April 10, 2008

The race for Tibet: Saving Shangri-La

When a country bids to host the Olympic Games it says, de facto, that it wants the spotlight, that it welcomes the eyes, ears and attention of the world.

China got the Games -- and the spotlight. And the glare is harsh. As it should be.

On the roof of the world, a relative handful of Tibetan monks and nuns have succeeded, at a cost almost certainly to be paid with many of their lives, in sending out a global SOS. If the world's free people don't or can't use the upcoming Beijing games as leverage to force China into halting the gradual, systematic obliteration of Tibetan religion, culture and freedom that began with its 1949 invasion of Tibet, we may not hear from Tibet, the true Tibet, again. This may be the last call.

If you have the time, please visit the websites listed below for an overview of Tibet's 2,000 years of rich, independent culture centered on peaceful Buddhist principles; its last 59 years of repression under Chinese occupation and rule; its religious and political leader-in-exile and Nobel Peace Prize winner Tenzin Gyatso, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama; the Tibetan government-in-exile in Dharmsala, India; and organizations dedicated to helping free Tibet from Chinese oppression:

International Campaign for Tibet: http://www.savetibet.org/

Official site of the Tibetan government in exile: www.tibet.netTibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy: www.tchrd.org

The Beijing Olympics and The Race for Tibet: http://www.racefortibet.org/

Official site of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet: http://www.dalailama.com/

Spend some time on these sites, and you'll begin to feel the uniqueness of Tibet in our world. We can't lose it. For a more in-depth look at Tibet and Tibetans since the Chinese takeover, read John Avedon's 1997 book, In Exile from the Land of Snows.

The Dalai Lama no longer has hope that Tibet will again be a sovereign nation. He is a 72-year-old realist who knows that he is Tibet's -- and the world's -- last Dalai Lama. His goal now is to save his people's culture and restore their freedom. What he wants from China at this point, after a half-century of quiet struggle, is a peacefully negotiated agreement that will give Tibetans a measure of autonomy and self-rule within the Chinese state and essential human freedoms of religion, expression and movement.

The Dalai Lama has already laid out a roadmap for the governance of that freer Tibet, a society based on the Hindu/Buddhist/Jainist principle of ahimsa, a Sanskrit word that means no violence. The Dalai Lama has lived and led by ahimsa, non-injury toward all, and his vision for future Tibet calls for, in part and in his words (read his entire governance plan here):

"Nature of Polity

The Tibetan polity should be founded on spiritual values and must uphold the interests of Tibet, its neighbouring countries and the world at large. Based on the principles of Ahimsa, and aimed at making Tibet a zone of peace, it should uphold the ideals of freedom, social welfare, democracy, cooperation and environmental protection.

Fundamental Principles of the Government

The Tibetan Government will observe and adhere to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and promote the moral and material welfare of its citizens.

Renunciation of Violence and Military Force

Tibet will be a zone of peace, based on the principles of nonviolence, compassion and protection of the natural environment. Tibet will remain nonaligned in the international communities and will not resort to war for any reason. "

I took the photos displayed in this blog post when Mike and I visited Tibet in 1987. Even then, before the wholesale transfer and migration of Han Chinese into Tibet accelerated the eradication of nearly all things Tibetan, I knew I was documenting a way of life that was perched on a precipice and about to be pushed off into the void. Even then, the sense of fear and loss hung heavy.

I can only imagine how heavy it hangs today.