BY JAMYANG NORBU AND TENPA TSERING (USA) - Recently, two opinion pieces have circulated in the English language Tibet media. One is written by well-known writer and activist, Jamyang Norbu who lives in Tennessee and proposes full independence (rangzen) as the best political strategy for Tibet. The other is written by Tendar Tsering, a Minnesota-based journalist who argues that the "Middle Way Approach" is the best vehicle for advancement of the Tibetan cause. We are re-posting both OpEds so that our readers might better understand the debate that is currently vibrant within Tibet's exile democracy, particularly as the leadership election approaches in March 2016. The CTC thanks JamyangNorbu.com and TibetSun.com for allowing us to re-post from their blogs.
1. The Matrix in the Middle Way, by Jamyang Norbu (December 31, 2015)
Last November, as I was preparing to fly to Toronto for my talk “Forging a Rangzen Strategy”, I received an email from Gashi Tenpa la, one of the TNC organizers there. He had an amusing suggestion for a concluding message I could leave the audience: “Jamyang la, don’t forget to tell them to choose the “Red Pill”
About a third of the way into the cult-classic science fiction film, The Matrix (1999), the main character, Neo, is offered a fundamentally life-altering choice in the form of two pills: a red pill representing the painful truth of reality and a blue pill representing the blissful ignorance of illusion.
The movie is fairly bursting at the seams with implied philosophical references: from Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” and Descartes “Meditation on First Philosophy”, to rather conspicuously, Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation. The film also freely borrows ideas from a number of religions, of which the central concept of the “Matrix”, the all-embracing digital world of illusion in which humanity is enslaved, is clearly a metaphor for the maya of Hindu philosophy, and to a point the samsara of Buddhism. It is also, I think, a not inappropriate metaphor for the current Tibetan political situation.
The Tibetan leadership and much of its following-in-exile have become mired in a state of chronic delusion created in large part by our prevailing culture of blind faith, sycophancy, corruption, and intellectual indolence. There has also been the occasional manipulation of this mind-set by Communist China through some of its indirect agents of influence operating in the liberal democracies (politicians, academics, journalists, celebrities, even certain NGO’s). In the last few years this manipulation has been taken up more directly by the PRC’s own agents almost certainly planted among those Chinese “intellectuals” and “tourists” regularly meeting the Dalai Lama.
However depressing the situation, many Tibetans have, in recent years, come to realize that the official Middle Way Approach (MWA) policy has been disastrous for the Tibetan political cause, and for the unity and well-being of the exile community. Yet this growing public awareness has had little impact on our political reality, since most of these people have been reluctant to openly express their concerns for fear of offending the Dalai Lama. Even among those Tibetans openly advocating independence from China as the only possible salvation for Tibet, many have shied away from taking the one final step necessary to making their commitment a meaningful one. All these people though making the initial difficult decision and choosing the red pill, have subsequently been unable to swallow it, and instead kept rolling it around their mouth like a Ricola cough-drop.
To put it simply, most people who believe in Tibetan independence still cannot give up the hope that they could somehow, eventually, arrive at some kind of understanding or compromise with the official MWA policy, and more importantly, remain in the good books of the Dharamshala establishment and, of course, His Holiness the Dalai Lama – even while supporting or even advocating a policy completely in contradiction to his wishes.
To be fair, this did seem doable some year ago. The Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC) which though championing Rangzen as it core goal, was granted regular audiences with the Dalai Lama and even received the occasional praise and blessing. The same could be said for the Students For a Free Tibet (SFT). The unwritten rule of the game was that you never expressed any criticism of Dharamshala or its policies, and did not pose any direct threat to the power of the leadership.
All that changed radically around the time Samdong Rinpoche (the self-appointed ideologue and Svengali of MWA) issued his now infamous warning to Tibetan society that Rangzen advocates were more dangerous than the Communist Chinese. Samdong did walk back his statement a bit, on an occasion or two, but in a cynical Donald Trump fashion “Mexican immigrants are criminals and rapists. I love Mexicans.”
TYC branches in South India were infiltrated by MWA followers which effectively began the process of neutralizing the largest Rangzen organization in exile society. At the beginning of this year the New York/New Jersey branch of the TYC was also taken over by MWA henchmen. The 2015 March 10th commemoration in New York City was also hijacked by MWA, whose leaders tried to get the NYPD to remove, even arrest, demonstrators (including two SFT leaders) displaying FREE Tibet signs and shouting anti-China slogans.
I am not sure about this, but I heard from Dharamshala that of late, scholarship students from India entering American universities have received “advice” not to join SFT chapters in their schools. We also know that the Gu-chu-sum Political Prisoner’s Movement, which once advocated Rangzen has been pressured to give up its core goal. Even the New York branch of the Chushigangdruk, the present day welfare organization of the great resistance force, has also been browbeaten into give up its goal of Tibetan independence.
The most recent evidence of Dharamshala’s efforts to marginalize and push out all Rangzen advocates from the exile political process has been the widespread demonization of Atsok Lukar Jam, the only Rangzen candidate in the Sikyong elections. The apparantly officially sanctioned efforts to deny him speaking opportunities in the major monasteries in South India and in schools and colleges under the CTA, also point in that direction. Last minute fraudulent rule changes made after the polls had closed in the first round of elections, appear designed to keep out Lukar Jam from the second round of elections, and ensure that no discussion or debate takes place on the issue of Tibetan independence in the forthcoming campaigns. I have gone into detail on this in my previous post and have also mentioned how the Dalai Lama himself and members of his family have made very troubling public statements that could be construed as condemning all Rangzen advocates as anti-Dalai Lama.
In an official statement on December 10th, resembling the “lese majeste” attacks of the Thai military junta against journalists and critics, the CTA declared that “… at a time when Tibetans are expressing gratitude to His Holiness on his 80th birthday, we have a few people who indulge in crazy talk and sarcasm by calling His Holiness a traitor. Such actions are immoral…”
It is becoming clearer than ever that the CTA’s on-going exclusionary agenda for Rangzen advocates has taken on a disturbingly authoritarian turn. In Dharamshala staff members of CTA offices are now required to take a pledge of allegiance to the MWA Policy, and by extension, rejection of Rangzen. I have it on good authority that even menial kitchen workers (ma-yok) have been instructed to take this pledge or lose their jobs. It is just a question of time before Rangen advocates are asked to sign such a pledge or be hounded out of Tibet society. Should we also fear for the future of those courageous members of the exile parliament who have on occasion spoken out in defense of SFT and Rangzen activists?
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
Rangzen advocates must absolutely give up the delusional hope that the Dharamshala establishment can be persuaded to see the futility of the Middle Way policy. The reality is that most of the leadership are already well aware of that. They may be corrupt and self-serving but they are not fools. For these leaders and for all their lowlife thuggish followers (like Ngawang Palden and his gang in New York currently trying to terminate the TYC chapter there as a freedom fighting organization) MWA is a meal-ticket to jobs and positions they would otherwise be unable to secure with their own limited ability and education. Through their shrill advocacy of the Middle Way Approach and cynical condemnation of Rangzen supporters, they are preying on the Dalai Lama’s desperation to prop up a failed policy (and his own political legacy) that in reality has been murdered and laid to rest (countless times) by China’s leaders.
Tibetans who stand for freedom and independence must now openly declare their conviction, join together, and through the democratic process, bring about a root-and-branch transformation of the exile administration. I now believe, more than ever that this can be done. I will elaborate in my next post.
2. Rangzen needs to be reviewed, by Tendar Tsering (January 4, 2016)
Rangzen means more than freedom from oppressors and suppressors. It means the sheer joy and liberty to own and run the whole sovereignty of a nation independently. But unlike Rangzen, Umaylam — the Middle-Way Approach — is a strategy set and voted on by the public. So, contrary to the growing number of Rangzen activists demanding an end to the Middle-Way Approach, recent incidents in New York/New Jersey and elsewhere speak otherwise — causing many to mull over the idea that maybe it’s the Rangzen model which needs to be reviewed.
For long, Tibetan Youth Congress has been the largest, strongest, and most prominent Tibetan organisation whose sole goal is to overthrow Chinese rule and lead an independent nation. But for whatever reason, recent incidents in New York/New Jersey and elsewhere indicate that the organisation is at the verge of becoming a giant shallow shell, and its members just numbers read from its old records that date back to 1990s or so. The cracking sound of that shallow shell is echoing from the mountains of Ladakh to the plains of Bylakuppe, from New Delhi to New York, and Tibetans in Europe and elsewhere are also likely to feel that vibration sooner or later.
The birth of Umaylum traces back to the Dalai Lama. He made the proposal, but he didn’t make it arbitrarily — he sought suggestions and held discussions about it. Finally after a series of debates and discussions, the Tibetan public voted to adopt it as the most pragmatic way to put an end to the ongoing tragedies in Tibet. Despite zero response from the Beijing government, Tibetans’ faith in its Middle-Way Approach is growing stronger and stronger in recent years. For many, that is a kind of irony, but the reason looks like simply because of the ever-increasing empathy and sympathy from the Chinese public, and the surprisingly increasing number of Chinese following Tibetan Buddhism and visiting Tibetan spiritual leaders inside as well as outside Tibet. As of now, it looks good and hopeful, but it’s difficult to predict if that bet on hope will once again betray us, as we are known to be betrayed by hope when it comes to the issue of Tibet and China.
Rangzen activists are getting alarmed and angry as the larger Tibetan public is once again betting on its hope in its religion, and these activists have every reason to be alarmed as the bet is too risky. And in the eyes of many of the Rangzen activists, these Middle-Way Approach followers are old and orthodox, and simply and blindly following the proposal set by the Dalai Lama. But the bitter fact for these Rangzen activists is that more and more Tibetans are becoming more and more rational, and starting to genuinely appreciate and follow the vision set by the Dalai Lama. The general Tibetan public is neither blindly following the Dalai Lama’s vision, nor respecting him merely just because he is the Dalai Lama. They believe his vision is realistic, and that his contributions towards the Tibetan cause are unfathomable.
If the Rangzen spirit is to grow, not just survive, then the Tibetan independence advocates have to understand that most of the Middle-Way Approach followers are not just blindly following the proposal set by the Dalai Lama. They are concerned about the real situation in Tibet, along with China’s rapidly growing strength in the global power arena. And the Tibetan Youth Congress has to come up with a strategy or plan that can convince the general public why they should not merely rely on the Middle-Way Approach. Unfortunately Tibetan Youth Congress, the backbone of the central force for Tibetan independence, has been already neck-locked by a few individuals who care more about their ideologies than the ongoing situation inside Tibet.
Most of the founders of the Tibetan Youth Congress are now staunch supporters of the Middle-Way Approach. It is an open secret that the organisation’s reputation was built by the public’s support with the blessing from the Dalai Lama. For decades, both the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile had been indirectly supporting the organisation as well.
If the Tibetan Youth Congress is to remain as a tiger, while the Beijing sheep shiver just from the knowledge of its existence, then the general public should decide the ideology of the organisation. The public should not let the organisation be hijacked by a few narcissistic individuals who are ready to kick and kill the organisation for their own individual benefit — be it a chance to settle down in the states or to have a high post in the Tibetan government-in-exile.