Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Reflections on Nonviolence and the Situation in Tibet

Reflections on Nonviolence and the Situation in Tibet
by John Suarez

Originally published on March 16, 2008 the escalating repression and violence against the nonviolent democratic opposition in Cuba led me to return to my thoughts last year when the Chinese communists intensified their brutalization of Tibetans and reproduce the essay below.

Before entering into a meditation on the ongoing events in Tibet it is important to place it in context. Tibet was invaded by Communist China in 1949 and ten years later a nationwide uprising was crushed and since then there has been a process of ethnic genocide carried out against the Tibetan people. Attempts at dialogue and nonviolent resistance over the past 49 years have been met with more repression and more violence. Today, protests in Tibet and international protests in solidarity are appearing in news headlines all over the world. Some in the international media have irresponsibly referred to this as a " Tibetan Intifada " and focused on isolated acts of violence. What has been seen on television is property destruction and overturned cars. Although within strategic nonviolence property destruction is not viewed as necessarily violent it does open itself up to that interpretation. This has played into the hands of the Chinese occupation authorities to defend their use of violence to extra-judicially execute scores of Tibetans, and to make claims of murderous violence by Tibetans. The spiritual leader of the Tibetan people, the Dalai Lama, has called the alleged violence carried out by Tibetans an " act of suicide ." The world is seeing once again Mahatma Gandhi's observation that "violence always thrived on counter violence." For the past 50 years the Dalai Lama has embraced nonviolent resistance as the means to confront the Chinese occupier. He understood that Mahatma Gandhi, in the twentieth century, "produced a very sophisticated approach because he implemented that very noble philosophy of nonviolence in modern politics, and he succeeded. That is a very great thing. It has represented an evolutionary leap in political consciousness, his experimentation with truth ."

But what is Gandhi's noble philosophy? To sum it up in one word it is satyagraha. According to Gandhi " its root meaning is holding onto truth, hence truth-force. I have also called it love-force or soul-force. In the application of satyagraha , I discovered in the earliest stages that pursuit of truth did not admit of violence being inflicted on one's opponent but that he must be weaned from error by patience and sympathy. For what appears to be truth to the one may appear to be error to the other. And patience means self-suffering. So the doctrine came to mean vindication of truth, not by infliction of suffering on the opponent, but on oneself ." Applied to politics it is manifested as civil disobedience . Gandhi described civil disobedience as "not only the natural right of a people, especially when they have no effective voice in their own Government, but that it is also a substitute for violence or armed rebellion."

The trouble with the events in Tibet is that no matter how minimal the violence it will contaminate the resistance as a whole and diminish its effectiveness and legitimacy while at the same time offering the oppressor a free hand to up the repression. Those voices and activists supporting the burning of cars and looting of stores in defense of Tibetan independence are doing great harm to the cause. The Dalai Lama has appealed " to the Chinese leadership to stop using force and address the long-simmering resentment of the Tibetan people through dialogue with the Tibetan people. I also urge my fellow Tibetans not to resort to violence ." The Dalai Lama is not calling on Tibetans to cease their protests but to protest and resist non-violently . The media seems to find the two ideas (nonviolence and resistance) to be in contradiction. Mahatma Gandhi on the other hand finds no contradiction stating that "civil disobedience does not admit of any violence or countenancing of violence directly or indirectly."

To those advocating a Tibetan Intifada today they should recall Gandhi's observations during the Indian struggle for independence from Britian that "popular violence is as much an obstruction in our path [to independence] as the Government violence" and "what senseless violence does is to prolong the lease of life of British or any foreign rule." As it applied to India then so does it apply to China's occupation of Tibet now. Finally they should recall that the Palestinian Intifada has not achieved the goal of an independent Palestinian state. Permitting violent rock throwers to associate with the larger non-violent movement as was done in Palestine is a strategic mistake of the first order. Do not allow justified frustrations with the evil actions of the Chinese occupation to explode into violence that will only serve the interests of an extremely well armed adversary.

As observers to this ongoing conflict we should call on China to recognize the right of the Tibetan people to maintain their customs and traditions and to denounce the cultural and ethnic genocide being committed by the Chinese communist occupation in Tibet.

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