OPINION

Doing Peace Wrong

May 19, 2008
mbjesq

His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama

Nicholas Kristof’s Sunday essay in the New York Times, “Fed-Up with Peace”, sounds a depressingly cautionary note about the future of the Tibet – China conflict. Young Tibetans are frustrated with the Fourteenth Dalai Lama’s strategy of peace and now widely favor violent resistance. “We think the Dalai Lama has been too peaceful,” Mr. Kristof quotes one young Tibetan monk as saying. “There is a big discussion now about whether we should turn to violence.”

But the problem is not the impotence of pacifism; it is how ineffectual the Dalai Lama has been in using non-violence for political change.

Don’t get me wrong. The Dalai Lama is a profoundly great man, and the purity and simplicity of his philosophy of peace has been an important and influential source of good in the world. The question on the table, however, is not whether his teaching is flawed; it is whether he has used his commitment to peace as an effective instrument of the political change he seeks.

The Dalai Lama is often touted as an heir to the great legacy of Mahatma Gandhi; and he also is not immune to making this reference, as he did in his acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize. Certainly, the Dalai Lama has used his tremendous natural charisma and the universal attractiveness of his philosophy of love to win a large and enthusiastic following around the world and to draw attention to the injustice and violence of the Chinese military occupation of Tibet, which he refers to as “cultural genocide.” But Tibet is no closer to political autonomy and cultural liberation than it was when the Dalai Lama and his government took flight into exile in 1959.

There are a number of important historical differences, which make the Dalai Lama’s independence effort quite a bit more challenging than between Gandhi-ji’s. The most important, perhaps, is that Gandhi-ji’s adversary was a liberal, democratic society. While the British government was understandably reticent to acknowledge the injustice of its colonial rule, it was, ultimately responsive to growing public sentiment which saw the inconsistency of British constitutionalism and the way in which India was ruled. China’s autocratic government labors under no such democratic handcuffs. China is also emboldened by the historical ambiguity of the arguments in favor of one-side-or-the-other in the question of entitlement to govern Tibet. Britain’s only moral justification for continued colonial rule was an outmoded Nineteenth Century paternalism, which was never more than a convenient excuse for its venality.

But the Dalai Lama also holds a number of key advantages. In Gandhi-ji’s day, the cycle-time for a news story to reach England from India could be measured in days, was largely limited to print, and was mostly filtered through the editorial prism of British journalism. Today, the news is multi-media and largely instantaneous. The Dalai Lama is able to travel the world and deliver his message directly, without editorial intermediary. He enjoys considerable celebrity and immense esteem in the global media. The recent embarrassments experienced by the Chinese in parading the Olympic torch around the world demonstrate the remarkable breadth and depth of international support for the Tibetans.

Why has the Dalai Lama not been able to convert these crucial advantages into Tibetan independence? Not, as the radical young monks would have it, because of the Dalai Lama has followed Gandhian non-violence; rather, it is because the non-violence of the Dalai Lama lacks Gandhian shrewdness and opportunism.

Gandhi-ji understood that the political power of non-violence involves forcefully and relentlessly targeting the conscience – if not directly to the perpetrators of injustice, then at least to those who might influence their actions. If Gandhi-ji’s tool was the persuasive force of ethical absolutes like the human right to self-determination and fundamental injustice of colonialism, that “Truth” (Satya) was not expected to work its magic simply by force of ontology. The tool of truth was to be actively deployed in the service of politics. For Gandhi-ji, the ceaseless strategic struggle was to find ever-more effective means to ensure that the truth reached its target audience in ways most likely to influence change. It is not enough for the world to merely see things as they are; the world must also be moved to act in favor of a solution. Were it not for this caveat, the Dalai Lama’s pacifism might well have been successful. He has certainly won the moral debate with the Chinese; but the Chinese are not capitulating, and the international community has thus far decline to press the issue.

Gandhi-ji understood a fundamental distinction between mere “passive resistance” and his strategy of non-violent political opposition, satyagraha. “Passive resistance,” he wrote, “has been universally acknowledged to be a weapon of the weak…. Satyagraha is a weapon of the strong.” The strength – indeed, the outright bravery – required of the Gandhi-ji’s satyagrahi comes, in significant part, because of the crucial political theater created when the forces of power are seen to brutally crush well-deported people who seek only justice. Gandhi-ji did an awful lot of jail-time and more than a few well-publicized hunger strikes. His non-violent protesters regularly got the crap beaten out them, with the newsreel cameras rolling. They were well-trained for their mission of non-violence, intelligently deployed, and well-disciplined to resist retributive impulses. None of this was accidental, and they took their lumps (and worse) to great political effect. The British, eventually, had no stomach to see their military continually brutalize innocents.

The Dalai Lama, on the other hand, seems to have a belief that righteousness alone, by its mere existence, will ultimately prevail. He has declined to actively train his people in the practices of non-violent protest; and so, it is not altogether surprising that the recent protests in Lhasa degenerated into moderate rioting once the Chinese military crackdown started. This lack of discipline created a media talking-point for the Chinese (who have neither great faith in, nor particular adherence to the concept of truth) and somewhat diminished the Tibetan moral high-ground.

When the Dalai Lama vigorously denies Chinese claims that he instigated the March protests in Lhasa, he is perfectly credible; but it is hard to see the merit of his position. Better that he would have lead a massive non-violent seige of the Tibetan capital, preparing his followers, like Gandhi-ji did, for a courageous, well-planned, orderly, entirely peaceful civil disobedience. No doubt the Chinese would respond with heinous, oppressive violence as always; but the moral contrast would be on display to the world in powerful, provocative images.

Freedom always comes at a high price when totalitarianism holds sway. But better to rip the plaster off quickly than to suffer through endless, ineffectual half-measures. Indian Freedom fighters were prepared to endure beatings, arrest, jail, and martyrdom in the service of liberty. The Dalai Lama seems unprepared to ask his people to incur the cost, even though it continues to be paid, with interest, year-after-year.

When the Chinese military began shooting protesters in March, the Dalai Lama was quick to urge Tibetans to back-down. He characterized this position as advocacy of peacefulness but, in reality, there was nothing essentially violent about the conduct of the Tibetan demonstrations to begin with. The truth is: the Dalai Lama has never been willing to allow Tibetans to be put in harm’s way. Gandhi-ji and Martin Luther King understood the indispensable utility of harm’s way.

One could well argue, as the Dalai Lama himself might, that it is compassion for his people that causes him to shield them from the full-force of Chinese brutality. On the other hand, the slow, festering suffering of the Tibetan people shows no remit. It is therefore unsurprising that the youth of Tibet are looking for another way.

I hope the youth of Tibet will come to see that they should not abandon peace; they should just do peace right.

Mark Jacobs is a freelance volunteer, working on service projects in various places around the world. He lives half of each year in India and writes at www.memestream.org.
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#1
Sanjay
May 19, 2008
08:29 PM

In harm's way? Like the fabulous 'success' of Aung San Suu Kii?

I've got news for you, these days, people's minds are relentlessly filled with many competing attentions. So that means in order to make the same impact today as 70 years ago, you have to make 20 times the ruckus.

It's not DL's fault -- it's the fact that nobody stands to benefit from liberating Tibet from China. Back in the days of India's independence movement, there were plenty of other groups disgruntled at British triumphalism -- the Germans, French, Irish, Jews, Italians, etc. There were plenty of slighted ethnic groups wanting to see the Brits taken down. That's the only reason why India's independence movement succeeded.

The Tibetans have no such fortunate confluence of interests. Nobody else in the world wants to take on China. Let's not be naive here, because that naivete and ignorance only results in misdiagnoses.

#2
Mark
URL
May 20, 2008
12:02 AM

Sanjay:

I was losing heart that maybe I'd written something horribly wrong when I didn't get a naysaying post from you or the other Sanjay (are you guys the same, unhappy person, by any chance?); so I'm heartened to see your comments.

You are simply wrong about the role wider anti-British sentiment played in India's independence. The groups you mention couldn't have given a rat's ass for India, and certainly did not contribute to the tipping of the political scales in any meaningful way.

That said, you will be disappointed to find that I agree with you both about the distractions competing for people's attention -- and would suggest that, far more significant than other current events, the selfishness and materialism of the age is the number one distractor -- and particularly about the fact that no one is willing to take on China, much as many would like to. And yes, no one outside of Tibet stands to gain in any economic or geo-political sense from Tibetan independence.

Still, I sense a growing sentiment for international interventionism based on perceived human rights abuse. The Burmese cyclone, apart from its horrific devastation, seemed to revive an interest in pushing for democratic institutions. Had the American neo-cons not idiotically, tragically, and illegally made hash of just such an enterprise in the ill-chosen target of Iraq, the momentum for such interventionism might be well beyond the tipping point.

Whether or not I'm right about this shift in the international mood, I think shrewd deployment of nonviolence can be an effective strategy for the Tibetans. And even if you find that "naive" -- which, of course, you are obliged to, if for no other reason than I expressed the opinion -- you will certainly agree that they have few other promising options.

Cheers,

MBJ

#3
ushnishas
May 20, 2008
02:19 AM

China is a big country. It has a big army, and it has big visions. It doesn't stop at swallowing up an ancient country like
Tibet, destroying its temples and relics, destroying its morale and social structure.

Look at what happened in Tiannenmen Square. Everyone condemned the mass killing. Was anything else done?

Don't say that the Dalai Lama has to compete for people's attention with Shahrukh Khan and Posh Spice. Don't equate the world with Americans.

China has taken a slice of India too in the 1962 war. Its starving soldiers in the icy mountains ate their dead comrades.

It really all depends on how far anyone can be pushed before they retaliate. Mahatma Gandhi was a shrewd and principled politician in a day of patriotism. It was patriotic unity that won the day.

The Dalai Lama is a religious leader, by his religion bound not to fight.Other Tibetan leaders have been jailed and tortured.

No diagnosis is needed here. We need action.
The point is there is no oil in Tibet. While there is oil in Iraq and Afghanistan.

#4
Mark
URL
May 20, 2008
02:56 AM

Ushnishas:

Since when does Afghanistan have oil? The last available figures are from 2005, but they are representative: Afghanistan had absolutely no oil production, no known oil reserves, and imported the entire 5000 barrels of oil per day it consumed. Your point, I take it, is the only reason that the US is in Afghanistan is for oil, which is plainly preposterous. Do you really need to exaggerate to make the point that America is no less venal than China in its foreign policy? I would have thought the point makes itself without your extra help.

Afghanistan has kick-ass opium, though. Is this what you were thinking of? Also starts with the letter O. Just trying to help here.

Why can't I say that His Giggliness must compete for public attention with Shahrukh and Posh Beckham? I'm saying it! Moreover, it's palpably true. So, whatthefuck, I'm saying it again!

You are fairly close to right when you remind us that the whole of the world does not act like Americans. But an alarming piece of the world seems to want to, for reasons I can only begin to fathom. Not the least of these aspirants is India, to its everlasting shame and, as I have argued elsewhere, to its almost guaranteed persistent mediocrity.

Aside from my small niggles with your comments, I am extremely interested in your imperative: "We need action." What action do you recommend? That huge army of China's, which you mentioned would seem to rule out any hope for a successful armed freedom struggle. What action by the Tibetans do you think could turn the situation in their favor? What international measures might successfully influence China to quit Tibet, and who do you think might be willing actors in such a strategy?

Cheers,

MBJ

#5
ushnishas
May 20, 2008
04:50 PM

Mark,

If you need to use bad language to put over anything, I am sorry for you.

You have not made your case

No one who needs to use bad language to make a point has any case.

If I knew what action to take in this world matter, I would have been a politician in the helm of India's government and not writing comments here.

The Dalai Lama does NOT need to compete with anybody. He is above criticism. He is flawless.

#6
ushnishas
May 20, 2008
04:50 PM

Mark,

If you need to use bad language to put over anything, I am sorry for you.

You have not made your case

No one who needs to use bad language to make a point has any case.

If I knew what action to take in this world matter, I would have been a politician in the helm of India's government and not writing comments here.

The Dalai Lama does NOT need to compete with anybody. He is above criticism. He is flawless.

#7
ushnishas
May 20, 2008
04:55 PM

Please see http://www.newhumanist.com/oil.html

regarding oil in Iraq, etc. Afghanistan is the ideal conduit.

#8
commonsense
May 20, 2008
06:44 PM

yep, afghanistan does not have any oil, but it is indeed the ideal conduit and this is a key factor. otherwise, does anyone really believe the so-called "world community" would give two hoots about afghanistan?

#9
AnArch
URL
May 20, 2008
10:18 PM

This other Desicritics article is relevant of course: Tibet - The Myth of Shangri-La

#10
Deepti Lamba
URL
May 20, 2008
11:04 PM

D-Lama, flawless? oh now I remember he is supposed to be born enlightened. No one is above criticism;)

#11
ushnishas
May 21, 2008
02:13 AM

You are ignorant. Be aware.

The Dalai Lama is above everything. He is the purest of pure.

That is all. The end.

#12
commonsense
May 21, 2008
09:02 AM

ushnishas, get grip, man/woman!

#13
ushnishas
May 21, 2008
06:32 PM

The Dalai Lama is so spiritually high that he can if he wishes remove all Chinese from Tibet by just thinking it.

However he does not do so, as one must not impose one's will upon the ultimate Parmatma or Cosmos or Nameless.

What the Dalai Lama does everyday is take upon himself the suffering limitless souls that they may be free soon of distress and rise to spiritual purity and moksha. He meditates more than twelve hours a day doing this. He sleeps barely three hours a day, and eats sparingly only once.

If everyone learnt how to do this and practised it, there would be no more suffering left in the world.

#14
ushnishas
May 21, 2008
06:34 PM

The Dalai Lama is so spiritually high that he can if he wishes remove all Chinese from Tibet by just thinking it.

However he does not do so, as one must not impose one's will upon the ultimate Parmatma or Cosmos or Nameless.

What the Dalai Lama does everyday is take upon himself the suffering of limitless souls that they may be free soon of distress and rise to spiritual purity and moksha. He meditates more than twelve hours a day doing this. He sleeps barely three hours a day, and eats sparingly only once.

If everyone learnt how to do this and practised it, there would be no more suffering left in the world.

#15
ushnishas
May 21, 2008
06:35 PM

The Dalai Lama is so spiritually high that he can if he wishes remove all Chinese from Tibet by just thinking it.

However he does not do so, as one must not impose one's will upon the ultimate Parmatma or Cosmos or Nameless.

What the Dalai Lama does everyday is take upon himself the suffering of limitless souls that they may be free soon of distress and rise to spiritual purity and moksha. He meditates more than twelve hours a day doing this. He sleeps barely three hours a day, and eats sparingly only once.

If everyone learnt how to do this and practised it, there would be no more suffering left in the world.

#16
ushnishas
May 21, 2008
06:48 PM

An extract -
His Holiness reminded the audience that humility too must be cultivated with self-confidence. So placing others above oneself is not done out of low self esteem but out of a deep understanding that others are as much a part of you as your organs or your limbs. 'Taking care of others is taking care of yourself.'... His Holiness explained that our enemies are, in fact, our greatest gurus. They supply us with the most strenuous practice, the best exercise for our method...Being treated badly by people after doing good deeds for them, liberates us from the selfish expectation of rewards.

#17
commonsense
May 21, 2008
09:18 PM

Unishas:

""The Dalai Lama is so spiritually high that he can if he wishes remove all Chinese from Tibet by just thinking it.""

Unless he is being sarcastic, we have another Ruvy on our hands....

#18
Mark
URL
May 22, 2008
01:04 AM

No, it's not sarcasm. If you were as "spiritually high" as Unishas -- or if you were simply high -- you would recognize immediately that his declamations are a very advanced yoga in the form of self-deprecating irony, in which the genius makes himself appear idiotic (particularly about spiritual matters) so as not to reveal their elevated consciousness, which, after all, would be ostentatious.

#19
ushnishas
May 22, 2008
01:50 AM

It is Ushnishas.

You forget that today's armaments are highly advanced and incredibly more devastating than ever in area and effect.

You forget who invented the most sophisticated weapons of torture in history.

You forget who is now planning to take over Nepal.

Mark, you are absolutely right, the Chinese should be put in their place, and Tibet regain its sovereignty.

Now tell us how to do it.

#20
commonsense
May 22, 2008
06:05 AM

Unishas:

""You are ignorant. Be aware.""

Unishas, what gives my friend?

#21
ushnishas
May 22, 2008
07:32 AM

Mark,
Please go to http://www.nepalitimes.com/issue/391/Headline/14561 and see photographs of Tibetan protesters in Nepal brutally treated.

commonsense,
it is ushnishas. not unishas.
"You are ignorant. Be aware." means that when one speaks of an enlightened person one does so with respect and honour. If you make fun of him/her it rebounds on you to your detriment. I thought all Hindus knew this. Since it did not seem so here, I pointed it out.

#22
commonsense
May 22, 2008
09:40 AM

Sorry ushinshas for misspelling your name.

"You are ignorant. Be aware.....I thought all Hindus knew this."

I suppose if I'm ignorant and not aware of it, I couldn't have known this, could I?

#23
ushnishas
May 22, 2008
02:46 PM

Well, one should always be aware.

Keep our eyes, ears and mind open, and receive, rather than keeping only your self in mind -your preconceptions, our prejudices, your feelings, that tend to colour all that you observe and obscure your perceptions.

Take a moment to be tranquil, then be aware. Reach out to what people are telling you. Reach out to the unspoken words. Train your senses.

#24
ushnishas
May 22, 2008
02:50 PM

commonsense,
you did it again! ushnishas.

did you access that site? I found it on one of Aaman's sites.

#25
ushnishas
May 22, 2008
05:40 PM

What I admire about Aaman is that he is tremendously aware.

In Hinduism the maun or silence vrat(vow) is observed precisely for this reason. You put aside your Self, your ego, and you become aware.

Try and remove negativity from your surroundings. Play CDs or cassettes of mantras or chants - Gayatri,Mahamrityunjaya, Vishnusahasranamaha,Sikh or Jain chants,Sufi music,Christian hymns, etc. You can play them at lowest volume, it does not have to be heard. The vibrations will cleanse the atmosphere.

Before you speak, smile. Continue the positivity by saying positive things, thinking and doing them.

Positivity attracts positivity, negativity attacts negativity. Always be optimistic.

#26
commonsense
May 22, 2008
05:56 PM

sorry ushinas, i keep tripping over your name! it is not a common name, hence...

#27
ushnishas
May 22, 2008
08:12 PM

sigh-what did Shakespeare say about a rose?
commonsense,
I don't mind if you don't get my name, as long as you get what I'm saying.
I like your name, it instantly instils confidence in what you are going to say. And it is a perfect name for you, I think. Whatever you write is full of commonsense. Which is a rare thing nowadays.

#28
commonsense
May 22, 2008
08:47 PM

Ushnishas (see, I got it right!!)

Since nobody has ever complemented me, I once again feel you are being sarcastic!!

#29
ushnishas
May 22, 2008
09:10 PM

complimented.
don't be suspicious,trust yourself,trust people.
you sound like a nice person.

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