Campus Voices: How can we free Tibet?

Max Ostrove

How do you fight a multi-headed dragon? Sticks? Stones? Words? What if, at the urging of your leader, you could only use words – words that are never heard? The plight of the Tibetan people is a precarious one, predicated on almost 50 years of an imposed regime. Tibet is caught between a rock and a hard place. Its spiritual and political leader, the Dalai Lama, is a self-proclaimed nonviolent protester. The Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 and has since been fighting against what he sees as a “cultural genocide” by the Chinese government. He has now threatened resignation if the violent protests continue in Lhasa. But what if nonviolent protest amounts to nothing? For 49 years, the trickle of exiled protest has done little to smooth the edges of the Chinese boulder. Perhaps it is time for a flood to move it out of the way.

History reveals the numerous paths to independence. The American Revolution used mob violence, flammable propaganda and open war. Indian independence from the British Empire was led by Ghandi on a non-violent platform, and Britain’s humanitarian violations were publicized by world news. Consequently, the international community chastised the British Empire and placed an insurmountable pressure upon them. For this reason, non-violent protest relies on the dissemination of information to rally support. It is expected that protesters will be abused, oppressed and harassed along their journey to independence, and in doing so, demonize their oppressor in the mass media.

Tibet faces a major problem there. China – the land of questionable human rights and menacing economic and population growth – has cut off journalists and free speakers from voicing any dissenting opinions. China continues to expel journalists from the region, refuse to admit foreign correspondents and arrest journalists throughout the country. News accounts are consistently unconfirmed and state press releases conflict with both eye-witness accounts and independent news sources. Death tolls from protests cannot be confirmed because of these journalistic restrictions, but could be in the hundreds. In China’s climate of fear, the Tibetans are resorting to violence because no one can hear their non-violent protest.

The Olympics have brought the world’s eyes upon China, but the government has drawn the curtains. Our own government has done little more than urge China to use restraint. Our government’s policies continue to prove that economics and trade provide more of a guide to foreign policy than basic human rights violations. China’s devalued currency has addicted us to their exports and cast a dark shadow on our growing trade deficit. Prominent American citizens have begun to speak out in criticism of China. Steven Spielberg’s conscience would not allow him to advise any Olympic films. Protests have followed the path of the Olympic torch at each of its legs. Rumors also swirl about a larger boycott of the Olympic games because of China’s involvement in the Sudanese oil business that fuels the conflict in Darfur and China’s support of the repressive Burmese regime.

What tools are still in the international playbook for gaining independence, or even autonomy? When is a rebellion a revolution? How does a people/nation/religion rally support for a cause when no one can hear them? Why does the fear of empty pockets prevent governments from doing the right thing? Violence should never be an option, but until China provides for basic human rights and the freedom of speech, it is the only way Tibetans are being heard.

– Max Ostrove

Communication senior