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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?"

What they're really fighting for in Tibet

March 28, 2008

Friday, March 28, 2008
By Abrahm Lustgarten, Special to The Washington Post

On a winter night not long ago, I walked through the glowing doorway of
Lhasa's newest nightclub, Babila, for an interview with its owner, a
Chinese entrepreneur. Disco balls spun from the ceiling. Fiber-optic
strands of plastic beads drizzled down like rain to a long, sleek
stainless steel bar. On the stage, dancers in stiletto heels and
lingerie gyrated to thumping music.

"Tibetan culture is so deeply rooted here," the owner told me. "I don't
think it will be diluted -- it's important for business."

Yet I saw no Tibetan employees, and Tibetans represented only a
smattering of customers. The bar served mostly Chinese businessmen and
army officers, whose tabs could run as high as US$2,000, several times
the per capita income in Tibet.

The nightclub owner's comments underscored the problem Tibetans have
with Chinese rule: Their culture has been packaged for tourism. Business
is booming. But they aren't getting any of the bounty.

This, more than violations of human rights and religious freedom, is
what fueled the riots in Lhasa and across Tibetan areas that started on
March 14 -- the largest and most violent protests since an uprising in
1959, when Tibetans rebelled against Chinese rule. Today, Tibetans stand
at an economic threshold, about to be overwhelmed by the tsunami of
China's great expansion in ways that may ultimately be more devastating
than the previous decades of repressive rule.

Certainly, human rights abuses continue in Tibet, including imprisonment
and torture, the banishment of Tibetans from their farmland, and
draconian restrictions on activities and thought within the monasteries.
And these restrictions may have sparked this latest resistance. But the
mayhem in Lhasa was most notable for its focus on the symptoms of the
economic shift. What began as a protest by a few hundred monks from
Lhasa's monasteries turned into a riot that brought out shopkeepers,
traders and farmers.
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