Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Free Tibet is Dead

One hundred and twenty  one and counting:  The number of Tibetans that have, by their own hand, chosen to die in self-ignited flames. Regardless of their motivations, this demonstrates an unimaginable level of desperation.

 Those of us who support Tibetan causes are devastated by this horrific phenomenon—devastated and confused.  After 25 years of effort, we were beginning to believe that the end of Tibetan suffering was achievable.  We had donated millions of dollars to "Free Tibet" and successfully raised awareness of the Tibetan struggle through multiple media platforms.  We witnessed  Beasty Boys concerts; Martin Scorsese's "Kundun;" Brad Pitt in "Seven Years in Tibet;" the Dalai Lama receiving the Nobel Peace Prize; Richard Gere's advocating face and the creation of countless Tibetan support groups and events.   We had put the issue on the map and, arguably, during the early part of the last decade, no human rights cause was more visible and received more funding than the Western-based Tibetan movement. 

Yet, here we are, shaking our heads in disbelief as one Tibetan after another self-immolates. Tibetans today seem more desperate than ever and Chinese repression of Tibetan culture seems to be increasing.  Even the Barkhor—the sacred heart of Tibet's capital city, Lhasa—is being flattened into a parking lot as we speak.   Ultimately, these events force us into the realization that, after all of our efforts, we are powerless to affect real change in Tibet, and have failed to curtail the type of desperation among Tibetans that leads them to a fiery demise.  The "Free Tibet" movement is dead.  How did we get it so wrong?

 Tibetan advocacy may have been in the wrong hands to begin with. 

In 1987, we in the West took Tibet under our wing and were determined to resolve their concerns our way and according to our perceptions.  Funds were raised, organizations formed and we proceeded to approach the issue from all angles at once.  We repeatedly threw money at Tibetans, whether they needed it or not; traded ideological barbs with China; enacted toothless and non-binding  resolutions; threatened small countries like Nepal for not doing enough, and basically treated Tibetans like pets in need of constant attention.  We offered scholarships and training for the lucky few who made it out of Tibet and proposed resettlement visas for those who wanted out.  For two decades, this patchwork of random programs and legislation provided small victories at best; and the perpetuation of Tibetan dependency on the West, at worst.  

Great energy has been spent in keeping our pro-Tibet institutions afloat, yet we've failed to build adequate mechanisms that give the Tibetans themselves a reason for optimism.  We never took the time to develop the specific expertise needed to reduce Tibetan suffering from the ground-up.  Our fundraising and organizational skills have matured, but our direct assistance efforts are still stuck in first gear.   Advocacy groups today still feel the need to "raise awareness" of the Tibetan issue as though it were new to everyone.  After 25 years, this "raising awareness" mantra now sounds like a code for: "we don't know what to do next." 

Is it any wonder that many Tibetans are now losing hope?  They've waited decades for the West to do something substantive on their behalf and all they've received in return was increased Chinese repression.  They've watched their concerns repeatedly take a back-seat to our various economic priorities while they remain in limbo with no sense of self-determination and no country of their own. While we dither, talk tough and buy furniture for our new Tibet offices, Tibetans look at us as hypocrites:  they now know we'll never jeopardize our access to China's great "economic potential" for their sake.

Perhaps our version of "Free Tibet" is better off dead.  The Western movement has been stuck in an unproductive malaise for years and the only time it comes to life is when Tibetans themselves bring the issue back into focus—now, unfortunately, through incremental mass suicide.

Our bloated, disjointed international effort needs to give way to a more focused regional strategy that assists Tibetans where they are most vulnerable.  A smaller, better organized campaign that addresses the specific ground-based, day to day, realities of the Tibetan struggle is needed now.

India is best positioned to lead such a new strategy.  She has sheltered Tibetans since the time of Nehru and the India-based Tibetan Government in Exile has seldom failed to show its gratitude in this regard.  India deeply ponders this relationship and knows that the Tibetans under their roof allow them to negotiate with an increasingly terse China from a position of strength.  Plus, they know that a Tibet-sympathetic West that aches for a solution (or for someone to take Tibet off its hands) could easily show innumerable forms of preference to an Asian nation that assumes the lead on Tibetan issues.

It's time for the West to get out of the way.  In light of current events, can Tibet afford to give us another 25 years to get it right?   One hundred and twenty  one dead Tibetans have given their definitive answer to that question—and perhaps their indictment.



At 4:43 PM, August 06, 2013, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Haunting photo. I have to agree with your position however. If I see one more picture of Richard Gere with a silk Kata around his neck I'll go postal.

At 11:27 AM, August 07, 2013, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You cannot say free tibet is dead. Many Tibetans benefit from education and leadership training provided in the U.S. as well as direct aid to India camps.

At 3:15 PM, August 07, 2013, Blogger blogdai said...

Most Tibet support groups give money for an orphanage here or a school there. There is plenty of money and donations to Tibetan causes abound.

None of it addresses the core issue of Tibet: Persecution, statelessness and a lack of self-determination.

We should have been working this issue intelligently over the last 25 years instead of throwing band-aid solutions at monks and children.


At 12:34 AM, August 08, 2013, Blogger Lynn Hanoi said...

Hello, I am Linh Nguyen from FNOTW and I saw your comment in my article http://fnotw.org/article/full/1286?needlogon=true

I am really interested in your point of view and I think it is worth to share. I hope that you will join us and share your valuable blog on our site so that more people can read it and understand more.

With the best regards,
Linh Nguyen
Free News of the World Team
FNOTW is an organization independent of any political ideology, government, religion or economic interest.

At 6:45 AM, August 08, 2013, Blogger blogdai said...

Feel free to re-copy the article as needed and thanks for the comment.


At 12:45 PM, August 13, 2013, Blogger blogdai said...

Yeow! We're getting quite a few private comments.

The best of which are coming from the newest generation of Tibetans and Tibetan activists that are tire of the the old "Free Tibet" status quo.

Po Gyalo


At 2:00 PM, August 14, 2013, Anonymous Anonymous said...

All of this free tibet stuff is craP. Another "Save the Whales" type platform to raise tons of money that goes nowhere. I say keep the Tibetan culture alive until they can return to their country peacefully and shut the fuck up about the Chinese politics.

At 6:34 PM, August 14, 2013, Blogger blogdai said...

That's actually quite well put, if not elegant.

As we've been saying for years, the Western Tibet lobby, particularly the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) needs to first "do no harm" and stop forcing China to retaliate.

The ICT could be dismissed as just another banner-waving free tibet group if not for the fact that they've directly influenced the opinions of legislators that travel to Nepal and cause havoc. Subsequently, their ignorance makes them dangerous.

At 7:34 AM, August 15, 2013, Anonymous Anonymous said...

While I agree the work of organizations such as the ICT fosters a retaliatory stance on the part of China, there may need to be a bit of "Middle Way' thinking in considering those issues can be addressed and assuaged versus those that cannot.

It is no surprise that 25 years of legislative posturing on the part of governments has done little to promote freedom, autonomy or cultural preservation within TIbet, however, I pose to all of you who read this thread, who outside the confines of Tibet and China can reach inside and work to facilitate and foster positive change?

The last time I checked, China rebuffs anyone and everyone when it comes to human rights, environmental issues, economics, etc. Pick a topic, they do not listen.

What CAN outside organizations do? Is it time to focus on big business, corporate enterprise that seeks to profit from China's cheap labor, lack of environmental policies, and mega-mass production capabilities?

What about those companies that are complicit with the PRC? Internet companies such as Google and Yahoo? What about tech companies such as Cisco that provide resources which are used to repress information and education, or other foreign entities with facial and gait recognition systems? Canadian companies selling the PRC drilling equipment to rob the plateau of natural resources?

I posit the movement has stalled, through no fault of the TSGs. It is a matter of understanding what reach they have, what they've worked toward and can work to change in the future, and working toward that end. To say the external movement has failed to promote change inside Tibet is to assume, wrongly, that any movement outside the TAR has that much reach and power to alter the political and cultural situation. Context, it's all about context.

Only those who live within the turmoil can resolve to change it. All anyone else can do from the sidelines is support as best they are able.

At 1:30 PM, August 15, 2013, Blogger blogdai said...

Answering your comment in a new column now!


At 5:50 PM, August 17, 2013, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Would you have us do nothing to help Tibetans then? You are awfully critical of the work millions do every day on behalf of Tibetans.

What have you done?

At 8:46 PM, August 17, 2013, Blogger blogdai said...

Tibetans don't need another school, or another health clinic,and they certainly don't need our Western money--they're rolling in it.

No one says to quit what you're doing, just try to focus on solving the problem for a change. Tibetans have enough of our band-aids.

For me, immolations have taken a toll. What I can do right now is socially immolate myself and call out everything that my 20 years of experience sees as being a failure in the Tibetan movement. Regardless of the social costs or friendships lost.


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