immolations

Tibet is burning

Xu Zhiyong, New York Times: Around noon on Feb. 19, an 18-year-old named Nangdrol set himself on fire near the Zamthang Monastery in the northeast Tibetan town of Barma. In a note left behind, he wrote, “I am going to set myself on fire for the benefit of all Tibetans.” Referring to China’s ethnic Han majority as “devils,” he added, “It is impossible to live under their evil law, impossible to bear this torture that leaves no scars.”

Over the last three years, close to 100 Tibetan monks and laypeople have set themselves on fire; 30 people did so between Nov. 4 and Dec. 3. The Chinese government …

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From the ashes, Tibetan Buddhism rises in the Forbidden City

On a freezing Tuesday this week, dozens of special guests from China’s cultural, political and business elites gathered within the blood-red walls of the Forbidden City. They were there for the opening of the newly restored Hall of Rectitude, the center of Tibetan Buddhism during China’s last imperial dynasty, the Qing.

After a fire in 1923, the hall and about a half-dozen surrounding buildings that comprise the Buddhist architectural complex lay in ruin for nearly a century in the northwestern corner of the 8,000-room former imperial palace.

After six years of restoration funded by the Hong Kong-based China Heritage Fund, the Zhong Zheng Dian …

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Four Tibetans set themselves on fire

At least four people set themselves on fire in ethnic Tibetan parts of China on Wednesday, a rights group and media reports say.

Three teenage monks set themselves alight in Aba county in Sichuan province, where many self-immolations have taken place in recent months.

One of the boys died and the other two were taken to hospital.

Later the same day a 23-year-old woman died after setting herself on fire in Qinghai province.

More than 60 Tibetans have set themselves on fire since early 2011, in what rights group say are acts of protest against Beijing’s rule.

Beijing says Tibetans have religious freedom and accuses …

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What should the Dalai Lama do about Tibetan self-immolations?

On CNN, we see two dramatically different views on the Dalai Lama’s position on the wave of self-immolations by Tibetans protesting the Chinese occupation of their country and the persecution of their religion and culture.

Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar, author of “The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation,” and regular CNN Belief Blog contributor, calls on the Dalai Lama to condemn the protesters.

Tenzin Dorjee, executive director of Students for a Free Tibet, responds, saying that Prothero’s post is a “crass display of moral blindsight” that “blames the victim.”

Dorjee praises the courage of the self-immolators and compares them to past non-violent protestors:

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?

He also rightly calls into question some of the odd rhetoric that Prothero employs.

They sacrifice their own lives not in the name of “God” or “Buddha,” as Mr. Prothero so dismissively suggests, but in an altruistic intention of alerting the world to their people’s suffering.

and

From all of Mr. Prothero’s accusations, the most offensive is his comparison of self-immolations to sati – a social system in ancient India where widows were pressured to throw themselves into the funeral pyre of their deceased husbands. Self-immolation – a political act of reason – is the polar opposite of sati – a blind act of superstition.

I’m broadly with Dorjee, and think that as well as distorting what’s going on in Tibet and China, Prothero overlooks the complexities of the Dalai Lama criticizing those who protest against China. There are two prominent problems that spring to mind. First, if the Dalai Lama says “stop the protests,” the Chinese are able to say he’s responsible for them. Second, the Chinese can then say to Tibetans that their own leader has turned against them.

The Dalai Lama walks, as he has acknowledged, a fine line. He can’t approve of violent acts, even if they are violent only to the perpetrator but he also can’t walk into the trap of outright condemning the protests. He is also sensitive to the feelings of the protestors’ families:

If I say something negative, then the family members of those people feel very sad. They sacrificed their … life. It is not easy. So I do not want to create some kind of impression that this is wrong.

He certainly hasn’t encouraged the protestors, but in a BBC interview he in fact questioned their wisdom and the effectiveness of their actions:

In an interview with our correspondent, he said he was not encouraging his followers to sacrifice themselves – as alleged by China.

“The question is how much effect” the self-immolations have, the Dalai Lama said.

“That’s the question. There is courage – very strong courage. But how much effect?

“Courage alone is no substitute. You must utilise your wisdom.”

My own view is that the Dalai Lama displays far more wisdom here than Stephen Prothero, who asks, rather absurdly, “Where are the protests against these Tibetan protesters?”

If we’re going to protest against anything, let it be against the oppression and torture that has driven the Tibetan people to such desperate acts of protest.

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