Balancing ideas about Tibet

Chiba

Regarding the Feb. 14 AFP article “Tibetan in Nepal 100th to set self on fire since ’09“: I am sure that anyone who grew up with 20th- century values should be appalled by this continuing campaign of suicide and self-torture. However, I use the word “should.” A great many people — Westerners in particular — seem unable to approach the Tibetan problem with any kind of balance. This would seem to be the result of a kind of fairy-tale thinking.

The worst aspect of this is the tendency to regard every self-immolation as if the perpetrator were entirely justified committing such a horrific act, and to blame this carnage on China. At the same time, the fanatical lamas who goad young people (including recently a 16-year-old girl) into committing these acts — in much the same way that Islamist groups goad the faithful into becoming suicide bombers — are seldom mentioned.

When Tibet was ruled by the lamas, it was a brutal theocracy with a rigid caste system that included “unseeables” as well as untouchables, a far cry from the Shangri-La nonsense of novels. It has also been under Chinese suzerainty for centuries, and very few Chinese — including on Taiwan — consider China’s invasion an act of aggression. I’m not saying their view is right, but the situation is more complex than under-informed Westerners imagine.

The Dalai Lama is a man with considerable presence and a nice smile, but that doesn’t mean he and his fellow Tibetans should get an automatic free pass. When violence is encouraged against ordinary Han Chinese, as was done a few years ago, or when he comes out with racially prejudiced and homophobic pronouncements, he should be held accountable.

His fanatical followers should equally be held responsible for the recent outbreak of self-immolations. Tibetan Buddhism is frequently claimed to be a compassionate religion, but it can’t be anything of the kind if its clergy encourages youths into committing suicide to further a dubious theocratic political cause.

jim makin
chiba

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.