Agam's Gecko
Thursday, May 18, 2006
A. M. Rosenthal
A. M. Rosenthal: Tibet will always remember you

t was a sad thing to hear of the passing of longtime newspaperman A. M. Rosenthal last week. I was drawn to his work many years ago, not because I was reading the New York Times, but because his writings were frequently carried in the World Tibet Network newsletter. Some of the most powerful and moving articles ever written on the subject of Tibet, originated from his pen or keyboard.

Originally from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, he worked all over the world as a journalist for the Times, before becoming executive editor for 11 years, and columnist for 11 more. He later moved to the New York Daily News. He reached the age of 84 the week before his death, a long and meaningful life by any measure. His funeral last Sunday was attended by many friends and colleagues at the Central Synagogue in Manhattan.

One of those present, Elizabeth Manus shared her impressions with media writer Danny Schechter, noting the many of Mr. Rosenthal's friends present, to be dutifully listed in the Metro section the next day -- but with a glaring omission:
However, there was at least notable omission from the list of luminaries. Mr. Tashi Wangdi, representative to the Dalai Lama, was in attendance. I sat behind an entire Tibetan contingent that, according to Mr. Wangdi, included members of the Tibet Fund, the Tibetan Association of New York & New Jersey, the Tibetan Women's Association of New York & New Jersey, and the Tibetan Youth Congress.

Wouldn't Mr. Rosenthal have had a few choice words about his paper's failure to note the presence of these people? After all, he had been an ardent supporter of Tibet. It's all well and good for Nicholas Kristof to stand before hundreds of mourners and remember Abe Rosenthal as "a superlative journalist and a superlative humanitarian" with a firm commitment to human rights but if the Times doesn't manage to manifest the evidence of the lasting power of his efforts, what exactly were those words except a handful of ear candy? For Pete's sake, Danny, a man was standing on the corner of 55th street holding a sign that read MR ROSENTHAL TIBET WILL ALWAYS REMEMBER YOU.
I think Abe Rosenthal would like that very much.

When he left the Times in 1999, Rosenthal wrote a letter to Lodi Gyari, who was then the Executive Chairman of the International Committee for Tibet (Gyari was later the Tibetan exile government's diplomatic representative to North America, and more recently the Dalai Lama's chief envoy in the ongoing efforts to negotiate a solution with the Chinese). In the letter, he wrote:
I think you know that writing about Tibet was extremely important to me. The country, its people and leader, and its occupation became part of my deepest attitude toward freedom, democracy and toward tyranny. I will never abandon the subject, not as long as I have access to print, or airwaves or the internet.
In 1995 the International Campaign for Tibet instituted its "Light of Truth Award," given in recognition of "significant contributions to the public understanding of Tibet and the fight for human rights and democratic freedoms for the Tibetan people." In two weeks time, on June 1 in Brussels, His Holiness the Dalai Lama will present the award to Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa.

On November 17, 1995, A. M. Rosenthal became its first recipient. These were his remarks on the occasion.
Sometimes, when I write about Tibet, readers ask genuinely puzzled questions.

Why do I care so much about Tibet? And, given all the other things more immediate to American interests as they see it, why should they care so much as I ask them to?

A third question - since China has not budged for half a century about Tibet, except to make its captivity of Tibet ever more cruel, what makes me think Tibet will ever be recognized for what it is, a nation among nations?

These are important questions, decently intended. The fact that they are still asked makes it more important that we keep answering them. In truth, it is more and more important that we keep answering them for ourselves to ourselves, to keep alive the campaign for Tibet inside us.

They all add up to one question: why? Why is Tibet, almost alone among nations, denied the most elemental rights of nationhood and freedom?

When I was a young reporter, The Times assigned me to help out at the bureau it had set up at the brand new U.N.

The total membership of the U.N. was then fifty six. That struck a British delegate as dangerously large. He warned one day that if the UN kept growing, why one day it would be a high as seventy or seventy five.

Today the membership of the U.N. stands at one hundred eighty four. Among them are many that are minute in population in size. Their most important industry is the bureaucracy needed to run them.

And we all know that there are many others whose people do not share most of the qualities of nationhood - common language, religion or history or historic boundary. Their boundaries and nationhood were imposed on them by colonial rulers in London, Paris, Berlin or Brussels. They were the creations of the bureaucratic conveniences of colonial administrators thousands of miles away.

Yet here they are, full members of the U.N. which as the world has turned out most of them should be. Their flags fly on First Avenue and their Ambassadors are treated with the dignity around the world - again as it should be.

And yet here we have one nation excluded. Tibet, a nation whose history is almost as old as the memory of mankind. A nation with a common language, ancient borders, united history, a culture unique to the world, a religion that binds together not only its own people but attracts and embraces men and women all over the world.

Tibet is not only barred form the U.N. membership but its representatives usually are not even welcomed in its halls and meeting rooms - or in foreign offices and state departments of the world.

So I tell people who write me that the question is not can Tibet be a nation among nations but how did it come to be that this nation, this quintessential embodiment of nationhood, has been so long so cruelly barred and cast out?

The great sadness is that we do not have to search for the answer. Tibet is not recognized as a nation among nations because the other countries of the world - American, European, African, and Asian - have made a deliberate decision to abandon it to its captors.

The most important reason is money.

Beijing made it clear that it would reduce or eliminate trade with those countries that supported human rights, let alone political freedom, for the Tibetans. To this economic pressure, virtually every country in the world simply surrendered.

Among these countries were many who really sympathized with Beijing - United Nations member ruled by their own dictatorship. For them, the liberation of any captive people as simply encouragement to their own.

At least they had some excuse - the brotherhood of tyranny.

Our own nation, like the rest of the West, has none. We must state it plainly: U.S. policy toward Tibet has been determined by greed for trade with China at whatever cost in human freedom. Others will put it more delicately. There is no reason for us to do so, no excuse not to do so.

All this brings us back to our personal and national interests in China. It is fairly simple. Tibet is a criminal. So am I, so are all of you here, so is our entire American nation.

The same political crimes that bound us to the prisoners in the Nazi concentration camps, the dissidents in the Soviet Gulags, the Latin American and Khmer Rouge death pits, the torture chambers of Syria, Iran and Libya, bind us to Tibet and Tibetans.

Every day that we live under the grace of freedom we commit the crimes for which Tibetans have been made captive, tortured and massacred; for which their nation has been sundered, occupied and burned. We talk, we write, we act, we think, we pray. Those are the crimes that bind Americans to all who yearn for freedom and suffer for it.

The US supported political freedom for Eastern Europe and to its credit never recognized the Soviet occupation of the Baltic nations. It supported the nationhood of Israel and is now following a path that will lead to the independence of Palestine. But Tibet has no ethnic or national constituency in the United States.

Only one thing distinguishes the U.S. from other nations, and makes it cherished around the world. It is the belief that political freedom should be universal. With that belief, we are just real estate, from sea to shining sea.

So we, all of us who support Tibetan freedom, are the seas of the Tibetan constituency. If we love freedom, we are as criminal as any people, any nation, held in political captivity. So we are all criminals for freedom. We are all Tibetans - the largest American constituency any foreign nation could enjoy in our land.

I believe this, I believe this constituency will grow and help Tibet taste liberty and I thank you for giving them the chance to say so, through my son.
[note: this arrived by email and contained a lot of sloppy transcription mistakes, which I've taken the liberty to fix. I believe the last word must also be incorrect, but I can't imagine what else it might be, so I'll leave it alone]

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