April 26, 2008

Tibet: a turning point?

The day after Chinese state media announced Beijing's promise to renew dialogue on the Tibet issue, namely that government officials would meet soon with an envoy of the Tibetan spiritual leader, His Holiness the Dalai Lama welcomed the news. “Basically talk is good,” he said. Yet he felt the necessity of adding one second later that anything other than “serious discussions”—aimed to find out “what is the cause of this problem and how to solve it”—would be fruitless and “meaningless.”

Does he suspect that Beijing is planning the meeting solely to appease international concern ahead of the Olympics? Well, actually the suspect would be justified, given that even today China's state media was accusing the Dalai Lama of conspiring to turn world opinion against China. This after the Dalai Lama denied some hundreds times the Chinese claim that he supports separation of Tibet by saying every time he-only-wanted-autonomy, though obviously a genuine and complete one—as provided for in the Chinese constitution itself, but remained “on paper” only—to preserve Tibetan unique culture and traditions. “We really need an arrangement of full protection of Tibetan language and culture,” the Dalai Lama said at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, some days ago.

Yet, perhaps this time China is taking the matter seriously. Why? Because Beijing is afraid—more afraid than ever before. And this, as Sandro Magister puts it, because of one of the new phenomena of this era, namely “the passage to militant politics—and even to armed action—of a religion like Buddhism, traditionally defined as contemplative and identified with pacifism.”

It is a passage that is situated within today's general evolution of all the religions toward a stronger impact on the public stage. For Christianity and Islam, this evolution is before the eyes of all. The events of recent months show that Buddhism is no exception. First Burma, and then Tibet, have been the most evident theatres of the passage of Buddhism from quietist positions and support for the status quo to an action of critique and transformation of society, even confronting heavy repression.
But if in Burma the methods selected were nonviolent, in Tibet something different is happening. The rebellion is being expressed sometimes with a devastating force that takes aim not only at the hated Chinese, but also at those Tibetans who seem to be favored by the modernization promoted by the government of Beijing.

In addition, since not all of the Buddhist organizations supporting abroad the cause of Tibet embrace solely nonviolent methods (the so called “Middle Way” theorized by His Holiness himself) as proved by the difficulties facing the Dalai Lama in securing observance for his pacifist instructions (see also the Statement to All Tibetans, issued on April 5), Beijing might be worried about losing a moderate, “gandhian” interlocutor, whose endless patience is well-known.

That is why we might have come to a turning point in the history of Tibet.