Friday, March 21, 2008
Sara Olson was released after six too long years in prison on Monday. I've known about it since then, but Sara, her family, friends and supporters felt it was best to leave it alone and let her relax. I think we all, too, knew the way the media would cover her release and the way the hate blogs would react. I think we wished they would just let it go.
Well, the news is out now and we were unfortunately correct. The media again drums up all the old sordid charges made by the Los Angeles police. The LAPD react just as you'd expect of them. The hate blogs spew their venom.
I can tell you that the Sara Olson whom they describe does not exist.
The Sara I know is one wonderful person. She is a person committed to her family, her loved ones, her friends and to social justice. She is a person you can meet once and feel that you've known her all your life. She is that type of a person.
She served her time with dignity and courage.
Today she deserves some peace and quiet. She deserves to be left alone to return to her family and her life.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
AMY GOODMAN: Iraq and Afghanistan veterans gathered in Maryland this past weekend to testify at Winter Soldier, an eyewitness indictment of atrocities committed by US troops during the ongoing occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Organized by Iraq Veterans Against the War, the event was modeled after the historic 1971 Winter Soldier hearings held during the Vietnam War.
Over the weekend, war veterans spoke of free-fire zones, the shootings and beatings of innocent civilians, racism at the highest levels of the military, sexual harassment and assault within the military, and the torturing of prisoners.
Although Winter Soldier was held just outside the nation’s capital, it was almost entirely ignored by the American corporate media. A search on the Lexis database found that no major television network or cable news network even mentioned Winter Soldier over the weekend, neither did the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times or most other major newspapers in the country. The editors of the Washington Post chose to cover Winter Soldier but placed the article in the local section.
On Friday, Democracy Now! broadcast from Winter Soldier. This week, we play excerpts from the proceedings. We begin with Jon Michael Turner, who fought with the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines.
JON MICHAEL TURNER: Good afternoon. My name is Jon Michael Turner. I currently reside in Burlington, Vermont. I served with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines as an automatic machine gunner. There’s a term, “Once a Marine, always a Marine.” But there’s also the term, “Eat the apple, F the corps, I don’t work for you no more.”
AMY GOODMAN: That was Jon Michael Turner, stripping his medals and ribbons from his chest and throwing them into the audience to the applause of attendees at Winter Soldier. Turner then went on to describe some of his time in Iraq.
JON MICHAEL TURNER: On April 18, 2006, I had my first confirmed killed. This man was innocent. I don’t know his name. I called him “the fat man.” He was walking back to his house, and I shot him in front of his friend and his father. The first round didn’t kill him, after I had hit him up here in his neck area. And afterwards he started screaming and looked right into my eyes. So I looked at my friend, who I was on post with, and I said, “Well, I can’t let that happen.” So I took another shot and took him out. He was then carried away by the rest of his family. It took seven people to carry his body away.
We were all congratulated after we had our first kills, and that happened to have been mine. My company commander personally congratulated me, as he did everyone else in our company. This is the same individual who had stated that whoever gets their first kill by stabbing them to death will get a four-day pass when we return from Iraq.
There was one incident, where we got into a firefight just south of the government center about 2,000 meters. We had no idea where the fire was coming from. And the way our rules of engagement were, pinpoint where the fire is coming from and throw a rocket at it. So, at that being said, we still didn’t know where the fire was coming from, and an eighty-four-millimeter rocket was shot into a house. I do not know if there was anyone in it. We do not know if that’s where the fire was coming from. But that’s what was done.
Please go to the next image. This man right here was my third confirmed killed. As you can see, he was riding his bicycle. Later on in the day, we went ahead, and we had CBS’s Lara Logan with us, but she was with the other squad, and so she wasn’t with us. So, myself and two other people went ahead and took out some individuals, because we were excited about the firefight we had just gotten into, and we didn’t have a cameraman or woman with us. With that being said, any time we did have embedded reporters with us, our actions would change drastically. We never acted the same. We were always on key with everything, did everything by the books. The man on the bicycle, he was left in the street for about ten minutes until we realized that we needed to leave where we were. And his body was dragged about ten feet to the right of him, where his body was thrown behind a rock wall and his bicycle was thrown on top of him.
Another thing that we used to do a lot was recon by fire, where we would go ahead and try to start a firefight if we felt threatened in any way, shape or form. There was one particular incident where we were working with the Iraqi Army and the Iraqi Special Forces in downtown Ramadi, and with our squad and the Iraqi Army there was also lieutenant colonels, majors, first sergeants and sergeant majors—sorry, sergeants major. With that being said, the Iraqi Army would go into the house, kick in the doors and then go ahead and shoot. And there were loud bursts of machinegun fire. We thought we were taking fire, but then we later found out that it was them.
House raids—because we were a grunt battalion, we were responsible for going on several patrols. A lot of the raids and patrols we did were at night around 3:00 in the morning, around there. And what we would do is just kick in the doors and terrorize the families. That was an image taken around 3:00 in the morning through night vision goggles. And that is the segregation of the women and children and the men. If the men of the household were giving us problems, we’d go ahead and take care of them anyway we felt necessary, whether it be choking them or slamming their head against the walls. If you go back to that one picture, that was one man that wasn’t taking—that was taken care of in a very bad way, because of all the wiring that he had. We considered it IED-making material.
On my wrist, there’s Arabic for “F you.” I got that put on my wrist just two weeks before we went to Iraq, because that was my choking hand, and any time I felt the need to take out aggression, I would go ahead and use it.
Please go to the next picture. Next, there’s an instance of detainees and how they were treated in a nice manner.
Next, that is the Fatima Mosque minaret. As you can see, it is ridden with bullet holes and holes in the top of it. Those were from mortars. And the next video that I’m going to show you is a tank round that went into that minaret, where we weren’t sure if we were taking fire or not. Actually, I’ll talk about this one. This is after one of the guys in a weapons company had gotten shot. This is a way that we would take out our aggression. For those of you who don’t know, it is illegal to shoot into a mosque, unless you were taking fire from it. There was no fire that was taken from that mosque. It was shot into because we were angry.
Can you please play the next video?
[clip] We are on [inaudible], trying to suppress the blue-and-white minaret named Madinat al-Zahra. Hellraiser, Hellraiser, go ahead. You can move the tank around that door over—at that mosque door. Another round Kilo Two.
Next image. That—OK, with that being said, there’s many more stories and incidents for me to talk about, although we don’t have the time to. But this just goes to show you that that was the aftereffect of the tank round. This just goes to show you that everyone sitting up here has these stories, and there’s been over a million trips that have gone in and out of Iraq, so the possibilities are endless.
Next image, please. The reason I am doing this today is not only for myself and for the rest of society to hear, but it’s for all those who can’t be here to talk about the things that we went through, talk about the things that we did.
Next image. Those four crosses and this memorial service were for the five guys in Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines that we lost. Throughout our unit, we had eighteen that got killed. With that being said, that is my testimony. I just want to say that I am sorry for the hate and destruction that I have inflicted on innocent people, and I’m sorry for the hate and destruction that others have inflicted on innocent people. At one point, it was OK. But reality has shown that it’s not and that this is happening and that until people hear about what is going on with this war, it will continue to happen and people will continue to die. I am sorry for the things that I did. I am no longer the monster that I once was. Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Former Marine, Jon Michael Turner, fought with the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines. The videos and photos the soldier showed can be seen at our website, democracynow.org. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: We return now to our coverage of Winter Soldier, Iraq and Afghanistan.
JASON HURD: My name is Jason Hurd. I recently completed ten years of honorable service to my country in both the US Army and the Tennessee National Guard. I served in central Baghdad from November of ’04 to November of ’05. I’m from a little place nestled in the mountains of East Tennessee called Kingsport, and hence the mountain man beard. People don’t really trust you if you’re clean-shaven there. Kingsport is truly small-town America. There is a Baptist church on every street corner, and even the high-class restaurants serve biscuits and gravy.
My father, Carl C. Hurd, who died in 2000—he was seventy-six years old—he was a Marine during World War II. Obviously, I was a latecomer in his life; he didn’t have me until his late fifties. As a matter of fact, when he died, shortly after that, I have the two World War II battles he participated in tattooed on my arm, and my father had the same tattoo. He was in the Pacific campaign and participated in the battles of Tarawa and Guadalcanal, which were some of the bloodiest occurrences of that war.
I decided to join the military in 1997. I was seventeen years old. I had just graduated from high school, and I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do with my life. My father was adamantly opposed to me serving in the military. My father was one of the most warmongering, gun-loving people you could ever meet, but he didn’t feel that way when it came to his son, because he knew the negative psychological consequences of combat service. Looking back—looking back, I know for a fact that my father had post-traumatic stress disorder. He had the rage, he had the nightmares, and he had the flashbacks.
AMY GOODMAN: Jason Hurd went on to describe his time in Iraq. In 2004, he was deployed to central Baghdad with Tennessee’s 278th Regimental Combat Team.
JASON HURD: One of the observation points that overlooked the Tigris River looked out at the old Republican Guard barracks, which were across the river. And there was one of those buildings that was sort of dilapidated; however, we knew that squatters had taken this building over, and we actually used to make jokes that this place looked like a crack house and that they were running drugs out of there. We had no evidence of that; it was just joking.
One day, Iraqi police got into an exchange of gunfire with some unknown individuals around that building. Some of the stray rounds came across the Tigris River and hit the shield of one of our Hummers. The gunner atop that Hummer decided to open fire with his fifty-caliber machinegun into that building. He expended about a case and a half of ammunition. And I’m no weapons expert—I’m a medic—but I talked to some of my colleagues just the other night, and to put this into perspective for you all, each case of fifty-cal ammunition holds about 150 rounds. A case and a half is well over 200 rounds. Over 200 rounds of fifty-caliber ammunition could take out just about every single person in this room. We fired indiscriminately and unnecessarily at this building. We never got a body count, we never got a casualty count afterwards. Another unit came through and swept up that mess.
Ladies and gentleman, things like that happen every day in Iraq. We react out of fear, fear for our lives, and we cause complete and utter destruction.
After we finished the mission manning those observation points, we moved on. My platoon specifically was tasked with running security escort for two explosive ordnance teams, one US Navy and one Australian EOD team. On day one, the US Navy team took us all aside for some specialized training. They took us aside and said, “Look, EOD teams are some of the most highly targeted entities in Iraq. The reason being is because, hey, we’re the guys that go out and we disarm car bombs, we mess up the tactics and the operations of the insurgency. That’s why we’re highly targeted. So you guys have to use more aggressive tactics to protect us.”
And they explained to us that what we were to do is keep a fifty-meter perimeter, a fifty-meter bubble around our trucks at all times, whether we were driving down the road or whether we’re stationary. And if anything comes in that fifty-meter bubble, we’re to get it out immediately. If it doesn’t want to move, we use what are called levels of aggression. Your first option is to try to push it out by using hand signals, hand and arm signals. Your next option is to fire a warning shot into the ground. And from there on, you walk bullets up the car. And your last option is to shoot the person driving the car. This is for our own protection. Car bombs are a real danger in Iraq. In fact, that’s the vast majority of what I saw in Baghdad, is car bombings. My unit adhered strictly to these guidelines for a few weeks.
But as time went on and the absurdity of war set in, they started taking things too far. Individuals from my unit indiscriminately and unnecessarily opened fire on innocent civilians as they’re driving down the road on their own streets. My unit—individuals from my platoon would fire into the grills of these cars and then come back in the evenings after missions were done and brag about it. They would say, “Hey, did you guys see that car I shot at? It spewed radiator fluid all over the ground. Wasn’t that cool?” I remember thinking back on that and how appalled I was that we were bragging about these things, that we were laughing, but that’s what you do in a combat zone. That is your reality. That is how you deal with that predicament.
After we finished the EOD escort missions, we moved on to another mission: patrolling the Kindi Street area, which is right outside of the Green Zone. Kindi Street is a relatively upscale neighborhood. Some of the houses in the Kindi area would cost well over $1 million here in America. This area, from what we were told, had no violent activity at all, up until the point we started patrolling this area. We were the first US military to do so on any regular basis. So we went in. We started doing patrols through the streets. We started getting out and meeting and greeting the local population, trying to figure out what sort of issues they had, how we could resolve those issues.
I remember we were out on a patrol one day, a dismounted patrol, and we were walking by a woman’s house. She was outside in her garden doing some work. We had our interpreter with us, and our interpreter threw up his hand and said “Salaam aleikum,” which is their greeting in Iraq. It means “Peace of God be with you.” And he translated back to us what she said. She said, “No. No peace of God be with you.” She was angry, and she was frustrated. And so, we stopped, and our interpreter said, “Well, what’s the matter? Why are you so angry? We’re here protecting you. We’re here to ensure your safety.”
And that woman began to tell us a story. Just a few months prior to this, her husband had been shot and killed by a United States convoy, because he got too close to their convoy. He was not an insurgent; he was not a terrorist. He was merely a working man trying to make a living for his family. To make matters worse, a few weeks later, there was a Special Forces team who operated in the Kindi area. And as you know, Special Forces do clandestine operations. And so, even though this was my unit’s area of operation, we didn’t know what the Special Forces teams were actually doing there. They holed up in a building there in the Kindi Street area and made a compound out of it. A few weeks after this man died, the Special Forces team got some intelligence that this woman was supporting the insurgency. And so, they conducted a raid on her home, zip-tied her and her two children, threw them on the floor. And I guess her son was old enough to be perceived as a possible threat, so they detained him and took him away. For the next two weeks, this woman had no idea whether her son was alive, dead or worse. At the end of that two weeks, the Special Forces team rolled up, dropped her son off and, without so much as an apology, drove off. It turns out they had found they had acted on bad intelligence. Ladies and gentleman, things like that happen every day in Iraq. We’re harassing these people, we’re disrupting their lives.
I want to tell you a very personal story, and I want you all to bear with me, because this is always difficult for me to tell. One day, we were on another dismounted patrol through the Kindi Street area. We were walking past an area we called “the garden center,” because it was literally a fenced-off garden. As is policy, we are to keep all cars and individuals away from our formation. And so, a car was approaching us from the front. I was at the rear of the formation, because I was the medic and the medics hang out at the back with the platoon sergeant in case anything happens up front so you can respond. They waved the car off down a side street, so that it would not come near our formation.
As I made it up to that side street, the car had turned around and was coming back towards us, because the street was blocked off by a concrete T barrier at the other end. So I began doing my levels of aggression. I held up my hand, trying to get the car to stop. The car sped up. And I thought to myself, oh, my god, this is it. This is someone who is trying to hurt us. And so, instead of doing what I should have done according to policy and raising my weapon, instead, I did what you should never do, and I took my hands off of my weapon altogether and began jumping up and down, waving my hands back and forth, trying to get this car to stop and see me. The car kept coming. And so, I raised my weapon, and the car kept coming. I pulled my selector switch off of safe, and the car kept coming.
I was applying pressure to my trigger, getting ready to fire on the vehicle, and out of nowhere, a man came off of the side of the road, flagged the car down and got it to pull over. He walked around to the driver’s side door, opened it up, and out popped an eighty-year-old woman. Come to find out, this woman was a highly respected figure in the community, and I don’t have a clue what would have happened had I opened fire on this woman. I would imagine a riot.
Ladies and gentlemen, I hate guns. I spent ten years in the military, and I carried two of them on my side in Iraq, but I think they should be melted down and turned into jewelry. To this day, that is the worst thing that I have ever done in my life. I am a peaceful person, but yet in Iraq I drew down on an eighty-year-old geriatric woman who could not see me, because I was in front of a desert-colored vehicle—or, excuse me, desert-colored building wearing desert-colored camouflage.
Another personal story from my experience, the next mission that we got was to man the main checkpoint that entered into the Green Zone. We called this checkpoint Slaughterhouse 11, because the very first day we got into country, a car bomb went off in that checkpoint. We were a couple of blocks away at the time, and none of us knew what it was, so we were asking around, “What was that? What was that?” Oh, that’s the car bomb that goes off every single morning at checkpoint 11. And that’s where the name Slaughterhouse 11 comes from. You could literally set your watch by the time a car bomb would explode in that checkpoint every day.
Towards the end of my tour, we got the mission to take that checkpoint over. And my unit said, “What is the matter with you people? We’re getting ready to go home in just a couple of months. Why are you giving us Slaughterhouse 11? Are you wanting us to die?”
Day one that we took that checkpoint over and ran it ourselves, a car bomb drove into it and exploded. We found out that there was over a thousand pounds of explosives in that car afterwards. Luckily, it did not hurt any of my guys. My guys were able to find cover, and it didn’t hurt them. But it killed untold numbers of Iraqi civilians in queue to come into the checkpoint and injured so many more. I treated five people that day myself, and I would imagine twenty or thirty others got carted off into civilian ambulances before I could get to them.
But I have an image that is burned into my mind to this very day. And I remember a man running towards me at the front of the checkpoint, carrying a young seventeen- or eighteen-year-old Iraqi guy, very thin, very sort of pale. He came running to me with this guy and laid him at my feet. I looked down at him, and the guy was missing from here to here of his arm, and his forearm was only held on by a small flap of skin. The bones were protruding, and it was bleeding profusely. He had shrapnel wounds all over his torso. And when I log-rolled him onto his side to check his rear for wounds, I noticed that his entire left butt cheek was missing, and it was bleeding profusely, and it was pooling blood. And to this day, I have that image burned in my mind’s eye. Almost every couple of days, I will get a flash of red color in my mind’s eye, and it won’t have any shape, no form, just a flash of red. And every time, I associate it with that instance. So not only are we disrupting the lives of Iraqi civilians, we’re disrupting the lives of our veterans with this occupation.
You know, conservative statistics say that the majority of Iraqis support attacks against coalition forces, the majority of Iraqis support us leaving immediately, and the majority of Iraqis see us as the main contributors to the violence in Iraq. This gives us a view at the prevailing sentiment in Iraq. And I’d like to explain it to everyone this way, especially in the South, because it rings with some semblance of truth to people down there. If a foreign occupying force came here to the United States, and regardless of what they told us, whether they told us they were here to free us, to liberate us and to give us democracy, do you not think that every person that owns a shotgun would not come out of the hills and fight for their right to self-determination?
And I’d like to sum it up like this: the prevailing sentiment in Iraq is this—another time that I was out on patrol in the Kindi Street area—as I said, part of our mission was to meet and greet the local population and find out what their problems were—and so, I approached a man with my interpreter on the side of the road, and I asked him, I said, “Look, are your lives better because we’re here? Are you safer? Do you feel more secure? Do you feel like we are liberating you?” And that man looked at me straight in the eye, and he said, “Mister, we Iraqis know that you have good intentions here. But the fact of the matter is, before America invaded, we didn’t have to worry about car bombs in our neighborhoods, we didn’t have to worry about the safety of our own children as they walked to school, and we didn’t have to worry about US soldiers shooting at us as we drive up and down our own streets.”
Ladies and gentlemen, the suffering in Iraq is tearing that country apart. And ending that suffering begins with a complete and immediate withdrawal of all of our troops. Thank you very much.
AMY GOODMAN: Jason Hurd was with Tennessee’s 278th Regimental Combat Team in Iraq. He testified at the Winter Soldier hearings this weekend at the National Labor College in Silver Spring, Maryland, joining hundreds of other active-duty and veterans from both Afghanistan and Iraq. The Winter Soldier hearings were modeled on what happened thirty-seven years ago in Detroit, Michigan, the Winter Soldier Investigation, where soldiers from Vietnam came back and described atrocities they themselves had been involved with. We will continue to run these testimony throughout the week on this fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq.
The pro-independence Tibetan Youth Congress (some of whom are shown here during a protest earlier this year) has called for a review of the 72-year-old Dalai Lama's 'Middle Way' policy, which espouses non-violence and autonomy within China rather than independence.
"There is a growing frustration within the Tibetan community, especially in the young generation," says Twesang Rigzin, the leader of the Tibetan Youth Congress. "I certainly hope the Middle Way approach will be reviewed. As we can see from the protests here and all over the world, the Tibetan people remain committed to achieving independence."
The younger generation of Tibetans are the children and grandchildren of those who fled Tibet during the 1950s (many of whom were landowners unlike the vast majority of the people who were their serfs and who did not flee).
While many exiled Tibetans main concern in an independent Tibet, for many who live in Tibet the chief problem is that indigenous Tibetans are becoming a minority in their own region as a result of vast numbers of Han Chinese who have moved to the area as it becomes increasingly more accessible.
The recent protests are viewed in totally different ways by the West and by the Chinese. The West sees what has happened in recent days as a spontaneous rising up after years of religious and cultural oppression by a ruthless ruling party, while the Chinese view the protesters as a thuggish mob, ungrateful for years of support from Beijing and manipulated by the exiled Dalai Lama to split the country. Shi Yinhong of Renmin University, says, for example, China has made great efforts to develop Tibet and guarantee religious freedom after mishandling the region in the early years of communist rule. Western countries ignored such developments, he claimed, in favour of a simple focus on a “romantic” view of the remote Himalayan kingdom. “I don’t think what was happening in Tibet in the last week was very romantic,” he said. “Every government has to be able to provide a minimum of law and order and safety for its citizens.”
The true story is somewhere in between.
Further improvements and autonomy for Tibet within a Chinese framework would be a good thing. No doubt about it. However, in China, Westerners should understand, the issue of sovereignty goes beyond support for the party and touches the core of national identity. To suggest to most Chinese that Tibet should be independent from China is like telling an American that Texas should secede from the Union of which it was never a willing part.
Meanwhile, some hopeful news is reported by NPR. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said today that the Chinese government is willing to hold discussions about Tibet with exiled spiritual leader Dalai Lama. Brown said China's Prime Minister Wen Jiabao set two conditions for the talks, which have already been met.
"The premier told me that, subject to two things that the Dalai Lama has already said — that he does not support the total independence of Tibet and that he renounces violence — that he would be prepared to enter into dialogue with the Dalai Lama," Brown told parliament.
This is actually a big step for the Chinese who simply do not trust the Dalai Lama whom they believe is trying to split their country. Writes Xinhua today, "The Dalai Lama's hypocrisy has put the power of his religion at stake, but he cannot cheat all the people all the time. Buddhism is no harbor for separatism."
The Chinese people are more than upset by reports of rioters in Tibet attacking ethnic Han Chinese. Indeed vidio footage showing Tibetan youths beating Han Chinese to death and burning their shops (and worse) exists, but the government of China has been hesitant to show it to their own citizens. Why?
And while the path forward is difficult for the Chinese government, it is no simple walk in the park for the Dalai Lama either whose "middle path" strategy as indicated above may be on the verge of collapse.
Reports the Times of India just a few months ago the Dalai Lama had said that he would settle for a referendum among Tibetans on the future of his institution, hinting that the Nobel peace laureate monk would like to choose his successor before he departs from the scene.
On Tuesday, the Dalai Lama changed that stand, threatening to "completely resign" if violent clashes continued in Lhasa and other parts of Tibet.
At the same time he insisted that that Tibet's independence was "out of the question" and urged his people to "live side-by -side with the Chinese." But, later in the day, one of his closest aides told the media that the Tibetan leader was considering a referendum in the future in which Tibetans-in-exile could vote to abandon his middle way and choose to advocate independence.
The Dalai Lama is left trying to figure out what to do to prevent the Tibetan movement from slipping out of his hands and landing into the grip of activists like those in the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC) who do not necessarily agree with the non-violent part of the Tibetan struggle...and who want an independent Tibet now.
The Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC) describes itself as the largest Tibetan emigre NGO, with 30,000 members and over 80 chapters. The TYC’s stated “sole objective” is to “restore Tibet's lost independence.”
Out of the TYC was born in January the more radical Tibetan People’s Uprising Movement (TPUM). Their manifesto states:
The 2008 Olympics will mark the culmination of almost 50 years of Tibetan resistance in exile. We will use this historic moment to reinvigorate the Tibetan freedom movement and bring our exile struggle for freedom back to Tibet. Through tireless work and an unwavering commitment to truth and justice, we will bring about another uprising that will shake China’s control in Tibet and mark the beginning of the end of China’s occupation.
Oddly enough though the TPUM has been unheard since the recent troubles begin (although many believe they played a key role organizing it). Maybe someone decided they presented a bad image to the West which adores the Dalai Lama.
The strange truth of the matter is the government of the People's Republic of China (PRC) needs the Dalai Lama and the Dalai Lama needs the government of the PRC.
And the people of Tibet need a solution.
The following is from Scopical (Australia).
Dalai Lama attacked for peaceful approach to China
The Dalai Lama has met with radical Tibetan exiles, where he is understood to have been attacked for his so called "Middle Way" policy on China, including a policy of interdependence.
It comes as violence and protest continues to flare in the Tibetan region, with reports of hundreds killed in the violence.
The Dalai Lama yesterday met with the Tibetan Youth Congress, where he is understood to have been questioned over a policy of peaceful demonstration and autonomy with China.
He has previously threatened to resign his post should the violence continue in the region.
Earlier, the Dalai Lama called on Tibetan protesters to exercise restraint, adding that the only way to achieve results would be through non-violent action.
While the meeting only lasted half-an-hour, it is believed that the group applied further pressure to the Dalai Lama.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Instead the military took over the state owned television station.
"We were not allowed to enter the station this morning and told that a special holiday had been declared. But they have taken a few selected employees inside to work," Kanchana Marasinghe, an employee union spokesman said.
The workers later staged a sit-in-protest at the Independence Square nearby and the police riot squad with water cannon were placed nearby sending a message of government intimidation.
The wave of attacks on journalist the employees of the TV station believe are connected to a "feud" with a powerful government minister.
"It's very clear, the government wants to control the media and journalists," said Sunanda Deshapriya of the Free Media Movement.
Last Friday morning, Anurasiri Hettige, an employee of the state television corporation, was attacked with an iron club as he waited for a bus in a Colombo suburb.
He was the fifth employee of the channel to be attacked or threatened in the last three months. Media rights groups say that the attacks are linked to an incident on Dec. 27 last year, when government minister Mervyn Silva stormed into Rupavahini and physically assaulted a senior staff person over a news program. Silva, in turn, was beaten up and daubed in paint by angry Rupavahini employees as he was escorted out under military protection.
‘’All these incidents are linked to the what happened on December 27,’’ Poddala Jayantha, secretary of the working journalists association, told IPS. ‘’The attacks on Rupavahini employees continue because authorities have been slow to go after those responsible… instead Rupavahini workers are being questioned on the December 27 incident.’’
It was after the latest assault last Friday the workers announced plans for a protest on Monday. Employees also forwarded a letter with five demands to President Mahinda Rajapakse.
One of those demands, reports Xinhua, was a call for presidential action to strip Deputy Minister of Labor Mervyn Silva's ministerial position. Silva had been involved in more incidents since he stormed the television station premises to attack the news editor last December.
‘’Sri Lanka's government must take concrete steps to ensure the safety and protection of journalists in the conduct of their work, starting with public reprimands for government members who verbally and physically attack the media, and give directives to local authorities to investigate and act on attacks against journalists across the island, including the attacks on Rupavahini staff,’’ Jacqueline Park, Asia Pacific director of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), said in a statement soon after the Friday attack.
Also this week Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF), a Paris-based media watchdog accused Sri Lanka Police of arresting five Tamil journalists on false information and beating them during detention. They said that the Police action was intended to extract confessions from the detainees. RSF urged Sri Lankan authorities to explain why the journalists are still being held.
Campaigners for press freedom say Sri Lanka, which is caught in a bloody conflict between the government and Tamil Tiger rebels, is becoming one of the most dangerous places for journalists to operate in the world.
In a report last week, Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused the security forces and pro-government militias of being among the world's worst perpetrators of enforced disappearances.
The following is from NIDAHASA News.
Sri Lanka State Own Television - Rupavahini under Military Control?
Sri Lanka state-owned television station - Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corperation (SLRC) is now running under the controller of military following the management declared a "holiday" overnight to avert a strike, union workers said.
The premises was barricaded and only a few selected staffers were allowed in, television workers said
According to sources, the Main Control Room of channel now controlled by Sri Lanka Army (SLA) personnels. Also a large number of military personnel including the anti-riot squad have been deployed at the SLRC premises.
Several Rupavahini workers including a female, have been attacked continuously following an incident where junior labor minister Mervyn Silva was held hostage by staff of the station after he stormed the newsroom and assaulted its news chief.
President Mahinda Rajapakse is to meet television worker unions later in the day.
All live programs of the channel were halted since Friday (14). The station now airing only pre-recorded programs.
International media rights bodies have said Sri Lanka is one of the world's most dangerous places for journalists after Iraq.
The Redneck Shop, and its backroom Ku Klux Klan Museum is doing a brisk business selling T-shirts, caps, jackets, belt buckles, confederate flags and bumper stickers celebrating the "heritage" that’s supposed to be the soul of the Southern redneck culture (Personally, I have a higher opinion of rednecks then that portrayed by this shop of hate).
Who needs this crap?
You can't tell me that someone who sells such filth doesn't buy into it. Take a look at the picture accompanying this story. That is the guy who runs the The RedNeck Shop and World Famous Klan Museum in Laurens, South Carolina (who exactly owns the store, as you'll read a little later is open to debate). His name is John Howard. When proprietor Howard was once asked why he had pictures of Warren Harding on the wall, he answered proudly proclaimed Harding "the first Klan member president of the United States." Don't believe it. He will direct you to a fuzzy photograph that supposedly depicted the Klan’s funeral for Harding after he died in 1923 after only 30 months in office.
An old article in the Orlando Tribune magazine reports, "A self-described 'educator' on Klan matters, Howard works hard to convince visitors that the Klan is not a racist organization. He sits under a confederate flag with the slogan: 'Heritage Not Hate.' He talks about Christian values, defending women and children, and protecting the culture from undefined enemies."
Would you want your children exposed to this guy? I wouldn't want my doggie to have to walk past him or his store everyday.
You can't tell me that racists wouldn't hang out around the store.
And, lo and behold, they do.
In fact on their web site the nazi National Socialist Movement announces (I admit I don't know when):
We are pleased to bring you the announcement that a member of the National Socialist Movement now owns the World Famous Redneck Shop located in the former Echo Theater Building in Laurens, South Carolina.
The Klan/NSM Museum is operated by NSM personnel.
The Museum and Redneck shop are both open to the public Mon-Sat, 9AM through 4PM
Come down to South Carolina to experience the NSM Hall and Klan Museum for yourself, and be sure to get something from our friends at the Redneck Shop while you are there.
The Building itself is an Historical Building, and has had many recent improvements done to it.
Pictures are on-line now at www.nsm88.com and www.nukeisrael.com
See the striking wall mural painted by NSM/TN. (featuring Adolf Hitler and Commander George Lincoln Rockwell), pictures of the event, etc.
Map of Laurens showing the location of the Redneck Shop
Also, the building serves as campaign headquarters for the 2008 NSM Presidential candidate.
Plus, the famous Redneck Shoppe continues to operate in the front of the building selling Rebel flags and other pro-White and Southern items.
The NSM is the largest and fastest growing pro-White organization in America.
Commander Jeff Schoep
National Socialist Movement
This lovely group often gathers at the shop.
But guess what, the equally nazi like Vanguard News Network says, wait a minute, the NSM doesn't really own the shop.
On the other hand, Southern Poverty Law Center says John Bowles, along with another disgruntled NSM officer, Nick Chappell, formed a new group, the National Socialist Order of America, based out of The Redneck Shop. They say it is owned by Chappell and had been the site of many NSM gatherings.
Whoever the hell owns the place doesn't matter all that much to me.
Some people don't want sex offenders in the neighborhood. Some don't want porn shops. Some don't want bars. Whatever. I don't want hate stores.
Good luck David Kennedy.
The following is from Tampa Bay OnLine.
Activist Aims To Close Store Carrying Klan Items
By KATRINA A. GOGGINS
LAURENS, S.C. - A black civil rights activist is fighting to close a store that sells KKK robes and T-shirts emblazoned with racial slurs. David Kennedy is confident he can make it happen. After all, he says he owns the building.
Since 1996, the Redneck Shop has operated in an old movie theater that, according to court records, was transferred in 1997 to Kennedy and the Baptist church he leads.
"Our ownership puts an end to that history as far as violence and hatred, racism being practiced in that place and also the recruiting of the Klan," Kennedy said. "This is the same place that we had to go up into the balcony to go to the movies before the Klan took it. So there's a lot of history there."
But legal documents also indicate that the man who runs the store, 62-year-old John Howard, is entitled to operate his business in the building until he dies. Now the dispute may go to court.
Kennedy, 54, has led protests outside the store since it opened but said he's never been able to close it because of the agreement that Howard can run the shop for life.
The reverend envisions the building as a potential future home for his New Beginnings Missionary Baptist Church, which now meets in a double-wide trailer.
Rocks, Spit And Picketing
Kennedy claims he can't even visit his own property because Howard won't let him in when he appears in the door.
But that didn't happen during a recent visit with an Associated Press reporter and photographer.
"Reverend Kennedy, where you been hiding?" Howard shouted when the door opened.
Inside the store, hooded Klan robes hang on the same rack as the racist T-shirts. Pictures of men, women and children in Klan clothing and pamphlets tell a partial history of the organization.
Howard used to own the whole building. When his store first opened, he said, people threw rocks at his windows, spit in his doorway and picketed. A month later, a man intentionally crashed his van through the front windows.
"If anything turns people off, they shouldn't come in here. It's not a thing in here that's against the law," Howard said, adding that he was once the KKK's grand dragon for South Carolina and North Carolina.
To blacks, Kennedy said, the store is a reminder of this region's painful past, which includes the lynching of his great, great uncle by a white mob.
The town of Laurens, about 30 miles southeast of Greenville, was named after 18th century slave trader Henry Laurens.
Some street addresses are still marked with the letter "C" that once designated black homes as "colored." Racial tension was heightened in recent years when two white female teachers were sentenced for having sex with male students - all of them black.
'Pump It Up'
Kennedy has a long history of fighting racial injustice. He protested when a South Carolina county refused to observe the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, and he helped lobby to remove the Confederate flag from the Statehouse dome.
When people in the region allege racism, he rallies attention to the cause.
A walk through the neighborhood where he was born shows that he seems a stranger to no one.
"Hey Rev," one man says as he strolls by.
"Pump it up," Kennedy responds with the phrase he uses at his protests.
Mary Redd, who lives across from the house where Kennedy was born, said blacks know to contact the pastor with their problems.
"And he helps them out," added neighbor Deborah Cheeks.
Kennedy said progress has always been slow to come to Laurens.
"There are two powers in the world: the mind and the sword," he said. "In the long run, the sword is defeated by the mind. I want to destroy the concept of hatred."
The demonstration was organized by Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays - PFLAG - and included a number of area church leaders.
The Tulsa World reporting on the gathering quoted Robin Meyers, senior minister at Mayflower Congregational Church who said Kern's homophobic comments are a "national embarrassment for Oklahoma."
"It is frightening to me that Sally Kern is an elected official doing the people's business," he said.
Kern (pictured here) made the remarks in a speech to a small gathering but did not know they were being recorded. The tape fell into the hands of The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund which then posted it on the video sharing site YouTube.
In the speech Kern said gays have become more dangerous to the American way of life than terrorists.
"The homosexual agenda is destroying this nation; it's just a fact," Kern went on to say in the speech.
"I'm not gay bashing, but according to God's word that is not the right kind of lifestyle," she said. "It has deadly consequences."
Kern then declared that "Studies show that no society that has totally embraced homosexuality has lasted more than a few decades."
A statement from PFLAG released at the rally read:
“Every Oklahoman, and every American, deserves a public servant who believes in the dignity of all our children and who refuses to take part in divisive and counter-productive attacks on our families”
“Her remarks disrespect our GLBT loved ones, dishonor the service of nearly 10,000 lesbian and gay veterans in Oklahoma and disregard her duty to uphold our country’s most noble values. Representative Kern owes her constituents an explanation, and our families an apology."
While the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation is examining the emails and has said that charges could be laid, the state legislature to date has done nothing.
The following is from OK.com
Hundreds gather to protest Kern's comments
About 300 people gathered during the noon hour today at the state Capitol to ask state Rep. Sally Kern to apologize for calling homosexuality the biggest threat to America.
The Rev. Jim Shields, a retired United Methodist minister who lives in Kern's district that covers parts of west Oklahoma City and Bethany, called on the Republican legislator to hold meetings in the district to talk with gays and Muslims.
If Kern doesn't do those things, then she should resign, said the Rev. Loyce Newton-Edwards, assistant pastor of the Open Arms United Church of Christ and president of the Oklahoma City chapter of PFLAG, Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
Kern, a Republican, was not in the Capitol during the 40-minute event in the first-floor rotunda. The House adjourned about 10 a.m. after a one-hour session today.
No state representatives were seen at the rally. Sen. Constance Johnson, D-Oklahoma City, watched for a while from the second floor.
Someone taped a speech Kern made in January to a Republican club in Oklahoma City and sent it to a national gay rights group. Kern said earlier that the speech was about 30 minutes; a segment of about three minutes was posted about 10 days ago on YouTube.
Since then, about 1 million people have played the comments.
Kern's legislative assistant said today the legislator has received about 26,000 e-mails since her comments were posted on the Internet.
Her comments include calling homosexuality "the biggest threat our nation has, even more so than terrorism or Islam."
"The homosexual agenda is destroying this nation; it's just a fact," Kern is heard saying on the YouTube clip.
Rob Howard, executive director of the Cimarron Alliance Foundation, an Oklahoma City group, asked House Speaker Chris Benge to demand that Kern apologize and that the Legislature act on four comprehensive hate crimes bills that failed to advance out of committee.
Benge, R-Tulsa, said last week he has no plans to punish Kern, saying Kern has a right to express her opinion.
Howard said freedom of speech does not belong to just Kern.
"The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community has the right to disagree publicly with Sally Kern," he said. "In fact, it is our moral imperative."
Monday, March 17, 2008
Okay, I'm going to do something that may place me on the other side of what many of you think.
Tibet after the 1959 uprising there became another piece in the growing puzzle of the cold war. For a while, Tibet's Independence movement led by the Dalai Lama (as well as much of the outside "Free Tibet" movement") received significant backing in arms, cash, training and more from the CIA. I should add that in the earlier parts of the 19th century Tibet was a target of a variety of imperialist powers including the British and the Germans.
It is indeed true that the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) repressed the feudal system of Tibet in which people were treated as serfs. The PLA stripped those serfs from those who had owned them as property. In fact, before the Dalai Lama left more than 90% of the people of Tibet were serfs. A small part of the population, about 5 percent, were out and out slaves to the nobility. Women were considered inferior to men. Polyandry—where one woman was the wife of several brothers—and polygamy were common. Education for the common people was unheard of.
Interestingly during the pre 1959 period the Dali Lama was not opposed to the commies. The book " Dalai Lama, Freedom in Exile" quotes his as saying, "The more I looked at Marxism, the more I liked it. . . .I felt sure, as I still do, that it would be possible to work out a synthesis of Buddhist and pure Marxist doctrines that really would prove to be an effective way of conducting politics." He even wrote a hymn to Mao Zedong and compared him to Brahma. In fact the Dali Lama had asked to join the Communist Party in those years. He later changed his mind.
These days the current Dalai Lama says says Buddhism in Tibet led to a society dedicated to peace and harmony. "We enjoyed freedom and contentment.”
History however is a hard thing to deny. It is quite clear that a feudal system was practiced in Tibet up until 1959. The Buddhist rulers of Tibet who theologically were opposed to killing found a way to impose the death penalty to anyone found guilty of killing a monk.
In his book "Tibet" British journalist Alan Winnington writes that according to Gorkar Mebon, the mayor of Lhasa in the 1950s, when the death sentence was administered "it was in the form that made no person responsible for the death: by hurling the person from a precipice or sewing him in a yak skin and throwing him in a river. Lighter sentences were of amputation of a hand, both hands, a leg or both legs, the stumps being sterilized with boiling butter."
The whip was also a common form of punishment, Mebon says. "If a person had 300 strokes of it properly applied he would almost certainly die afterwards." In this way it could be said that the government, in accordance with religious law, had directly killed no one.
The blog Return to Reason citing the 1964 book "The Timely Rain" by Stuart Gelder and Roma Gelder, reports on a chilling interview with a former Tibetan serf, Tsereh Wang Tuei, who, having stolen two sheep from a monastery had both his eyes gouged out and his hand mutilated, upon the orders of the holy lama.
After the overthrow of Tibetan feudalism, in 1959 the serfs opened an exhibition of the torture instruments used against them. The exhibition was presented as a show on the "abuse of religion" and the execution of "evil deeds under cloak of religion."
In a 2007 interview the Dali Lama said, "The old Tibet was backward in its technological and social systems. Nobody denies this. If, however, you look at the faces of those Tibetans who were born and grew up in that society, you can easily notice their genuine smile. When compared with other communities, the Tibetans were generally quite peaceful and warm-hearted."
Does that remind you of something you've heard before? Remember those happy slaves down south?
Has the Communist Party of China taken steps since 1949 to destroy Buddhist culture in Tibet? They wouldn't deny that, but they would point out again, as others have, that the part of the culture they targetted included the brutal and exploitative oppression of literally enslaved peasants and serfs by the self-enriching lamas and and their allies. (Did you support the ouster of the Taliban? I did.) Tibet is today home to more than 1,700 monasteries, temples and other sites of religious activity, with over 46,000 Buddhist monks and nuns.
The Free Tibet movement claims that the Chinese killed well over a million Tibetans as repression mounted (although the 1953 census showed the entire population of Tibet to be only 1,274,000). Has political repression existed in People's China? Yes, of course it has. Have a million Tibetans been killed? There is no real evidence that supports anything like that number. The Free Tibet movement points to the fact that Tibetans didn't flee their "country" in huge numbers during the pre-revolution period as proof that things weren't so bad. Come on. What proof is that? We could say the same about scores of places. Maybe the peasants didn't flee feudal Tibet, as historian Michael Parenti (see essay below) wrote, "... for the same reason they could hardly move from one village to another. They were often taxed, beaten, intimidated, hunted down by the landlord's thugs when they did flee, then hamstrung, mutilated, etc." Makes fleeing difficult.
Has China's rule of Tibet been wonderful and without fault or abuse.? No, it hasn't.
Now Tibet, like anywhere else has the right to national self-determination, but that national self-determination must be achieved by the people of Tibet, not by the Dali Lama or a group of Buddhist monks marching out of a monastery. I can't tell you what the people of Tibet want, but neither can Richard Gere.
And there are in fact a number of ways in which national liberation can be achieved even short of total independence. I again would point out the obvious question. Would the people of Tibet be better off on their own or in some form of association with China? It's not a question for me to answer. But I do have an opinion and you can easily guess what that is.
China is a big country and internal nationalism from a variety of peoples may be the biggest problem it faces in the future. In China, there are 56 national minorities. Most of the population is Han. Tibetans are the eighth biggest nationality. In terms of numbers, Tibetans are about 4 million—or .39 percent of China’s population ( The oft described Han invasion of Tibet, by the way, was really a migration that took place over centuries).
I know what I've presented is a hodge podge but it's the best I can do in the time I've got today which is rapidly coming to an end.
Feel free to make comments. I'm sure some of you, lots of you, perhaps, know considerably more about this then me.
The following is from the site "Michael Parenti : Political Archive"
Friendly Feudalism: The Tibet Myth
(updated and expanded version, January 2007)
by Michael Parenti
I. For Lords and Lamas
Along with the blood drenched landscape of religious conflict there is the experience of inner peace and solace that every religion promises, none more so than Buddhism. Standing in marked contrast to the intolerant savagery of other religions, Buddhism is neither fanatical nor dogmatic--so say its adherents. For many of them Buddhism is less a theology and more a meditative and investigative discipline intended to promote an inner harmony and enlightenment while directing us to a path of right living. Generally, the spiritual focus is not only on oneself but on the welfare of others. One tries to put aside egoistic pursuits and gain a deeper understanding of one’s connection to all people and things. “Socially engaged Buddhism” tries to blend individual liberation with responsible social action in order to build an enlightened society.
A glance at history, however, reveals that not all the many and widely varying forms of Buddhism have been free of doctrinal fanaticism, nor free of the violent and exploitative pursuits so characteristic of other religions. In Sri Lanka there is a legendary and almost sacred recorded history about the triumphant battles waged by Buddhist kings of yore. During the twentieth century, Buddhists clashed violently with each other and with non-Buddhists in Thailand, Burma, Korea, Japan, India, and elsewhere. In Sri Lanka, armed battles between Buddhist Sinhalese and Hindu Tamils have taken many lives on both sides. In 1998 the U.S. State Department listed thirty of the world’s most violent and dangerous extremist groups. Over half of them were religious, specifically Muslim, Jewish, and Buddhist. 1
In South Korea, in 1998, thousands of monks of the Chogye Buddhist order fought each other with fists, rocks, fire-bombs, and clubs, in pitched battles that went on for weeks. They were vying for control of the order, the largest in South Korea, with its annual budget of $9.2 million, its millions of dollars worth of property, and the privilege of appointing 1,700 monks to various offices. The brawls damaged the main Buddhist sanctuaries and left dozens of monks injured, some seriously. The Korean public appeared to disdain both factions, feeling that no matter what side took control, “it would use worshippers’ donations for luxurious houses and expensive cars.” 2
As with any religion, squabbles between or within Buddhist sects are often fueled by the material corruption and personal deficiencies of the leadership. For example, in Nagano, Japan, at Zenkoji, the prestigious complex of temples that has hosted Buddhist sects for more than 1,400 years, “a nasty battle” arose between Komatsu the chief priest and the Tacchu, a group of temples nominally under the chief priest's sway. The Tacchu monks accused Komatsu of selling writings and drawings under the temple's name for his own gain. They also were appalled by the frequency with which he was seen in the company of women. Komatsu in turn sought to isolate and punish monks who were critical of his leadership. The conflict lasted some five years and made it into the courts. 3
But what of Tibetan Buddhism? Is it not an exception to this sort of strife? And what of the society it helped to create? Many Buddhists maintain that, before the Chinese crackdown in 1959, old Tibet was a spiritually oriented kingdom free from the egotistical lifestyles, empty materialism, and corrupting vices that beset modern industrialized society. Western news media, travel books, novels, and Hollywood films have portrayed the Tibetan theocracy as a veritable Shangri-La. The Dalai Lama himself stated that “the pervasive influence of Buddhism” in Tibet, “amid the wide open spaces of an unspoiled environment resulted in a society dedicated to peace and harmony. We enjoyed freedom and contentment.” 4
A reading of Tibet’s history suggests a somewhat different picture. “Religious conflict was commonplace in old Tibet,” writes one western Buddhist practitioner. “History belies the Shangri-La image of Tibetan lamas and their followers living together in mutual tolerance and nonviolent goodwill. Indeed, the situation was quite different. Old Tibet was much more like Europe during the religious wars of the Counterreformation.” 5 In the thirteenth century, Emperor Kublai Khan created the first Grand Lama, who was to preside over all the other lamas as might a pope over his bishops. Several centuries later, the Emperor of China sent an army into Tibet to support the Grand Lama, an ambitious 25-year-old man, who then gave himself the title of Dalai (Ocean) Lama, ruler of all Tibet. Here is a historical irony: the first Dalai Lama was installed by a Chinese army.
His two previous lama “incarnations” were then retroactively recognized as his predecessors, thereby transforming the 1st Dalai Lama into the 3rd Dalai Lama. This 1st (or 3rd) Dalai Lama seized monasteries that did not belong to his sect, and is believed to have destroyed Buddhist writings that conflicted with his claim to divinity. The Dalai Lama who succeeded him pursued a sybaritic life, enjoying many mistresses, partying with friends, and acting in other ways deemed unfitting for an incarnate deity. For these transgressions he was murdered by his priests. Within 170 years, despite their recognized divine status, five Dalai Lamas were killed by their high priests or other courtiers. 6
For hundreds of years competing Tibetan Buddhist sects engaged in bitterly violent clashes and summary executions. In 1660, the 5th Dalai Lama was faced with a rebellion in Tsang province, the stronghold of the rival Kagyu sect with its high lama known as the Karmapa. The 5th Dalai Lama called for harsh retribution against the rebels, directing the Mongol army to obliterate the male and female lines, and the offspring too “like eggs smashed against rocks…. In short, annihilate any traces of them, even their names.” 7
In 1792, many Kagyu monasteries were confiscated and their monks were forcibly converted to the Gelug sect (the Dalai Lama’s denomination). The Gelug school, known also as the “Yellow Hats,” showed little tolerance or willingness to mix their teachings with other Buddhist sects. In the words of one of their traditional prayers: “Praise to you, violent god of the Yellow Hat teachings/who reduces to particles of dust/ great beings, high officials and ordinary people/ who pollute and corrupt the Gelug doctrine.” 8 An eighteenth-century memoir of a Tibetan general depicts sectarian strife among Buddhists that is as brutal and bloody as any religious conflict might be. 9 This grim history remains largely unvisited by present-day followers of Tibetan Buddhism in the West.
Religions have had a close relationship not only with violence but with economic exploitation. Indeed, it is often the economic exploitation that necessitates the violence. Such was the case with the Tibetan theocracy. Until 1959, when the Dalai Lama last presided over Tibet, most of the arable land was still organized into manorial estates worked by serfs. These estates were owned by two social groups: the rich secular landlords and the rich theocratic lamas. Even a writer sympathetic to the old order allows that “a great deal of real estate belonged to the monasteries, and most of them amassed great riches.” Much of the wealth was accumulated “through active participation in trade, commerce, and money lending.” 10
Drepung monastery was one of the biggest landowners in the world, with its 185 manors, 25,000 serfs, 300 great pastures, and 16,000 herdsmen. The wealth of the monasteries rested in the hands of small numbers of high-ranking lamas. Most ordinary monks lived modestly and had no direct access to great wealth. The Dalai Lama himself “lived richly in the 1000-room, 14-story Potala Palace.” 11
Secular leaders also did well. A notable example was the commander-in-chief of the Tibetan army, a member of the Dalai Lama’s lay Cabinet, who owned 4,000 square kilometers of land and 3,500 serfs. 12 Old Tibet has been misrepresented by some Western admirers as “a nation that required no police force because its people voluntarily observed the laws of karma.” 13 In fact. it had a professional army, albeit a small one, that served mainly as a gendarmerie for the landlords to keep order, protect their property, and hunt down runaway serfs.
Young Tibetan boys were regularly taken from their peasant families and brought into the monasteries to be trained as monks. Once there, they were bonded for life. Tashì-Tsering, a monk, reports that it was common for peasant children to be sexually mistreated in the monasteries. He himself was a victim of repeated rape, beginning at age nine. 14 The monastic estates also conscripted children for lifelong servitude as domestics, dance performers, and soldiers.
In old Tibet there were small numbers of farmers who subsisted as a kind of free peasantry, and perhaps an additional 10,000 people who composed the “middle-class” families of merchants, shopkeepers, and small traders. Thousands of others were beggars. There also were slaves, usually domestic servants, who owned nothing. Their offspring were born into slavery. 15 The majority of the rural population were serfs. Treated little better than slaves, the serfs went without schooling or medical care, They were under a lifetime bond to work the lord's land--or the monastery’s land--without pay, to repair the lord's houses, transport his crops, and collect his firewood. They were also expected to provide carrying animals and transportation on demand.16 Their masters told them what crops to grow and what animals to raise. They could not get married without the consent of their lord or lama. And they might easily be separated from their families should their owners lease them out to work in a distant location. 17
As in a free labor system and unlike slavery, the overlords had no responsibility for the serf’s maintenance and no direct interest in his or her survival as an expensive piece of property. The serfs had to support themselves. Yet as in a slave system, they were bound to their masters, guaranteeing a fixed and permanent workforce that could neither organize nor strike nor freely depart as might laborers in a market context. The overlords had the best of both worlds.
One 22-year old woman, herself a runaway serf, reports: “Pretty serf girls were usually taken by the owner as house servants and used as he wished”; they “were just slaves without rights.”18 Serfs needed permission to go anywhere. Landowners had legal authority to capture those who tried to flee. One 24-year old runaway welcomed the Chinese intervention as a “liberation.” He testified that under serfdom he was subjected to incessant toil, hunger, and cold. After his third failed escape, he was merciless beaten by the landlord’s men until blood poured from his nose and mouth. They then poured alcohol and caustic soda on his wounds to increase the pain, he claimed.19
The serfs were taxed upon getting married, taxed for the birth of each child and for every death in the family. They were taxed for planting a tree in their yard and for keeping animals. They were taxed for religious festivals and for public dancing and drumming, for being sent to prison and upon being released. Those who could not find work were taxed for being unemployed, and if they traveled to another village in search of work, they paid a passage tax. When people could not pay, the monasteries lent them money at 20 to 50 percent interest. Some debts were handed down from father to son to grandson. Debtors who could not meet their obligations risked being cast into slavery.20
The theocracy’s religious teachings buttressed its class order. The poor and afflicted were taught that they had brought their troubles upon themselves because of their wicked ways in previous lives. Hence they had to accept the misery of their present existence as a karmic atonement and in anticipation that their lot would improve in their next lifetime. The rich and powerful treated their good fortune as a reward for, and tangible evidence of, virtue in past and present lives.
The Tibetan serfs were something more than superstitious victims, blind to their own oppression. As we have seen, some ran away; others openly resisted, sometimes suffering dire consequences. In feudal Tibet, torture and mutilation--including eye gouging, the pulling out of tongues, hamstringing, and amputation--were favored punishments inflicted upon thieves, and runaway or resistant serfs. Journeying through Tibet in the 1960s, Stuart and Roma Gelder interviewed a former serf, Tsereh Wang Tuei, who had stolen two sheep belonging to a monastery. For this he had both his eyes gouged out and his hand mutilated beyond use. He explains that he no longer is a Buddhist: “When a holy lama told them to blind me I thought there was no good in religion.”21 Since it was against Buddhist teachings to take human life, some offenders were severely lashed and then “left to God” in the freezing night to die. “The parallels between Tibet and medieval Europe are striking,” concludes Tom Grunfeld in his book on Tibet. 22
In 1959, Anna Louise Strong visited an exhibition of torture equipment that had been used by the Tibetan overlords. There were handcuffs of all sizes, including small ones for children, and instruments for cutting off noses and ears, gouging out eyes, breaking off hands, and hamstringing legs. There were hot brands, whips, and special implements for disemboweling. The exhibition presented photographs and testimonies of victims who had been blinded or crippled or suffered amputations for thievery. There was the shepherd whose master owed him a reimbursement in yuan and wheat but refused to pay. So he took one of the master’s cows; for this he had his hands severed. Another herdsman, who opposed having his wife taken from him by his lord, had his hands broken off. There were pictures of Communist activists with noses and upper lips cut off, and a woman who was raped and then had her nose sliced away.23
Earlier visitors to Tibet commented on the theocratic despotism. In 1895, an Englishman, Dr. A. L. Waddell, wrote that the populace was under the “intolerable tyranny of monks” and the devil superstitions they had fashioned to terrorize the people. In 1904 Perceval Landon described the Dalai Lama’s rule as “an engine of oppression.” At about that time, another English traveler, Captain W.F.T. O’Connor, observed that “the great landowners and the priests… exercise each in their own dominion a despotic power from which there is no appeal,” while the people are “oppressed by the most monstrous growth of monasticism and priest-craft.” Tibetan rulers “invented degrading legends and stimulated a spirit of superstition” among the common people. In 1937, another visitor, Spencer Chapman, wrote, “The Lamaist monk does not spend his time in ministering to the people or educating them. . . . The beggar beside the road is nothing to the monk. Knowledge is the jealously guarded prerogative of the monasteries and is used to increase their influence and wealth.”24 As much as we might wish otherwise, feudal theocratic Tibet was a far cry from the romanticized Shangri La so enthusiastically nurtured by Buddhism’s western proselytes.
II. Secularization vs. Spirituality
What happened to Tibet after the Chinese Communists moved into the country in 1951? The treaty of that year provided for ostensible self-governance under the Dalai Lama’s rule but gave China military control and exclusive right to conduct foreign relations. The Chinese were also granted a direct role in internal administration “to promote social reforms.” Among the earliest changes they wrought was to reduce usurious interest rates, and build a few hospitals and roads. At first, they moved slowly, relying mostly on persuasion in an attempt to effect reconstruction. No aristocratic or monastic property was confiscated, and feudal lords continued to reign over their hereditarily bound peasants. “Contrary to popular belief in the West,” claims one observer, the Chinese “took care to show respect for Tibetan culture and religion.”25
Over the centuries the Tibetan lords and lamas had seen Chinese come and go, and had enjoyed good relations with Generalissimo Chiang Kaishek and his reactionary Kuomintang rule in China.26 The approval of the Kuomintang government was needed to validate the choice of the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama. When the current 14th Dalai Lama was first installed in Lhasa, it was with an armed escort of Chinese troops and an attending Chinese minister, in accordance with centuries-old tradition. What upset the Tibetan lords and lamas in the early 1950s was that these latest Chinese were Communists. It would be only a matter of time, they feared, before the Communists started imposing their collectivist egalitarian schemes upon Tibet.
The issue was joined in 1956-57, when armed Tibetan bands ambushed convoys of the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army. The uprising received extensive assistance from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), including military training, support camps in Nepal, and numerous airlifts.27 Meanwhile in the United States, the American Society for a Free Asia, a CIA-financed front, energetically publicized the cause of Tibetan resistance, with the Dalai Lama’s eldest brother, Thubtan Norbu, playing an active role in that organization. The Dalai Lama's second-eldest brother, Gyalo Thondup, established an intelligence operation with the CIA as early as 1951. He later upgraded it into a CIA-trained guerrilla unit whose recruits parachuted back into Tibet.28
Many Tibetan commandos and agents whom the CIA dropped into the country were chiefs of aristocratic clans or the sons of chiefs. Ninety percent of them were never heard from again, according to a report from the CIA itself, meaning they were most likely captured and killed.29 “Many lamas and lay members of the elite and much of the Tibetan army joined the uprising, but in the main the populace did not, assuring its failure,” writes Hugh Deane.30 In their book on Tibet, Ginsburg and Mathos reach a similar conclusion: “As far as can be ascertained, the great bulk of the common people of Lhasa and of the adjoining countryside failed to join in the fighting against the Chinese both when it first began and as it progressed.”31 Eventually the resistance crumbled.
Whatever wrongs and new oppressions introduced by the Chinese after 1959, they did abolish slavery and the Tibetan serfdom system of unpaid labor. They eliminated the many crushing taxes, started work projects, and greatly reduced unemployment and beggary. They established secular schools, thereby breaking the educational monopoly of the monasteries. And they constructed running water and electrical systems in Lhasa.32
Heinrich Harrer (later revealed to have been a sergeant in Hitler’s SS) wrote a bestseller about his experiences in Tibet that was made into a popular Hollywood movie. He reported that the Tibetans who resisted the Chinese “were predominantly nobles, semi-nobles and lamas; they were punished by being made to perform the lowliest tasks, such as laboring on roads and bridges. They were further humiliated by being made to clean up the city before the tourists arrived.” They also had to live in a camp originally reserved for beggars and vagrants--all of which Harrer treats as sure evidence of the dreadful nature of the Chinese occupation.33
By 1961, Chinese occupation authorities expropriated the landed estates owned by lords and lamas. They distributed many thousands of acres to tenant farmers and landless peasants, reorganizing them into hundreds of communes.. Herds once owned by nobility were turned over to collectives of poor shepherds. Improvements were made in the breeding of livestock, and new varieties of vegetables and new strains of wheat and barley were introduced, along with irrigation improvements, all of which reportedly led to an increase in agrarian production.34
Many peasants remained as religious as ever, giving alms to the clergy. But monks who had been conscripted as children into the religious orders were now free to renounce the monastic life, and thousands did, especially the younger ones. The remaining clergy lived on modest government stipends and extra income earned by officiating at prayer services, weddings, and funerals.35
Both the Dalai Lama and his advisor and youngest brother, Tendzin Choegyal, claimed that “more than 1.2 million Tibetans are dead as a result of the Chinese occupation.”36 The official 1953 census--six years before the Chinese crackdown--recorded the entire population residing in Tibet at 1,274,000.37 Other census counts put the population within Tibet at about two million. If the Chinese killed 1.2 million in the early 1960s then almost all of Tibet, would have been depopulated, transformed into a killing field dotted with death camps and mass graves--of which we have no evidence. The thinly distributed Chinese force in Tibet could not have rounded up, hunted down, and exterminated that many people even if it had spent all its time doing nothing else.
Chinese authorities claim to have put an end to floggings, mutilations, and amputations as a form of criminal punishment. They themselves, however, have been charged with acts of brutality by exile Tibetans. The authorities do admit to “mistakes,” particularly during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution when the persecution of religious beliefs reached a high tide in both China and Tibet. After the uprising in the late 1950s, thousands of Tibetans were incarcerated. During the Great Leap Forward, forced collectivization and grain farming were imposed on the Tibetan peasantry, sometimes with disastrous effect on production. In the late 1970s, China began relaxing controls “and tried to undo some of the damage wrought during the previous two decades.”38
In 1980, the Chinese government initiated reforms reportedly designed to grant Tibet a greater degree of self-rule and self-administration. Tibetans would now be allowed to cultivate private plots, sell their harvest surpluses, decide for themselves what crops to grow, and keep yaks and sheep. Communication with the outside world was again permitted, and frontier controls were eased to permit some Tibetans to visit exiled relatives in India and Nepal.39 By the 1980s many of the principal lamas had begun to shuttle back and forth between China and the exile communities abroad, “restoring their monasteries in Tibet and helping to revitalize Buddhism there.”40
As of 2007 Tibetan Buddhism was still practiced widely and tolerated by officialdom. Religious pilgrimages and other standard forms of worship were allowed but within limits. All monks and nuns had to sign a loyalty pledge that they would not use their religious position to foment secession or dissent. And displaying photos of the Dalai Lama was declared illegal.41
In the 1990s, the Han, the ethnic group comprising over 95 percent of China’s immense population, began moving in substantial numbers into Tibet. On the streets of Lhasa and Shigatse, signs of Han colonization are readily visible. Chinese run the factories and many of the shops and vending stalls. Tall office buildings and large shopping centers have been built with funds that might have been better spent on water treatment plants and housing. Chinese cadres in Tibet too often view their Tibetan neighbors as backward and lazy, in need of economic development and “patriotic education.” During the 1990s Tibetan government employees suspected of harboring nationalist sympathies were purged from office, and campaigns were once again launched to discredit the Dalai Lama. Individual Tibetans reportedly were subjected to arrest, imprisonment, and forced labor for carrying out separatist activities and engaging in “political subversion.” Some were held in administrative detention without adequate food, water, and blankets, subjected to threats, beatings, and other mistreatment.42
Tibetan history, culture, and certainly religion are slighted in schools. Teaching materials, though translated into Tibetan, focus mainly on Chinese history and culture. Chinese family planning regulations allow a three-child limit for Tibetan families. (There is only a one-child limit for Han families throughout China, and a two-child limit for rural Han families whose first child is a girl.) If a Tibetan couple goes over the three-child limit, the excess children can be denied subsidized daycare, health care, housing, and education. These penalties have been enforced irregularly and vary by district.43 None of these child services, it should be noted, were available to Tibetans before the Chinese takeover.
For the rich lamas and secular lords, the Communist intervention was an unmitigated calamity. Most of them fled abroad, as did the Dalai Lama himself, who was assisted in his flight by the CIA. Some discovered to their horror that they would have to work for a living. Many, however, escaped that fate. Throughout the 1960s, the Tibetan exile community was secretly pocketing $1.7 million a year from the CIA, according to documents released by the State Department in 1998. Once this fact was publicized, the Dalai Lama’s organization itself issued a statement admitting that it had received millions of dollars from the CIA during the 1960s to send armed squads of exiles into Tibet to undermine the Maoist revolution. The Dalai Lama's annual payment from the CIA was $186,000. Indian intelligence also financed both him and other Tibetan exiles. He has refused to say whether he or his brothers worked for the CIA. The agency has also declined to comment.44
In 1995, the News & Observer of Raleigh, North Carolina, carried a frontpage color photograph of the Dalai Lama being embraced by the reactionary Republican senator Jesse Helms, under the headline “Buddhist Captivates Hero of Religious Right.”45 In April 1999, along with Margaret Thatcher, Pope John Paul II, and the first George Bush, the Dalai Lama called upon the British government to release Augusto Pinochet, the former fascist dictator of Chile and a longtime CIA client who was visiting England. The Dalai Lama urged that Pinochet not be forced to go to Spain where he was wanted to stand trial for crimes against humanity.
Into the twenty-first century, via the National Endowment for Democracy and other conduits that are more respectable sounding than the CIA, the U.S. Congress continued to allocate an annual $2 million to Tibetans in India, with additional millions for “democracy activities” within the Tibetan exile community. In addition to these funds, the Dalai Lama received money from financier George Soros.46
Whatever the Dalai Lama’s associations with the CIA and various reactionaries, he did speak often of peace, love, and nonviolence. He himself really cannot be blamed for the abuses of Tibet’s ancien régime, having been but 25 years old when he fled into exile. In a 1994 interview, he went on record as favoring the building of schools and roads in his country. He said the corvée (forced unpaid serf labor) and certain taxes imposed on the peasants were “extremely bad.” And he disliked the way people were saddled with old debts sometimes passed down from generation to generation.47During the half century of living in the western world, he had embraced concepts such as human rights and religious freedom, ideas largely unknown in old Tibet. He even proposed democracy for Tibet, featuring a written constitution and a representative assembly.48
In 1996, the Dalai Lama issued a statement that must have had an unsettling effect on the exile community. It read in part: “Marxism is founded on moral principles, while capitalism is concerned only with gain and profitability.” Marxism fosters “the equitable utilization of the means of production” and cares about “the fate of the working classes” and “the victims of . . . exploitation. For those reasons the system appeals to me, and . . . I think of myself as half-Marxist, half-Buddhist.49
But he also sent a reassuring message to “those who live in abundance”: “It is a good thing to be rich... Those are the fruits for deserving actions, the proof that they have been generous in the past.” And to the poor he offers this admonition: “There is no good reason to become bitter and rebel against those who have property and fortune... It is better to develop a positive attitude.”50
In 2005 the Dalai Lama signed a widely advertised statement along with ten other Nobel Laureates supporting the “inalienable and fundamental human right” of working people throughout the world to form labor unions to protect their interests, in accordance with the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In many countries “this fundamental right is poorly protected and in some it is explicitly banned or brutally suppressed,” the statement read. Burma, China, Colombia, Bosnia, and a few other countries were singled out as among the worst offenders. Even the United States “fails to adequately protect workers’ rights to form unions and bargain collectively. Millions of U.S. workers lack any legal protection to form unions….”51
The Dalai Lama also gave full support to removing the ingrained traditional obstacles that have kept Tibetan nuns from receiving an education. Upon arriving in exile, few nuns could read or write. In Tibet their activities had been devoted to daylong periods of prayer and chants. But in northern India they now began reading Buddhist philosophy and engaging in theological study and debate, activities that in old Tibet had been open only to monks.52
In November 2005 the Dalai Lama spoke at Stanford University on “The Heart of Nonviolence,” but stopped short of a blanket condemnation of all violence. Violent actions that are committed in order to reduce future suffering are not to be condemned, he said, citing World War II as an example of a worthy effort to protect democracy. What of the four years of carnage and mass destruction in Iraq, a war condemned by most of the world—even by a conservative pope--as a blatant violation of international law and a crime against humanity? The Dalai Lama was undecided: “The Iraq war—it’s too early to say, right or wrong.”53 Earlier he had voiced support for the U.S. military intervention against Yugoslavia and, later on, the U.S. military intervention into Afghanistan.54
III. Exit Feudal Theocracy
As the Shangri-La myth would have it, in old Tibet the people lived in contented and tranquil symbiosis with their monastic and secular lords. Rich lamas and poor monks, wealthy landlords and impoverished serfs were all bonded together, mutually sustained by the comforting balm of a deeply spiritual and pacific culture.
One is reminded of the idealized image of feudal Europe presented by latter-day conservative Catholics such as G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc. For them, medieval Christendom was a world of contented peasants living in the secure embrace of their Church, under the more or less benign protection of their lords.55 Again we are invited to accept a particular culture in its idealized form divorced from its murky material history. This means accepting it as presented by its favored class, by those who profited most from it. The Shangri-La image of Tibet bears no more resemblance to historic actuality than does the pastoral image of medieval Europe.
Seen in all its grim realities, old Tibet confirms the view I expressed in an earlier book, namely that culture is anything but neutral. Culture can operate as a legitimating cover for a host of grave injustices, benefiting a privileged portion of society at great cost to the rest.56 In theocratic feudal Tibet, ruling interests manipulated the traditional culture to fortify their own wealth and power. The theocracy equated rebellious thought and action with satanic influence. It propagated the general presumption of landlord superiority and peasant unworthiness. The rich were represented as deserving their good life, and the lowly poor as deserving their mean existence, all codified in teachings about the karmic residue of virtue and vice accumulated from past lives, presented as part of God’s will.
Were the more affluent lamas just hypocrites who preached one thing and secretly believed another? More likely they were genuinely attached to those beliefs that brought such good results for them. That their theology so perfectly supported their material privileges only strengthened the sincerity with which it was embraced.
It might be said that we denizens of the modern secular world cannot grasp the equations of happiness and pain, contentment and custom, that characterize more traditionally spiritual societies. This is probably true, and it may explain why some of us idealize such societies. But still, a gouged eye is a gouged eye; a flogging is a flogging; and the grinding exploitation of serfs and slaves is a brutal class injustice whatever its cultural wrapping. There is a difference between a spiritual bond and human bondage, even when both exist side by side
Many ordinary Tibetans want the Dalai Lama back in their country, but it appears that relatively few want a return to the social order he represented. A 1999 story in the Washington Post notes that the Dalai Lama continues to be revered in Tibet, but
. . . few Tibetans would welcome a return of the corrupt aristocratic clans that fled with him in 1959 and that comprise the bulk of his advisers. Many Tibetan farmers, for example, have no interest in surrendering the land they gained during China’s land reform to the clans. Tibet’s former slaves say they, too, don’t want their former masters to return to power. “I’ve already lived that life once before,” said Wangchuk, a 67-year-old former slave who was wearing his best clothes for his yearly pilgrimage to Shigatse, one of the holiest sites of Tibetan Buddhism. He said he worshipped the Dalai Lama, but added, “I may not be free under Chinese communism, but I am better off than when I was a slave.”57
It should be noted that the Dalai Lama is not the only highly placed lama chosen in childhood as a reincarnation. One or another reincarnate lama or tulku--a spiritual teacher of special purity elected to be reborn again and again--can be found presiding over most major monasteries. The tulku system is unique to Tibetan Buddhism. Scores of Tibetan lamas claim to be reincarnate tulkus.
The very first tulku was a lama known as the Karmapa who appeared nearly three centuries before the first Dalai Lama. The Karmapa is leader of a Tibetan Buddhist tradition known as the Karma Kagyu. The rise of the Gelugpa sect headed by the Dalai Lama led to a politico-religious rivalry with the Kagyu that has lasted five hundred years and continues to play itself out within the Tibetan exile community today. That the Kagyu sect has grown famously, opening some six hundred new centers around the world in the last thirty-five years, has not helped the situation.
The search for a tulku, Erik Curren reminds us, has not always been conducted in that purely spiritual mode portrayed in certain Hollywood films. “Sometimes monastic officials wanted a child from a powerful local noble family to give the cloister more political clout. Other times they wanted a child from a lower-class family who would have little leverage to influence the child’s upbringing.” On other occasions “a local warlord, the Chinese emperor or even the Dalai Lama’s government in Lhasa might [have tried] to impose its choice of tulku on a monastery for political reasons.”58
Such may have been the case in the selection of the 17th Karmapa, whose monastery-in-exile is situated in Rumtek, in the Indian state of Sikkim. In 1993 the monks of the Karma Kagyu tradition had a candidate of their own choice. The Dalai Lama, along with several dissenting Karma Kagyu leaders (and with the support of the Chinese government!) backed a different boy. The Kagyu monks charged that the Dalai Lama had overstepped his authority in attempting to select a leader for their sect. “Neither his political role nor his position as a lama in his own Gelugpa tradition entitled him to choose the Karmapa, who is a leader of a different tradition…”59 As one of the Kagyu leaders insisted, “Dharma is about thinking for yourself. It is not about automatically following a teacher in all things, no matter how respected that teacher may be. More than anyone else, Buddhists should respect other people’s rights—their human rights and their religious freedom.”60
What followed was a dozen years of conflict in the Tibetan exile community, punctuated by intermittent riots, intimidation, physical attacks, blacklisting, police harassment, litigation, official corruption, and the looting and undermining of the Karmapa’s monastery in Rumtek by supporters of the Gelugpa faction. All this has caused at least one western devotee to wonder if the years of exile were not hastening the moral corrosion of Tibetan Buddhism.61
What is clear is that not all Tibetan Buddhists accept the Dalai Lama as their theological and spiritual mentor. Though he is referred to as the “spiritual leader of Tibet,” many see this title as little more than a formality. It does not give him authority over the four religious schools of Tibet other than his own, “just as calling the U.S. president the ‘leader of the free world’ gives him no role in governing France or Germany.”62
Not all Tibetan exiles are enamoured of the old Shangri-La theocracy. Kim Lewis, who studied healing methods with a Buddhist monk in Berkeley, California, had occasion to talk at length with more than a dozen Tibetan women who lived in the monk’s building. When she asked how they felt about returning to their homeland, the sentiment was unanimously negative. At first, Lewis assumed that their reluctance had to do with the Chinese occupation, but they quickly informed her otherwise. They said they were extremely grateful “not to have to marry 4 or 5 men, be pregnant almost all the time,” or deal with sexually transmitted diseases contacted from a straying husband. The younger women “were delighted to be getting an education, wanted absolutely nothing to do with any religion, and wondered why Americans were so naïve [about Tibet].”63
The women interviewed by Lewis recounted stories of their grandmothers’ ordeals with monks who used them as “wisdom consorts.” By sleeping with the monks, the grandmothers were told, they gained “the means to enlightenment” -- after all, the Buddha himself had to be with a woman to reach enlightenment.
The women also mentioned the “rampant” sex that the supposedly spiritual and abstemious monks practiced with each other in the Gelugpa sect. The women who were mothers spoke bitterly about the monastery’s confiscation of their young boys in Tibet. They claimed that when a boy cried for his mother, he would be told “Why do you cry for her, she gave you up--she's just a woman.”
The monks who were granted political asylum in California applied for public assistance. Lewis, herself a devotee for a time, assisted with the paperwork. She observes that they continue to receive government checks amounting to $550 to $700 per month along with Medicare. In addition, the monks reside rent free in nicely furnished apartments. “They pay no utilities, have free access to the Internet on computers provided for them, along with fax machines, free cell and home phones and cable TV.”
They also receive a monthly payment from their order, along with contributions and dues from their American followers. Some devotees eagerly carry out chores for the monks, including grocery shopping and cleaning their apartments and toilets. These same holy men, Lewis remarks, “have no problem criticizing Americans for their ‘obsession with material things.’”64
To welcome the end of the old feudal theocracy in Tibet is not to applaud everything about Chinese rule in that country. This point is seldom understood by today’s Shangri-La believers in the West. The converse is also true: To denounce the Chinese occupation does not mean we have to romanticize the former feudal régime. Tibetans deserve to be perceived as actual people, not perfected spiritualists or innocent political symbols. “To idealize them,” notes Ma Jian, a dissident Chinese traveler to Tibet (now living in Britain), “is to deny them their humanity.”65
One common complaint among Buddhist followers in the West is that Tibet’s religious culture is being undermined by the Chinese occupation. To some extent this seems to be the case. Many of the monasteries are closed, and much of the theocracy seems to have passed into history. Whether Chinese rule has brought betterment or disaster is not the central issue here. The question is what kind of country was old Tibet. What I am disputing is the supposedly pristine spiritual nature of that pre-invasion culture. We can advocate religious freedom and independence for a new Tibet without having to embrace the mythology about old Tibet. Tibetan feudalism was cloaked in Buddhism, but the two are not to be equated. In reality, old Tibet was not a Paradise Lost. It was a retrograde repressive theocracy of extreme privilege and poverty, a long way from Shangri-La.
Finally, let it be said that if Tibet’s future is to be positioned somewhere within China’s emerging free-market paradise, then this does not bode well for the Tibetans. China boasts a dazzling 8 percent economic growth rate and is emerging as one of the world’s greatest industrial powers. But with economic growth has come an ever deepening gulf between rich and poor. Most Chinese live close to the poverty level or well under it, while a small group of newly brooded capitalists profit hugely in collusion with shady officials. Regional bureaucrats milk the country dry, extorting graft from the populace and looting local treasuries. Land grabbing in cities and countryside by avaricious developers and corrupt officials at the expense of the populace are almost everyday occurrences. Tens of thousands of grassroot protests and disturbances have erupted across the country, usually to be met with unforgiving police force. Corruption is so prevalent, reaching into so many places, that even the normally complacent national leadership was forced to take notice and began moving against it in late 2006.
Workers in China who try to organize labor unions in the corporate dominated “business zones” risk losing their jobs or getting beaten and imprisoned. Millions of business zone workers toil twelve-hour days at subsistence wages. With the health care system now being privatized, free or affordable medical treatment is no longer available for millions. Men have tramped into the cities in search of work, leaving an increasingly impoverished countryside populated by women, children, and the elderly. The suicide rate has increased dramatically, especially among women.66
China’s natural environment is sadly polluted. Most of its fabled rivers and many lakes are dead, producing massive fish die-offs from the billions of tons of industrial emissions and untreated human waste dumped into them. Toxic effluents, including pesticides and herbicides, seep into ground water or directly into irrigation canals. Cancer rates in villages situated along waterways have skyrocketed a thousand-fold. Hundreds of millions of urban residents breathe air rated as dangerously unhealthy, contaminated by industrial growth and the recent addition of millions of automobiles. An estimated 400,000 die prematurely every year from air pollution. Government environmental agencies have no enforcement power to stop polluters, and generally the government ignores or denies such problems, concentrating instead on industrial growth.67
China’s own scientific establishment reports that unless greenhouse gases are curbed, the nation will face massive crop failures along with catastrophic food and water shortages in the years ahead. In 2006-2007 severe drought was already afflicting southwest China.68
If China is the great success story of speedy free market development, and is to be the model and inspiration for Tibet’s future, then old feudal Tibet indeed may start looking a lot better than it actually was.
Mark Juergensmeyer, Terror in the Mind of God, (University of California Press, 2000), 6, 112-113, 157.
Kyong-Hwa Seok, "Korean Monk Gangs Battle for Temple Turf," San Francisco Examiner, 3 December 1998.
Los Angeles Times, February 25, 2006.
Dalai Lama quoted in Donald Lopez Jr., Prisoners of Shangri-La: Tibetan Buddhism and the West (Chicago and London: Chicago University Press, 1998), 205.
Erik D. Curren, Buddha's Not Smiling: Uncovering Corruption at the Heart of Tibetan Buddhism Today (Alaya Press 2005), 41.
Stuart Gelder and Roma Gelder, The Timely Rain: Travels in New Tibet (Monthly Review Press, 1964), 119, 123; and Melvyn C. Goldstein, The Snow Lion and the Dragon: China, Tibet, and the Dalai Lama (University of California Press, 1995), 6-16.
Curren, Buddha's Not Smiling, 50.
Stephen Bachelor, "Letting Daylight into Magic: The Life and Times of Dorje Shugden," Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, 7, Spring 1998. Bachelor discusses the sectarian fanaticism and doctrinal clashes that ill fit the Western portrait of Buddhism as a non-dogmatic and tolerant tradition.
Dhoring Tenzin Paljor, Autobiography, cited in Curren, Buddha's Not Smiling, 8.
Pradyumna P. Karan, The Changing Face of Tibet: The Impact of Chinese Communist Ideology on the Landscape (Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 1976), 64.
See Gary Wilson's report in Worker's World, 6 February 1997.
Gelder and Gelder, The Timely Rain, 62 and 174.
As skeptically noted by Lopez, Prisoners of Shangri-La, 9.
Melvyn Goldstein, William Siebenschuh, and Tashì-Tsering, The Struggle for Modern Tibet: The Autobiography of Tashì-Tsering (Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 1997).
Gelder and Gelder, The Timely Rain, 110.
Melvyn C. Goldstein, A History of Modern Tibet 1913-1951 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), 5 and passim.
Anna Louise Strong, Tibetan Interviews (Peking: New World Press, 1959), 15, 19-21, 24.
Quoted in Strong, Tibetan Interviews, 25.
Strong, Tibetan Interviews, 31.
Gelder and Gelder, The Timely Rain, 175-176; and Strong, Tibetan Interviews, 25-26.
Gelder and Gelder, The Timely Rain, 113.
A. Tom Grunfeld, The Making of Modern Tibet rev. ed. (Armonk, N.Y. and London: 1996), 9 and 7-33 for a general discussion of feudal Tibet; see also Felix Greene, A Curtain of Ignorance (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1961), 241-249; Goldstein, A History of Modern Tibet, 3-5; and Lopez, Prisoners of Shangri-La, passim.
Strong, Tibetan Interviews, 91-96.
Waddell, Landon, O'Connor, and Chapman are quoted in Gelder and Gelder, The Timely Rain, 123-125.
Goldstein, The Snow Lion and the Dragon, 52.
Heinrich Harrer, Return to Tibet (New York: Schocken, 1985), 29.
See Kenneth Conboy and James Morrison, The CIA's Secret War in Tibet (Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas Press, 2002); and William Leary, "Secret Mission to Tibet," Air & Space, December 1997/January 1998.
On the CIA's links to the Dalai Lama and his family and entourage, see Loren Coleman, Tom Slick and the Search for the Yeti (London: Faber and Faber, 1989).
Leary, "Secret Mission to Tibet."
Hugh Deane, "The Cold War in Tibet," CovertAction Quarterly (Winter 1987).
George Ginsburg and Michael Mathos Communist China and Tibet (1964), quoted in Deane, "The Cold War in Tibet." Deane notes that author Bina Roy reached a similar conclusion.
See Greene, A Curtain of Ignorance, 248 and passim; and Grunfeld, The Making of Modern Tibet, passim.
Harrer, Return to Tibet, 54.
Karan, The Changing Face of Tibet, 36-38, 41, 57-58; London Times, 4 July 1966.
Gelder and Gelder, The Timely Rain, 29 and 47-48.
Tendzin Choegyal, "The Truth about Tibet," Imprimis (publication of Hillsdale College, Michigan), April 1999.
Karan, The Changing Face of Tibet, 52-53.
Elaine Kurtenbach, Associate Press report, 12 February 1998.
Goldstein, The Snow Lion and the Dragon, 47-48.
Curren, Buddha's Not Smiling, 8.
San Francisco Chonicle, 9 January 2007.
Report by the International Committee of Lawyers for Tibet, A Generation in Peril (Berkeley Calif.: 2001), passim.
International Committee of Lawyers for Tibet, A Generation in Peril, 66-68, 98.
im Mann, "CIA Gave Aid to Tibetan Exiles in '60s, Files Show," Los Angeles Times, 15 September 1998; and New York Times, 1 October, 1998.
News & Observer, 6 September 1995, cited in Lopez, Prisoners of Shangri-La, 3.
Heather Cottin, "George Soros, Imperial Wizard," CovertAction Quarterly no. 74 (Fall 2002).
Goldstein, The Snow Lion and the Dragon, 51.
Tendzin Choegyal, "The Truth about Tibet."
The Dalai Lama in Marianne Dresser (ed.), Beyond Dogma: Dialogues and Discourses (Berkeley, Calif.: North Atlantic Books, 1996)
These comments are from a book of the Dalai Lama's writings quoted in Nikolai Thyssen, "Oceaner af onkel Tom," Dagbladet Information, 29 December 2003, (translated for me by Julius Wilm). Thyssen's review (in Danish) can be found at http://www.information.dk/Indgang/VisArkiv.dna?pArtNo=20031229154141.txt.
"A Global Call for Human Rights in the Workplace," New York Times, 6 December 2005.
San Francisco Chronicle, 14 January 2007.
San Francisco Chronicle, 5 November 2005.
Times of India 13 October 2000; Samantha Conti's report, Reuter, 17 June 1994; Amitabh Pal, "The Dalai Lama Interview," Progressive, January 2006.
The Gelders draw this comparison, The Timely Rain, 64.
Michael Parenti, The Culture Struggle (Seven Stories, 2006).
John Pomfret, "Tibet Caught in China's Web," Washington Post, 23 July 1999.
Curren, Buddha's Not Smiling, 3.
Curren, Buddha's Not Smiling, 13 and 138.
Curren, Buddha's Not Smiling, 21.
Curren, Buddha's Not Smiling, passim. For books that are favorable toward the Karmapa appointed by the Dalai Lama's faction, see Lea Terhune, Karmapa of Tibet: The Politics of Reincarnation (Wisdom Publications, 2004); Gaby Naher, Wrestling the Dragon (Rider 2004); Mick Brown, The Dance of 17 Lives (Bloomsbury 2004).
Erik Curren, "Not So Easy to Say Who is Karmapa," correspondence, 22 August 2005, www.buddhistchannel.tv/index.php?id=22.1577,0,0,1,0.
Kim Lewis, correspondence to me, 15 July 2004.
Kim Lewis, correspondence to me, 16 July 2004.
Ma Jian, Stick Out Your Tongue (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2006).
See the PBS documentary, China from the Inside, January 2007, KQED.PBS.org/kqed/chinanside.
San Francisco Chronicle, 9 January 2007.
"China: Global Warming to Cause Food Shortages," People's Weekly World, 13 January 2007