Friday, February 17, 2012

Reinventing The Art of Protest?


From the 13th to 15th of this month, the protest against China’s next President Xi Jinping visit to Washington DC were jointly organized by two Regional Tibetan Youth Congresses (New York New Jersey and Capital Area) and Students for Free Tibet.  Apart from minor coordination glitches, the organizers might mark this protest as a huge success.  They (along with hundreds of Tibetans) were largely successful in welcoming each and every events of Xi Jinping in the capital area with protest. 

Also, Tibetans in general may be pleased that the protests succeed in securing a reasonable coverage in the international press and media.  The pleasure of seeing Tibetan protests on the front page might have exuberated many Tibetans.  However, many tend to ignore the fact that the end of this protest may help provide insights into the planning of next protest.  The piece therefore is an attempt towards sharing an outsider’s perspective on rethinking the next (or future) protest.

The protest is over.  Protesters are back to their work, school, and home.  Now may be the perfect time to sit and evaluate the protest with simple questions, such as, are there better ways and means to protest?  Did Tibetans (or organizers) miss something?  Was the protest effective?  Will Xi Jinping listen to Tibetan shouts?  Will China start rethinking its policies on Tibet?  Will the world leaders start voicing their concerns on the deteriorating human rights in Tibet? You and me can add many more questions to this list.

To begin with, lets take a look at the protest outside the Camber of Commerce, a building standing opposite to the street facing the back of the White House.  According to the organizers, Xi Jinping was supposed to arrive 3.00PM at this venue.  Tibetan protesters (with Uighurs, Falun Gong, Mongolians, and few Chinese dissidents) waited across the streets with their representative flags, banners, and slogans.  Though Xi Jinping arrival was delayed by about two hours, Tibetans did not wait to protest.  Right after 3.00PM, Tibetans started (and continued) to boo any Asian lookalike (assuming them as Chinese) entering or leaving the building with scathing accusations of injustices in Tibet.  Some even confront them directly on the street with Tibetan National Flag and shouts.

Most disturbingly, for general protesters, it was not even clear whether these Asian-lookalikes were Chinese.  Even if they were Chinese, do Tibetans really need to provoke these Chinese gentlemen and ladies who may be intellectuals, businessman, and entrepreneurs (considering the meeting at Chamber of Commerce)?  When Tibetans shout and protest them, do they still hold the rights to say, “Chinese intellectuals are mum on Tibetan protests in Tibet?”  Aren’t Tibetans losing more by shouting against these Chinese?  What did Tibetans achieve by infuriating or shaming them?  Most importantly, aren’t Tibetans disproving His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s message, “Tibetans are not against the Chinese people.  Tibetans are against Chinese Government and Communist Party”.  Again, the questions keep getting long.

From my perspective, there might be a better way to protest Xi Jinping.  He will be the next President of China, which means he is not in direct command of the Chinese government.  As expert says, it may take at least two years for him to firmly have his authority over the Chinese government i.e., when he gets the command of People Liberation Army and the likely majority support in the Politburo.  Putting this into context, isn’t the protest premature? 

This protest could have been different than following the same-old tactics.  This protest could have been grounded on hope rather than the same-old slogans.  To make it short, the protest could have been a “plea protest”.  In other words, Xi Jinping could have been welcomed with a different version of slogans – a slogan of request, plea, and hope. 

How would it sound if Tibetans used slogans such as,
“Please Please Please, Listen to Tibetans in Tibet”
“Please Please Please, Freedom for Tibetans in Tibet”
“Please Please Please, Respect Tibetans in Tibet”
 Instead of,
“Shame Shame Shame, Chinese Government”
“China Lies, Tibetan Dies”

And,
“Xi Jinping, a hope for free China”
“Xi Jinping, a hope for better Tibet”
Instead of,
“5th Generation, Last Generation (of Chinese President)”
“China China China, Out Out Out”.

How about News headline reading like this: “Tibetans Pled China’s Next President for More Freedom in Tibet”; and “Tibetans Hope A Better Future With Xi Jingping” rather than the same-old headlines.  

How about this: Giving President Obama an opportunity to say Xi Jinping at the White House, “See the people outside this White House.  They have a high hope of you in improving the human rights conditions in China and Tibet”.  Xi might not respond but he will definitely smile.

Some added advantages of this “wishful” protest could be: more media and press coverage; more appreciation from world leaders; more attention from intellectuals; more supports from general public; more interest from the Chinese people; and more reasons to smile and hope for.  

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Will Tibet See Suicide Bombers?


On Feb 8, 2012, as appealed by the Kashag (Tibetan cabinet), Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), Dharamsala, Tibetans in San Francisco and Bay Area assembled at the Chinese Consulate, San Francisco for solidarity candle light vigil.

With a candle, I prayed and walked several San Francisco streets along with hundreds of Tibetan fellows, including some non-Tibetan supporters.  As you may be aware, a few of the slogans are like clothes I would prefer not to wear on the street (Read my earlier piece on this).  While repeating some slogans, I spoke to myself, “We have been doing this for years now.  What really came out is a plenty of awareness in the world and a little on the ground in Tibet - the heart of the matter”.

After several walks along the streets, the vigil ended at the Chinese Consulate.  Standing alone at a corner of the Consulate, I do not want to listen but overheard a nearby conversation among three young Tibetan men.  Understandably, they were passionately discussing the Tibetan freedom struggle.  One men seems to have some knowledge of China.  He shared, “Unlike other super powers, China has a territorial ambition.  Sooner or later, China will try to stretch its territorial borders which may end up in conflicts”.  While another men curiously shared, “how might it go if Tibetans start bombing China?”. 

From their conversation, it was clear that young Tibetans are losing patience.  I realized that if the negotiation between Tibetan delegates and China’s United Work Front fails to produce any concrete results for Tibetans in Tibet in the next five or six years, young Tibetans may take a totally different route to resolve Tibet’s problem. 

Reflecting on a popular advise from His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the CTA may need to “hope for the best but prepare the worst” i.e., if young Tibetans start using violence as an approach towards resolving Tibet’s problem.  Among several alternatives, one may be that the CTA starts evaluating or reevaluating different approaches (or policies) towards peacefully resolving Tibet’s problem before it turns violent. 

Finally, when the crowd was about to disperse, I saw a non-Tibetan lady crying and muttering towards a group near me, “she (a speaker) is saying autonomy for Tibet”.  It was little intimidating to see a non-Tibetan crying for Tibet.  What the lady said at the end stunned me (if I heard it right).  She was talking about using suicide bombers for Tibet. 

Will suicide bombers do good for resolving Tibet’s problem?  My hindsight is, it will do more harm than any good.  However, reflecting on earlier conversation among three young Tibetan adults and correlating it with a non-Tibetan lady’s support for violence, I felt the CTA must do something before nothing could stop these peoples from going beyond anyone’s understanding. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Solidarity and Losar Celebration


Prior to the Kalon Tripa's January 26, 2012 statement requesting Tibetans not to celebrate Losar (Tibetan New Year) which falls on February 22 this year, there were some debates on how, what, and why of Losar celebration.  The request to not celebrate Losar first came from the Tibetan Youth Congress, Dharamsala, India on November 14, 2011.

Following Kalon Tripa’s above statement, Speaker Penpa Tsering la supported the official position of Kashag (Tibetan cabinet) by convening a press conference on Jan 29, 2012 to announce fasting on the first day of Losar by members of the Tibetan parliament in exile.  Though Kalon Tripa urged to observe basic customary rituals on Losar, it now seems the 2012 Losar celebration is officially discouraged.

The decision to not celebrate Losar by the Tibetan government and non-government organization was primarily to show solidarity towards the sufferings endured by Tibetans in Tibet.  The idea of solidarity is nothing new for Tibetans.  It is an age-old practice where every Tibetan family mourns the loss of its member (or high lamas) in solidarity of the deceased for at least seven weeks.  During these seven weeks, these family members shun any form of overt celebration such as singing, rhyming, dancing, wearing new clothes and jewelries, and refraining from other celebrations such as Losar, friend’s wedding, community gatherings, etc.  This solidarity can be seen not merely as a practice but also in spirit.  As time changes, the very heart and spirit of solidarity seems changing too.

Before discussing the changing heart and spirit of Tibetan solidarity, lets take a quick look at how the word “solidarity” is defined in the present globalized world.  According to the Dictionary.com, it is defined as a unity of interests, sympathies, etc., as among members of the same class.  However, according to Collins Dictionary of Sociology, it seems the basis of solidarity varies between societies.  In simple societies, it may be mainly based around kinship and shared values.  In more complex societies, there are various theories as to what contributes to a sense of social solidarity.  The later definition makes you wonder whether the Tibetan definition of solidarity is changing or changed with a gradual shift in the Tibetan society from simple to complex?

The answer to the above question may be “Yes” as well as “No”.  It is indeed true that Tibetans now do not live in a small neighborhood or town as they did few decades ago.  Tibetans, especially in diaspora, are now frequently migrating to mega cities where the life and work is more complex.  For instance, the thought of even attending a Tibetan social gathering may have to align with job, family, and school schedules.  Many Tibetans now live in a globalized complex society.  In this scenario, the Tibetan solidarity may have changed with the changing complexity of its society.  However, it may not be as simple and conclusive as it seems to be.  Lets take a look from an opposite angle at this new and complex Tibetan society by taking Tibetan immigrant in the US as a case in point.

With the official statement of Kalon Tripa, there seems to be unanimous consent among the general Tibetans to not celebrate upcoming Losar and to show solidarity towards the sufferings of Tibetans in Tibet.  However, the solidarity in this case is defined in a narrow and limited sense.  To make it clear, the solidarity is confined only to Losar celebration.  It is deemed okay to celebrate X-mas, New Year, and other social gatherings including dance parties and concerts.  In the coming few weeks, there will be more such celebrations across Tibetan immigrant communities in the United States.  However, there will be nothing as such during Losar.  How in the world is this solidarity in unison? What really is solidarity for Tibetans?  Is solidarity in Tibetan definition only confined to Losar?  Where are Tibetans shared values and interests?  Or are Tibetans truly more of a globalized citizen and less of a Tibetan now?

At the end, I may not be wrong to conclude, “Tibetan solidarity is very much alive in practice but lost in spirit”.