Tenzin Dorjee and Woeser on Self-Immolations

Two good pieces by two Tibetan writers today on the subject of the self-immolation crisis. First, Tenzin Dorjee of SFT refuting a bad op-ed by Stephen Prothero from last week:

In a crass display of moral blindness, Stephen Prothero’s blog post on Tibetan self-immolations blames the victim instead of the bully.

Tibetans are stuck in one of the world’s last remaining and most brutal colonial occupations. It is through this lens, more than anything else, that we must understand the self-immolations.

By demanding that the Dalai Lama condemn these individuals who have shown compassion beyond our imagination, Mr. Prothero has betrayed a colossal indifference to the courage and circumstances of those fighting for the same democratic freedoms and human rights that he himself enjoys.

How can the Dalai Lama condemn the self-immolators when their motivation was evidently selfless and their tactic nonviolent? Would we ask Gandhi to condemn activists in the Indian freedom struggle who were killed while lying on the road to block British police trucks? Or the hunger strikers who were starving themselves to death in order to protest the injustices of British rule in India?

By every measure, it’s the Chinese leaders and not the Dalai Lama who are responsible for the self-immolations in Tibet. They have the power to ease tensions, reverse restrictions, and stop the self-immolations overnight.

Self-immolation, which emerged as a tactic from being cornered for too long, represents the final outpost in the spectrum of nonviolent resistance. If this last remaining space for expression, no matter how drastic, is taken away, the rope might just snap. Chaos will ensue, vastly increasing the chances of a full-blown ethnic conflict that even the Dalai Lama will have exhausted his moral capital to stop.

The image of a person engulfed in flames is shocking, often disturbing, to people living in the free world. For all our obsession with violent movies, graphic video games, and live coverage of wars, it still rips our hearts to pieces when we see a human in flames.

And that is precisely what a self-immolation is meant to evoke. It is a plea for help that urges us to come to the rescue rather than bask in philosophical investigation into its morality.

I think this also works well to address people like Pam Logan from KhamAid, who seem completely hung up on Western and exiled Tibetan reactions to the self-immolations, and resolutely ignore the factors that have led to the adoption of self-immolation as a tactic in the first place.

Meanwhile, High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a post by Woeser, who seems mildly disgusted by Xinhua’s recent propaganda piece on the self-immolation crisis:

So, why did the authorities decide to, this time, only broadcast the documentary to audiences abroad and not to people within China? Is it only to prevent Han Chinese, the majority of all Chinese people, to learn any more about the current situation in Tibet and risk that they start doubting the claims by the authorities that “Today, Tibetans are experiencing development and happiness as never before in history”? This is probably one reason, but the more important reason is that they are afraid of provoking the several millions of Tibetans living in Tibet and with them also the much-feared Uyghurs and Mongolians. This documentary only talks about 13 Tibetan self-immolators, but some of the video recordings and images shown here are revealed to the public for the very first time and display the great courage of the Tibetan self-immolators; on top of that, the various kinds of explanations offered by CCTV are full of ridiculous loopholes.

According to information from Labrang, Amdo, already in early February this year, they started showing a propaganda film called “The Dalai Splittists” which portrays all Tibetan self-immolators as having personality disorders. The local authorities requested all monasteries, villages and schools to send representatives to watch this film and offer a critique; however, most people’s reactions were quite conflicting. In fact, with now 31 cases, Amdo is the place that experienced the most self-immolations. After the film had been shown, 16 people self-immolated in February, 11 in March, 2 in April and another 3 in May, including a Mother of three children. Two of the self-immolations happened in Lhasa on the 6th day of the most important Buddhist festival, “Saga Dawa”. Between the holy Jokhang Temple that is frequented by people from all over Tibet and Barkhor Police Station, a place that takes on the function of oppressing the people, two young Tibetans from Amdo who had been jobbing in Lhasa, self-immolated.

The screening of this film in Labrang, Amdo, was probably only a trial screening. And it probably served as a prototype for the CCTV propaganda film because many scenes are very similar. However, as a netizen commented: “I just finished the 40-minute-long English version of the CCTV documentary about Tibetan self-immolations, my feeling is that if one turns off the sound, it immediately comes across as an anti-government news report. What is the point of making such a double-edged propaganda film?!” Obviously, this proves the point that the explanations given are absurd and despicable.

Beijing’s inability to formulate an effective response to the self-immolations has gotten more and more absurd. Heavier policing makes people angrier, slandering the victims just raised tensions, propaganda films backfired, blaming the Dalai Lama is a tough sell for anyone outside of mainland China. Is China prepared to make fire extinguisher-toting police an essential part of every patrol in every corner of Tibet for the foreseeable future? If China remains unwilling to address Tibetan concerns, this isn’t going to stop.


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Filed under Self-Immolation Crisis, Tibet

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