Spring, overthrowing long running dictatorships in the Middle East!
Beech mentions the economic rise of China and the need of western governments to kowtow to the dragon, which makes it possible for them to ignore and sideline Tibetan movement. Beach should have realized that after years of deception Tibetans have come to the painful knowledge that democracy and freedom do not come from corporate governments. They are the ones who suppress them!
China’s power might look invincible today but beneath the façade of Beijing’s economic miracle tensions are brewing, as the homes of millions of ordinary Chinese are bulldozed for high-rise buildings in Shanghai and Guangdong. As far as Tibetans are concerned, our determination and yearning for freedom has never been stronger. As the young imprisoned poet, Pema Rinchen wrote, ‘even if we have to carry the weight of Jomolangma or wait till the waters of Kokonor dry up,’ we will oppose the red menace.
When the Arab spring began, mainstream American media raised the spectre of radical Islam replacing the Arab dictatorships. In truth, as Noam Chomsky observed, ‘it was not radical Islam but independence that worried the US.’ Similarly, it is not the ‘loss of moral sheen’ or the rise of radicalism among the Tibetan youth, but the real potential for Tibetan independence that worries Hannah Beech and her bosses at the Time magazine!
Tenzin Nyinjey is a political commentator based in Dharamshala.
The views expressed in this piece are that of the author and the publication of the piece on this website does not necessarily reflect their endorsement by the website.