Agam's Gecko
Tuesday, December 21, 2004
Until today -- if we can trust the statements by the Chinese Foreign Ministry -- the Tibetan Tulku, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche remains alive following his two year temporary reprieve from execution for "terrorism". An official at the Southwest Sichuan Province Prison Administrative Bureau told AFP that the monk had not been executed yet, and that he thought there was a consideration being made for changing the sentence to life imprisonment, "... because he behaved himself well in prison." Thankfully, they've evidently forgiven him for the highly embarrassing audio tape he recorded shortly after his first sentencing, and passed through sypathetic prison channels to the outside.
"Even if I have to remain in prison, and eventually suffer the loss of my life, my only motivation and aspiration would be to wish and pray for the well being of all sentient beings. I've always [advised] people to avoid harmful practices of any kind, saying that even raising your hand in a clenched fist is harmful...The only reason for subjecting me to those false accusations [of orchestrating bombings] is the fact that I'm widely known to have a deep concern and attachment to Tibet. Therefore, I appeal to the sense of justice of all unbiased people of the world to kindly investigate and ascertain the truth in my case."
The embarrassment generated by this tape was caused by the Chinese authorities themselves (as is usually the case), for they had insisted to international diplomats and media (following the secret, closed trial) that both the accused, Lobsang Dhondup and Tenzin Delek, had admitted their part in the Chengdu bombing, and had confessed.

So while the Chinese are being coy about Rinpoche's fate, citizens and parliaments in many parts of the world have been busy this month, in coordinated efforts to save the monk's life. Take a look at the Students for a Free Tibet updated page on the week of worldwide action on his behalf -- lots of small pics to round out the reports from Canada, US, Europe, and Asia-Pacific areas, and great to see Vancouver taking a strong role here. The case was raised in the Commons in Ottawa by Mr. Rob Anders (Calgary West, CPC) and in the Senate by Sen. Consiglio Di Nino, but I've heard of no resulting governmental action. The government's assurances that quiet words were passed at the deputy ministerial level, notwithstanding.

South of the border, a very different story. The US Congress has been having its lame duck session and trying to finish up urgent business before the Christmas - New Year break. Passing essential funding measures, not to mention the contentious reform bill for the intelligence services, clearly took precedence during this short but busy period. One would not expect non-urgent issues to be dealt with at that time -- but in fact a suprising thing happened. Two last minute resolutions were rushed onto the order paper and passed unanimously in the Senate. One dealt with the then-ongoing popular rejection by Ukrainians of their fraudulent election, and called for a transparent and peaceful legal settlement of the dispute. The second urgent resolution concerned Tibet's situation under Chinese occupation, specifically the ongoing plight of political prisoners there, and the particular case of Tenzin Delek. And once again, we see moral leadership on the Tibet issue coming from the ever-maligned United States. And I would point out that the US Congress actually has a stronger position on Tibet than does the government through its State Dept. (which is obliged, unless and until there is a change of policy, to adhere to the "One China Principle"). In the eyes of Congress, Tibet has been and remains a legitimate political entity. The sense of Congress, fixed in resolutions for many years now, is that Tibet is a sovereign nation under foreign occupation.

I can almost hear the charges of "hypocrisy" from here. An occupier crying "occupier!"? Hands up, anyone who predicts that 50 years hence Iraq will be ruled by an American governor, English will be the language of education and business, hundreds of thousands of US troops will remain to permanently enforce US direct rule, millions of Americans continue to relocate into the colony buying land, businesses and resources to the point that these non-Iraqis control virtually the entire domestic economy, and peaceful expressions of Iraqi patriotism result in long prison sentences if not worse. Change "American / English / US" into "Chinese", and "Iraq" into "Tibet", and you have what that occupation looks like 50 years after initial invasion.

Actually, I'm not fully convinced that the situation in Iraq now can legitimately be called "occupation" (even though GWBush himself used the word): see Steven Vincent's piece on why language matters, for more on this.

For example, it seems normal to refer to "Nazi-occupied France" -- but why does nobody call the post-liberation country as "Allied-occupied France"? Silly, right? It was "Allied-liberated France". Perhaps because the attitude of the liberators was one that affirmed French self determination. The Chinese (as they refer to it) "peaceful liberation of Tibet" had nothing to do with self determination in any form. More than half a century after their country was invaded by Mao's hordes of armed social revolutionaries, Tibetans remain fully under direct Chinese rule without any openings in which to express themselves as a nation and a people. There is no other word for that than "occupation", and it bears no resemblance to the burgeoning civil society we see now developing in Iraq. Indeed if anything, it seems that the "occupier" of Iraq is nudging the entire society toward full self determination and legitimate representational government, a little more quickly than some of them are wishing to move.

For all those who do not studiously avoid knowing about the full odiousness of Saddam's Stalinist-inspired regime, the multi nation coalition would sensibly be seen as having completed the liberation of that country from what was certainly fascism. That is, the Iraqi society is now free to set about the business of structuring their political foundations and institutions through democratic process, in their own way and for their own national interest. The remaining hindrances are well known, and danger of failure still exists. But the fact that these processes are taking place (and have been happening since soon after Saddam's fall), show that "liberation" has in fact happened. That there remain stubborn ex-regime forces combined with foreign jihadist mercenaries trying to thwart this self determination by any means possible, does not negate the fact that liberation has happened. The liberators, now along with the liberated, continue to work together to defeat -- not "insurgents", not "the resistance", and certainly not "dissidents" (a la BBC) -- to defeat the fascist paramilitaries desperate to kill Iraq's democratic future. Whatever stands in the way of the realisation of this ideal, it is not the multi-nation liberation forces, but rather the underground anti-democracy paramilitaries -- the fascist-Islamist ones and the fascist-Saddamist ones alike. Whereas the realisation of that ideal (the Iraqi version of that, whatever it turns out to look like) has been made possible and coaxed along by the power and sacrifices of a willing coalition, it seems just a bit twisted to describe the largest contributor in the effort as "the occupier". I believe that I'm using these words properly.

But with Chinese communist double-speak, words are rarely used properly. So Tibet was not invaded in 1950, it was "liberated". Now, more than half a century later, it remains in an equally "liberated" condition, its traditional political institutions in exile, and with foreigners (Chinese settlers) outnumbering the Tibetans themselves. When such a situation exists against the will and the interests of the Tibetan people, and is held in place only by overwhelming presence of the military forces of that foreign power, then it's a real, actual "occupation". Language matters. I appreciate the straightforward language used to encapsulate the Tibet situation regarding political prisoners as it is set forth in the Senate resolution, particularly the opening recognition that Tibet was sovereign prior to the Chinese invasion, and the succinct itemization of the facts in this particular area. For these reasons I will include the resolution's full text here:
Full Text of US Senate Resolution 483 on Tenzin Delek Rinpoche

The resolution was passed with unanimous consent December 7th 2004 by the US



Expressing the sense of the Senate regarding the detention of Tibetan
political prisoners by the Government of the People's Republic of China.



Expressing the sense of the Senate regarding the detention of Tibetan
political prisoners by the Government of the People's Republic of China.

Whereas, for more than 1,000 years, Tibet has maintained a sovereign
national identity that is distinct from the national identity of China;

Whereas armed forces of the People's Republic of China invaded Tibet in
1950, according to the memoirs of the Dalai Lama and other sources;

Whereas, according to the Department of State and international human rights
organizations, the Government of the People's Republic of China continues to
commit widespread and well-documented human rights abuses in Tibet;

Whereas the People's Republic of China has yet to demonstrate its
willingness to abide by internationally accepted standards of freedom of
belief, expression, and association by repealing or amending laws and
decrees that restrict those freedoms;

Whereas the Government of the People's Republic of China has detained
hundreds of Tibetan nuns, monks, and lay persons as political prisoners for
speaking out against China's occupation of Tibet and for their efforts to
preserve Tibet's distinct national identity;

Whereas Phuntsog Nyidron was arrested on October 14, 1989, together with 5
other nuns, for participating in a peaceful protest against China's
occupation of Tibet;

Whereas, on February 26, 2004, following a sustained international campaign
on her behalf, the Government of the People's Republic of China released
Phuntsog Nyidron from detention after she served more than 14 years of her
16-year sentence;

Whereas Tenzin Delek, a prominent Tibetan religious leader, and 3 other
monks were arrested on April 7, 2002, during a nighttime raid on Jamyang
Choekhorling monastery in Nyagchu County, Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture;

Whereas, following a closed trial and more than 8 months of incommunicado
detention, Tenzin Delek and another Tibetan, Lobsang Dhondup, were convicted
of inciting separatism and for their alleged involvement in a series of
bombings on December 2, 2002;

Whereas Lobsang Dhondup was sentenced to death and Tenzin Delek was
sentenced to death with a 2-year suspension;

Whereas the Government of the People's Republic of China told senior
officials of the United States and other governments that the cases of
Lobsang Dhondup and Tenzin Delek would be subjected to a ''lengthy review''
by the Supreme People's Court prior to the death sentences being carried

Whereas the Supreme People's Court never carried out this review, and
Lobsang Dhondup was executed on January 26, 2003;

Whereas the Government of the People's Republic of China has failed to
produce any evidence that either Lobsang Dhondup or Tenzin Delek were
involved in the crimes for which they were convicted, despite repeated
requests from officials of the United States and other governments;

Whereas the Government of the People's Republic of China continues to
imprison Tibetans for engaging in peaceful efforts to protest China's
repression of Tibetans and preserve the Tibetan identity;

Whereas Tibetan political prisoners are routinely subjected to beatings,
electric shock, solitary confinement, and other forms of torture and
inhumane treatment while in Chinese custody;

Whereas the Government of the People's Republic of China continues to exert
control over religious and cultural institutions in Tibet, abusing human
rights through the torture, arbitrary arrest, and detention without fair or
public trial of Tibetans who peacefully express their political or religious
views or attempt to preserve the unique Tibetan identity; and

Whereas the Government of the People's Republic of China has paroled
individual political prisoners for good behavior or for medical reasons in
the face of strong international pressure, but has failed to make the
systemic changes necessary to provide minimum standards of due process or
protections for basic civil and political rights:

Now, therefore, be it
Resolved, That it is the sense of the Senate that-
the Government of the People's Republic of China is in violation of
international human rights standards by detaining and mistreating Tibetans
who engage in peaceful activities to protest China's repression of Tibetans
or promote the preservation of a distinct Tibetan identity;

sustained international pressure on the Government of the People's Republic
of China is essential to improve the human rights situation in Tibet and
secure the release of Tibetan political prisoners;

the Government of the United States should-

raise the cases of Tenzin Delek and other political prisoners at every
opportunity with officials from the People's Republic of China; and

work with other governments concerned about human rights in China, including
the Tibet Autonomous Region and other Tibetan areas, to encourage the
release of political prisoners and promote systemic improvement of human
rights in China; and

the Government of the People's Republic of China should, as a gesture of
goodwill and in order to promote human rights, immediately release all
political prisoners, including Tenzin Delek.
Cheers to you, US Senate, willing to take the time to present and unanimously pass this resolution while you all (I'm very sure) had your minds on other more immediate and contentious matters during a hectic few weeks. Paul Martin says we should do more business with China. I would wager that this unanimous resolution will have reverberated in the halls of the People's Edifices somewhat more than the off the cuff obsequiousness of our Prime Minister.

Twelve years ago, a young couple became the first to trek from Lhasa to Kathmandu, and their experience has now become a book. Without having set out with any other goal in mind, the story apparently sheds light in many different ways into the real-life plight of Tibetans today. Those twelve years haven't been so good to the Tibetans, with much greater state control of their traditional institutions, more restrictions on individuals in general, and many hundreds of thousands more Han Chinese having flooded the country. Coming soon: the Last Spike on the Beijing - Lhasa railroad, possibly the last nail in the coffin of Tibetan cultural survival as we will see Tibetan resources pouring out of the country over that rail just as fast as the Han colonists pour in. So while the book sounds interesting, even though somewhat dated, everything that could raise awareness will help. Oh yeah, the title: Yak Butter Blues. Heh, what's a book without a website, eh?

Back onto Tenzin Delek's case for a moment, a documentary film has been produced on the subject by an American and a Tibetan, working together in India. Tsering Ngodup had been doing his part over the past two years, painting the now well-known image of Tenzin Delek's face on whatever flat surfaces he could find around Dharamsala, India, and moving onto tourists' umbrellas and t-shirts etc. This image is by now quite ubiquitous in many cities around the world, as part of the concerted campaign for Tenzin Delek's life. Tsering collaborated with film maker Elinore Burke to create the documentary, Sentenced To Die. Heh, what's a movie without a website, eh?

It was surprising to see an op/ed piece by Ted Rall (of all people) included among the stories compiled by the World Tibet Network Newsletter (put out by the Canada Tibet Committee). The newsletter is great, by the way, and is sent almost daily. But creepy Ted, who apparently thinks the Zarqawi gang are Iraqi patriots, wishes for more US deaths in Iraq, and cheers for American defeat because under Saddam, Iraqis never had it so good (yes that Ted Rall), has a soft spot for Uygurs. Who'da thought? Except that the piece was so superficial, lightly based on his own visit to Urumqi over seven years ago. There wasn't much new, a little quoted history, some background on the Chinese repression methods, transmigration of Han to marginalize the Uygurs, Chinese use of the "terrorist" card after Sept. 11 to clamp down harder, and the naming of one of the Uygur nationalist groups to a "terrorist group" list by the US. There were a few Uygurs fighting with the Taliban, and there are a number in Guantanamo Bay detention.

But anyone who is familiar with Xinjiang (as the Chinese call their far western acquisition, formerly East Turkestan), will tell you that the Islam practiced there is not the rigid, dogmatic and intolerant Wahhabi doctrine pushed by the Islamists. They are, in fact, mostly Sufis -- that mystical and tolerant form found across central Asia. Naturally it should come as no surprise that a few people get radicalised, maybe become jihadists even, possibly after some time in a Pakistani madrassa or something. But the Uygurs as a whole, are very tolerant when it comes to religion (despite the Chinese government's disgusting intolerance toward their faith, because of its link with their national identity). The other thing Xinjiang scholars will tell you, is that the Uygurs are by and large extremely pro-American and pro-western. If anything is ever to free them from the Chinese communist yoke, they seem to feel it is the eventual success (somehow....) of idealistic stuff like democracy, freedom of expression, the worldwide trend toward national self determination. And the US is seen as the major proponent of these ideals. Rall finds a man who believes that the US will invade and kick out the Chinese, as if to say "You poor, deluded soul." But it's doubtful very many sensible Uygurs actually think about it in those terms.

It was the sub-headline of this article that caught me. "Why 8,000,000 People You've Never Heard Of Hate Us" The "us" is of course, the despicable, imperialistic Americans -- those who Rall believes every reasonable and progressive person on the planet should hate. And should help to defeat in any way possible. And so on and so forth (see almost any Rall cartoon apart from his celebrated racist attacks on Condi and Colin). Now we hear that 8 million Uygurs hate America too, just like every good progressive Eurotopian does. I had to laugh, reading his article to find any substantiation for this gross generalisation, for there wasn't any. Basically, the text supports the fact that Rall thinks they should hate Americans, as well as the fact that they don't do as he wishes. In fact people exclaim to him that "We love the United States!" and "I listen to Radio Free Asia!" Slim pickings for sure, but more positive quotes than one would normally expect from an anti-American creep like Ted Rall, and notably contradicting Rall's own sub-hed. On the other side of the ledger, there were exactly.... um... zero references to people who actually hate America -- and of course no quotations at all to that effect.

Last month, there was a much more serious article on Xinjiang, The Real Terror in East Turkestan by D.J. Maguire. This tip is courtesy of the China Letter blog. The blogger, Steven Sullivan, makes a couple of small historical corrections, but writes that Maguire makes a very important point:
One very important point spelled out by Maguire is that the Uygur, albeit Muslim, are extremely western oriented. They believe that America can save them from Chinese persecution; that America and the west can help them to gain a degree of autonomy at least to the level promised to them by Mao Zedong back in 1949 but never delivered.
Quoting the original article now, where Maguire writes:
As America fights the terror triumvirate of Wahhabism, Ba?athism, and Khomenism, her people have asked: where are the Muslims who don't hate America? Where are the Muslims who do not see the fulfillment of their faith in emulating the hijackers of September 11, 2001? Where are the Muslims who understand us, our vision, and our desire for freedom for all?

Those of us fortunate enough to know the Uighur people do not ask these questions. We don't have to ask them. We see these Muslims every day; we work with them; we are proud to call them our friends.
Steven, who has had a first hand knowledge of the Uygurs, then continues:
These are true words. The Uygur people are truly friends.

They believe in us, we in America, Australia, Britain, Canada et al.

They believe in our proclaimed "goodness", they believe in our system of democratic government, they believe above all that we we have humanity.

Sometimes I wonder if we deserve such blind faith!
I know what you mean, Steven! I think we (the democratic world) probably let others down in disappointment more often than we meet their hopes.

What's all this stuff about having to "de-Christianize" Christmas, so that nobody has to feel "uncomfortable"? Can't have a Merry Christmas sign, school districts ban caroling, nativity scenes are unacceptable of course... right out, and "I'm sorry sir, we have only 'holiday trees' this year." A mayor had to apologise for publicly using the words "Christmas party" when referring to his town's "holiday party". It's bizarre, like the premise for a Monty Python skit or something.

This is a phenomenon of the more "progressive" side of the liberal democracies. Western Europe, Scandinavia, Canada, even the US. A subset of the dominant culture convince the rest that they must not express their religion (if they have one) too openly, lest they make someone of a minority faith to feel excluded. Or creepy, or sad, or afraid or uncomfortable. Or something. Solid examples of this hurtful phenomenon have been hard to come by, but it sounds awfully fishy to me.

How different it is over here, where local Christians, Hindus, Muslims do their festivals and observances without any fear of restriction or interference (except for the jihadist activities, and worries about same). The majority Buddhist population has many annual events of its own, and in the ensuing combinations of national and religious fetes, everybody else is welcome to join in, watch, or just ignore it. It would be the strangest thing to imagine, that the majority of Buddhists would be thinking, "Gee, just think how the Muslims and Christians must feel when they see us doing this. I'll bet it makes them feel very uncomfortable, maybe we shouldn't do it anymore." Stupid, right? It seems fair to me that the most tolerant societies, which enrich themselves by means of a generous attitude toward free expression by their religious minority groups -- like Thailand -- would be rewarded for their progressive values by not having the political correctness moral police calling for the reduction of Buddhism references in major holidays and festivals. But of course there are no such "progressives" around trying to make Thai Buddhists feel guilty for being 87% of the population, hounding them over all the shameless overt displays of their majority religion. It has never happened. It will never happen either, because it's silly. Thai tolerance is rewarded by not being hounded for insensitivity, whereas western societies seem to hound themselves regardless.

Charles Krauthammer apparently sees it my way. Right after pondering the contrast between what I see in downtown Bangkok -- which includes huge Christmas tree lights displays, Santa Claus scenes and nativity scenes, Christmas carols including the Christian ones, "Merry Christmas" signs in English and in Thai strung up in public -- with the holiday atmosphere which must prevail when these expressions are severely frowned upon (if not banned outright), I found that Krauthammer had written on the same theme. "Leave Christmas Alone" says he, and I agree. Funny that it should matter either to me, or to him. He's Jewish of course (the lefties envision him Doctor Strangelove-like in his wheelchair, emitting his powerful Jew-beams to Zionists and neo-cons worldwide), and all that Christmas stuff in public never mattered that much to me either (except for when we were kids, of course!). It's the faux offendedness (if there is any) and faux anti-offensiveness empathy (perhaps covering for some other social pathology) that seems so weird, and annoying. What the heck is going on with these "progressive societies" anyway?

The attempts to de-Christianize Christmas are as absurd as they are relentless. The United States today is the most tolerant and diverse society in history. It celebrates all faiths with an open heart and open-mindedness that, compared to even the most advanced countries in Europe, are unique.
I would like to think that Canada might have a similar degree of tolerance and diversity (Australia too), but I suspect that Charles' second sentence is most likely true.

In promoting openness toward the ways and traditions of others, there is no benefit in making the majority to feel like loutish cultural imperialists just because they want to sing a few Christmas carols. Who has ever been hurt by a few Christmas carols? And if someone feels offended about it, or just plain uncomfortable, it's his problem and not anybody elses. If a Christian claimed offense at seeing a Hindu Krishna pageant performed in public, the political correctness police would be all over him. For everyone else the default is tolerance, while for the Christians it seems, the default is now to be offended. Krauthammer finishes his article:
I'm struck by the fact that you almost never find Orthodox Jews complaining about a Christmas creche in the public square. That is because their children, steeped in the richness of their own religious tradition, know who they are and are not threatened by Christians celebrating their religion in public. They are enlarged by it.

It is the more deracinated members of religious minorities, brought up largely ignorant of their own traditions, whose religious identity is so tenuous that they feel the need to be constantly on guard against displays of other religions -- and who think the solution to their predicament is to prevent the other guy from displaying his religion, rather than learning a bit about their own.

To insist that the overwhelming majority of this country stifle its religious impulses in public so that minorities can feel "comfortable" not only understandably enrages the majority but commits two sins. The first is profound ungenerosity toward a majority of fellow citizens who have shown such generosity of spirit toward minority religions.

The second is the sin of incomprehension -- a failure to appreciate the uniqueness of the communal American religious experience. Unlike, for example, the famously tolerant Ottoman Empire or the generally tolerant Europe of today, the United States does not merely allow minority religions to exist at its sufferance. It celebrates and welcomes and honors them.

America transcended the idea of mere toleration in 1790 in Washington's letter to the Newport synagogue, one of the lesser known glories of the Founding: "It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights."

More than two centuries later, it is time that members of religious (and anti-religious) minorities, as full citizens of this miraculous republic, transcend something too: petty defensiveness.

Merry Christmas. To all.
And to all, a goodnight. Let us hope for a peaceful Christmas in Indonesia, where the nation is now on top alert for possible terror attacks over the next few weeks. I hope that the Christian minorities there, in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East will have a safe one, and that the cultural elites in the Christian majority countries of Europe, the Americas and elswhere will get off their own backs a little bit, and just enjoy it. Or don't enjoy it, as they wish.

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