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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Olympic torch burning China

April 29, 2008

By Mike Leonard
Herald Times
April 28, 2008

Bloomington, Indiana- China has long sought to use the Olympic torch as
a beacon to show the world how modern, progressive and accomplished it
has become.

But there is an old proverb: "Be careful what you wish for."

Without saying as much, China last week acknowledged that the heat
generated by that torch has become so intense as to overshadow
everything the Asian power hoped to accomplish by hosting the Olympic
Games in August. Large protests over China's human rights record have
accompanied China's global torch relay in cities including London, Paris
and San Francisco, all but destroying the positive public relations
China hoped to receive.

To the surprise of many, China on Friday announced that it will resume
talks with envoys of the Dalai Lama of Tibet - the Buddhist leader it
has vilified for decades but probably never as harshly as in the last
few months.

"It all stems from my father's doing," Jigme Norbu said last week as his
father, Thubten J. Norbu, sat next to him, listening. "He's spent his
life fighting for Tibetan independence. What we're seeing now are the
results of his efforts."

A son's pride in his father's accomplishments can not only be
understood, but in this case, documented. The elder Norbu (86 or 87) is
the Dalai Lama's older brother. In the film "Kundun," he was portrayed
as warning the Dalai Lama that Chinese authorities had enlisted him to
assassinate his own brother, and he warned the Tibetan leader to leave
Tibet before he made his own escape from his native land.

During the 1950s, Norbu, known to Buddhists as Takster Rinpoche, worked
with CIA officials on a plan to invade and retake Tibet. The plan was
never launched.

Herman B Wells, the legendary Indiana University chancellor, brought
Norbu to the IU faculty after that. Decades later, In 1995, Norbu made a
public, political break from the Dalai Lama's position of peaceful
coexistence with China and called for nothing less than independence
from Chinese rule.

Over the last 13 years, the International Tibetan Independence Movement
(ITIM) has employed long, city-to-city walks, bicycle rides and other
forms of peaceful protest to call attention to the Tibetan argument
against the Chinese occupation of their country, which began with an
armed invasion in 1949.

Larry Gerstein, the Ball State University psychology professor who
founded ITIM, said the current wave of international protests over
China's hosting of the Olympic Games was launched more than a year ago
at an international Tibet support meeting he attended in Brussels,
Belgium. "One of the things we decided was that if we couldn't stop the
Olympics from happening in Bejing, then whenever the Olympic message is
out there, we'd be present, protesting and bringing up the Tibetan cause."

Anticipating what has become a ritual for the Olympics host country, to
parade the Olympic torch around the world, the Tibetan group came up
with a freedom torch for advocates to carry wherever the Olympic torch
went. Gerstein, Jigme Norbu and several others from Bloomington traveled
to San Francisco earlier this month, where there were several
acrimonious clashes between Chinese supporters and human rights
advocates supporting Tibet, Darfur, Falun Gong and other issues and
causes associated with repressive Chinese policies.

Gerstein said pro-Tibetan groups met in San Francisco before the arrival
of the Olympic torch to discuss their values and strategies. One point
of emphasis was to adhere to the Dalai Lama's plea that any protests be
nonviolent. Related to that was training, by protest organizers, about
how to deal with the provocation they were likely to encounter.

"Things got pretty heated on several occasions," Gerstein said. "Chinese
supporters were using their flags like clubs to knock down our (Tibetan)
flags. They got in our faces. One Chinese supporter sprayed pepper spray
in the faces of Tibetan protesters."

As a small group of bicycle riders, including Jigme Norbu, rode the 520
miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles, Norbu said Chinese bicyclists
carrying Chinese flags surrounded them, wove in and out of their ranks,
and did everything disruptive they could do, short of knocking the
Tibetan riders off their bikes. "We expected this," he said. "It was
really our Western friends who we had to restrain."

Despite the tension, Gerstein said he saw a lot to be hopeful about in
San Francisco. "I've never seen the Tibetan community so activated and
energized. It used to be that you'd see a higher percentage of folks at
demonstrations that were non-Tibetans. Now, it's like 90 percent
Tibetans. The entire tone has changed," he said.

"Another positive was that these were young people leading the way,"
Gerstein said. "For so long, Tibetans in this country have been busy
assimilating into their host country and accumulating money so that they
could live. It was very, very clear to me that these younger Tibetans
have watched the violent suppression of Tibetans in Tibet and they are
now 100 percent committed to Tibetan independence."

While his sons, Jigme and Kunga, sat at his side in the Chamtse Ling
Monastery building on the Tibetan Cultural Center grounds south of
Bloomington, Thubten Norbu remained mostly silent. Several strokes have
impaired the speech and mobility of the former abbot and IU faculty
member. He managed a smile when handed the Tibetan freedom torch,
however, and nodded in agreement when his sons described their father's
commitment to Tibetan independence.

Gerstein sounded a note of caution, however, over the impact of global
protests against the Chinese government and the country's hosting of the
Olympic Games. In fact, he left the U.S. late last week, bound for
Dharmsala, India, the seat of the Tibetan government in exile, with
post-Olympic planning as the focus of the agenda.

"When the Olympics are occurring, there are restrictions on what China
will do," the Tibetan independence leader said. "Afterwards, what's
going to stop them from just killing people who protest or defy them?
What can we do to forestall that?"

The welcome news late last week of impending talks between
representatives of the Dalai Lama and China might be one avenue toward
addressing those issues.
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