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Obama, The Dalai Lama, and The GOP: Are Republicans the Defenders of Tibet and Human Rights?

posted by Ethan Nichtern

McCain-Dalai Lama-GOP-Obama.jpgby Ethan Nichtern

File this under world turned upside down–or under political opportunism–depending on your viewpoint. According to The Hill, Republican lawmakers are criticizing the Obama administration for failing to support Tibetan rights and human rights in general by not meeting with the Dalai Lama. Since 1991, the leader of the Tibetan government-in-exile has visited the White House all 10 times he has been to Washington. George W. Bush even awarded His Holiness the Congressional Medal of Honor in 2007. The Dalai Lama did meet Senator John McCain and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, however. I just wonder if the GOP knows it is supporting a Marxist (socialism! death panels!). Regardless, just another opportunity for my fixed view of reality to be twisted in knots this Wednesday morning.

(Photo credit of said obliterated worldview – above – unknown).



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Michael

posted October 7, 2009 at 11:31 am


Hey Ethan. Interesting thoughts. I’m curious about your parting commentary re:the Dalai Lama being a Marxist. Certainly he has expressed sympathy with Marxist principles such as self-reliance and general equality of classes, but his obvious outspokenness about the horrors of the Chinese communist regime indicate that accurate characterization of his leanings is more nuanced. He’s been quoted all over the net about praising the fundamental principles of the American founding yesterday (“The real greatness of America is your ancestors, or the principles. These are, at any cost, you must preserve these principles. That is important.”)–certainly non-contiguous language for anyone who is actually Marxist.
Regardless, I am curious about the political reasoning that underpins Obama’s rejection of meeting with His Holiness. Occam’s razor seems to slice toward placing financial alliance in priority above concerns for human rights. If nothing else, perhaps the subsequent paradigm shifting can be seen as a vigorous exercise in impermanence?



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Ethan Nichtern

posted October 7, 2009 at 11:36 am


Here is a link to the Fareed Zakaria CNN where the Dalai Lama in no uncertain terms says, “Philosophically, I am a Marxist.”
http://thesouloftibet.blogspot.com/2009/05/cnns-fareed-zakaria-sits-down-with.html



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Your Name

posted October 7, 2009 at 11:38 am


@Michael – HHDL can claim to be a Marxist and that has nothing to do with the current Chinese government, nor the fascist and dictatorial “Socialist” regimes that have thus far existed on planet Earth. China is not even close to a true Marxist country. One wonders if we’ve even seen a Marxist country in the world yet.



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Steve Silberman

posted October 7, 2009 at 12:15 pm


Ethan, this is not a “world turned upside down” moment. It’s business as usual. If Obama said the sky was blue, the GOP would attack him for choosing a “Democrat” color rather than patriotic red. The GOP turned Obama telling kids to do their homework into a national scandal about socialist indoctrination.
Is Obama right about not meeting with the Dalai Lama? Of course not. It’s terrible. Is the GOP right about criticizing him for it? Yes, even if it’s transparently self-serving. But only when the GOP stops justifying and covering up torture, drumming up racism to create an anti-Obama backlash, launching a witch hunt against an Obama appointee for “promoting homosexuality,” and trying to inscribe prejudice into law with anti-marriage equality bills will I start to wonder where the GOP stands on “human rights.”



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sharon

posted October 7, 2009 at 12:25 pm


I had Chinese student this summer who spoke at length to the class about Tibet. He said that prior to the Chinese invasion of Tibet, Tibet had “no government,” then explained that all power/money/land was held by a few monasteries, and that Tibetan people were essentially like serfs. He also said that slavery existed in Tibet prior to that Chinese invasion, and that there was nothing approaching a court system, for example. However he was also quick to point out that he was not pro-China–but that he was surprised people on the left were so pro-Tibet, since he said that the state of human rights in Tibet was horrific before the Chinese got there (and is equally horrible under Chinese rule).
I really didn’t know what to say to that, and realized how little I know about the situation, only that my admittedly superficial understanding of all this has somehow equated freeing Tibet from Chinese rule with the reclamation of basic human rights. But perhaps it is a fight about a country’s autonomy, to rule itself however it wants (and to deny human rights however it wants, as opposed to how China wants), rather than a fight for human rights exactly?
Wondering what people’s thoughts are.



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theo

posted October 7, 2009 at 1:27 pm


@sharon: this sounds harsh, but I would never take anything a person from China says about Tibet at face value. Not because I think they’re intentionally lying – but there’s a TON of anti-Tibetan propaganda in China and it’s hard not to pick some of it up. I’ve known Chinese students who have told me that Tibetans only take a bath once a year, that it’s illegal for a Tibetan to gaze upon the Dalai Lama, etc. Lies, plain and simple.
Tibet was never a modern state, and I don’t mean to say that it was a worker’s paradise before the Chinese invaded, but most Chinese claims about Tibetan history are exaggerated or simply made up.



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Chris

posted October 7, 2009 at 8:41 pm


for being buddhists, its just plain remarkable how much buddhists on here don’t see their own hypocrisy in viewing the world in good v. evil; Democrats vs. Republicans. at what point did you all become so convinced that Democrats were pure karma come to save the world?



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sharon

posted October 7, 2009 at 11:16 pm


@theo–I didn’t take what he said as absolute truth. (and like you said, he wasn’t intentionally lying. he is a very soft-spoken, kind, and smart, 18-year-old, and he was honestly perplexed, like, why would people want Tibet the way it was?). And some of what he brought up sounded reasonable, not nearly in the same league as a belief that Tibetans don’t bathe.
And saying all Chinese make things up or exaggerate everything is hard to believe as well. I’m going to venture a guess that Lihua was correct in his assessment that Tibet had “no government,” as he put it–that the wealth was concentrated in the hand of a few monasteries? That there was no court system? That people basically lived as sharecroppers? This sounds a lot worse than simply “not being a workers paradise.” This sounds horrible, and in fundamental principal not a state I could imagine anyone on these boards defending, were it not Buddhist. Somehow money in the hands of the few is ok, if those few are Buddhist. The rest of the country are serfs, but they’re meditating so they’re ok with everything (and maybe there was a belief that they were serfs to begin with because they behaved badly in a past life). I mean I don’t know if this is what people are thinking. But, maybe.
And–assuming this is true–I still wonder about the general tenor of “free Tibet” rhetoric.
Honestly, I was also like, evil China, etc. and after speaking to Lihua I realized how very little I knew and that I never stopped to think about exactly what kind of country Tibet was. (which does not mean I am pro-China–I am not.)
Again, he did not have chip on his shoulder, nor was he pro-China–he grew up with horror stories about the Cultural Revolution (although he did tell me he thought the ideas were “very good” but that it wound up horrible), and most of his close relatives are here.
The whole thing came up because we were looking at famous American speeches, and one student brought in JFK’s inaugural address, and the topic of the Cold War came up. Lihua and another Chinese student were like, why did people hate communism? (they had no idea about the cold war and were really surprised). They both like the idea of communism, but don’t like China.



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Your Name

posted October 8, 2009 at 12:10 pm


Chris is correct. I have found almost dogmatic allegiance to any leftist cause by most Buddhists. When I question the results of many leftists causes instead of an answer I get “are you a Republican?” When I reply that I am a libertarian I get a blank stare, just like when tell people I am student of Buddhism.



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Tsepel

posted October 8, 2009 at 2:14 pm


@Theo – actually, many Tibetans of older generation (those that have come to India and Nepal) do not bathe but once a year, on/around Losar. Tibetan New Year customs possibly as a result of the harsh conditions of the Tibetan plateau.
Here are some scholars who have written historical (and anthropological) accounts from many different perspectives:
Melvin Goldstein, Robert Thurman, Tsering Shakya, Matthew Kapstein, Elliot Sperling, Donald Lopez Jr., Jamyang Norbu, Warren Smith, Michael C. Davis, Lobsang Sangay… just scratching the surface. The Economist has great articles from time to time addressing these issues from many angles. Check ‘em out.
The Tibet Question is, as everything is, intricate, complicated, and interconnected more than we can see or gain knowledge about… but here’s to intentions of understanding perspectives from every angle, including the two most politicized and propagandized!



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Your Name

posted October 8, 2009 at 8:34 pm


Ethan — did you see the Daily Show Wednesday? John Stewart took on the seeming contradictions around Obama not meeting with HHDL until after he meets with the Chinese.



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Ethan Nichtern

posted October 8, 2009 at 10:55 pm


@Chris: You are actually the only person on this thread to mention the word “democrats.” Nobody was promoting the Democratic party as any kind of ideal. In fact, nobody but you even mentioned it.



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Brian

posted October 9, 2009 at 12:43 pm


I agree with “No Name” above…since I have become a buddhist I find it amazing that so many buddhists appear (to me) not only attached to leftist principles but have actual intolerance/aversion to any “conservative” ideas. The way I understand it, a true buddhist would be open to both views, understand both views, and actually have some compassion for both views. Even on retreat, I have found most retreatants at best mocking Republicans but usually more angry at them. I, like “No Name”, usually get the blank stare when I tell people that I am a Libertarian…



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sharon

posted October 9, 2009 at 1:38 pm


“Tibet was never a modern state, and I don’t mean to say that it was a worker’s paradise”
“The Tibet Question is, as everything is, intricate, complicated, and interconnected more than we can see or gain knowledge about”…… what? We can’t gain knowledge about 60 years in the past? Disagree.
Sheesh you’d think a girl could get a straight answer around here. I’m really just curious if a) all property and $$ existed in the hand of Buddhist monasteries and b) if Tibet was a feudal state. which does not mean I am pro-China, I’d assume the Dalia Lama would not want to return Tibet to that anyway….(right!?)! why don’t people just say it?? these are yes or no questions!
anyway the book “Tibetans” by Michael Kapstein, who does not seem to be parroting Chinese propaganda, stated that yes, Tibet was a feudal state and even “that slavery persisted in parts of the Tibetan world down to recent times.”



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Christopher Mohr

posted October 10, 2009 at 4:57 am


Let’s be entirely honest with ourselves here. While this IS very clearly political opportunism, Buddhism (as an on-the-ground reality, rather than the modern revisionist construct) is much more conservative than the liberals that fawn over it would like to admit (“oh, Buddhism is such a peaceful religion”, oh Buddhism is so progressive” – who are they kidding?). I say that in the sense that Buddhism is the middle way – not hewing to the side of extremist progressives or holding entirely fast to extremist conservatives. It is not this panacea-utopian construct that it is made out to be in the popular media. The Dalai Lama here knows better than to involve himself with politics. It is unfortunate that he does so, and even more unfortunate that we enable him to do so, and encourage it.



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