WHY LHAKAR MATTERS: The Elements of Tibetan Freedom

Below is an article I originally published in the Tibetan Political Review. It discusses the philosophy, strategic logic and future potential of Lhakar as a movement.

Beneath the wave of self-immolations that has understandably come to dominate the current discourse on Tibet, a less dramatic undercurrent of resistance is transforming the landscape of Tibetan activism. This new force is the pan-Tibetan, self-reliance grassroots movement known as Lhakar.

The first signs of Lhakar – the name is translated usually as White Wednesday and occasionally as Pure Dedication – appeared in 2008 following the nationwide uprising against Chinese rule. Four years after its birth, Lhakar has produced a paradigm shift in the way Tibetans conceptualize activism, thanks to three key elements: de-collectivization of activism, weaponization of culture, and adoption of noncooperation.

1. De-collectivization of Activism
The core appeal of Lhakar lies in its simplicity. It focuses on the fundamental elements of freedom, the most mundane decisions people make in their daily lives – when to visit the temple, what kind of music to listen to, which restaurant to eat in, which shop to buy groceries from, what language to speak at home – rather than the bigger decisions that carry a higher price tag.

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SFT Tendor Responds to CNN Belief Blog

SFT’s Executive Director’s response to “My Take: Dalai Lama should condemn the self-immolations” written by Stephen Prothero.

In a crass display of moral blindsight, Stephen Prothero’s blog post on Tibetan self-immolations blames the victim instead of the bully.

Tibetans are stuck in one of the world’s last remaining and most brutal colonial occupations. It is through this lens, more than anything else, that we must understand the self-immolations.

Since 2009, at least 44 Tibetans -– monks, nuns and lay people -– have set themselves on fire to protest China’s rule; 39 self-immolations have occurred this year alone. Every one of these acts is a direct result of China’s systematic assault on the Tibetan people’s way of life, their movements, their speech, their religion, and their identity.

Instead of responding to China’s oppression with revenge –- a path far more tempting to the basic human instinct -– Tibetans have chosen a means far more peaceful. Without harming a single Chinese, they set aflame their own bodies to shine a light upon the atrocity taking place in their homeland. They sacrifice their own lives not in the name of “God” or “Buddha,” as Mr. Prothero so dismissively suggests, but in an altruistic intention of alerting the world to their people’s suffering.

By demanding that the Dalai Lama condemn these individuals who have shown compassion beyond our imagination, Mr. Prothero has betrayed a colossal indifference to the courage and circumstances of those fighting for the same democratic freedoms and human rights that he himself enjoys.

How can the Dalai Lama condemn the self-immolators when their motivation was evidently selfless and their tactic nonviolent? Would we ask Gandhi to condemn activists in the Indian freedom struggle who were killed while lying on the road to block British police trucks? Or the hunger strikers who were starving themselves to death in order to protest the injustices of British rule in India?

By every measure, it’s the Chinese leaders and not the Dalai Lama who are responsible for the self-immolations in Tibet. They have the power to ease tensions, reverse restrictions, and stop the self-immolations overnight. But instead of seeking a lasting solution to the Tibet issue, they continue to aggravate the situation by intensifying the repression.

No one is more tormented by the self-immolations than the Dalai Lama, whose bond with the Tibetan people goes deeper than language can express. In fact, it is the singular calming influence of the Dalai Lama that has kept the movement nonviolent to date.

As a universal icon of peace, the Dalai Lama’s spiritual influence goes well beyond the Buddhist world. Nevertheless, his moral authority is not an infinite resource. There is an invisible moral rope with which the Dalai Lama has bound the Tibetans to nonviolence for four decades. But this rope is wearing thin as China’s escalating tyranny drives Tibetans into a corner.

Self-immolation, which emerged as a tactic from being cornered for too long, represents the final outpost in the spectrum of nonviolent resistance. If this last remaining space for expression, no matter how drastic, is taken away, the rope might just snap. Chaos will ensue, vastly increasing the chances of a full-blown ethnic conflict that even the Dalai Lama will have exhausted his moral capital to stop.

From all of Mr. Prothero’s accusations, the most offensive is his comparison of self-immolations to sati – a social system in ancient India where widows were pressured to throw themselves into the funeral pyre of their deceased husbands. Self-immolation – a political act of reason – is the polar opposite of sati – a blind act of superstition.

There is not a single case of Tibetan self-immolation that was prompted by social pressure or religious obligation. Every incident of it, unexpected as it is, shakes the nation, the community, not to mention the family, to its foundations. Every Tibetan prays in his or her heart that the latest might be the last.

The image of a person engulfed in flames is shocking, often disturbing, to people living in the free world. For all our obsession with violent movies, graphic video games, and live coverage of wars, it still rips our hearts to pieces when we see a human in flames.

Rather than indulging in philosophical investigations into the morality of self-immolations, we must see these actions for what they are: urgent pleas for help from a people pushed to the brink by decades of ruthless repression.

One hopes that most people are focused on the real question at hand: how shall we answer this call?

Tenzin Dorjee
Executive Director of Students for a Free Tibet

Originally posted in CNN Belief Blog.

Click here to read the original article “My Take: Dalai Lama should condemn Tibetan self-immolations” written by Stephen Prothero.

Happy Birthday to His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Today, July 6th is His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama’s 77th birthday. It is hard to think of any living individual who better represents the ideals of peace, hope, and compassion. As a leader, visionary, philosopher, environmentalist, reformer, and peace activist, His Holiness’ monumental contribution to humankind has touched us all.

Born in a remote corner of eastern Tibet in 1935 and educated in the grandeur of Lhasa’s Potala Palace, his life – and that of his nation – was turned upside down when Tibet was invaded by China in 1949. As Chinese troops massacred Tibetans, stole their land, looted their wealth, and razed their temples to the ground, the young Dalai Lama was called upon to lead his people. 

Instead of resigning to a life under Chinese control, he risked everything to flee his beloved homeland. His dramatic escape to India, from where he could continue to lead his people in their freedom struggle, was a visionary decision and has denied the Chinese government the power to control his activities.



Ever since he moved into a humble residence in Dharamsala at the age of 24, His Holiness has dedicated every waking hour to the cause of his people, and indeed to the well-being of all sentient beings. In his effort to promote world peace, religious harmony, and universal responsibility, he has traveled across continents, given thousands of talks, written hundreds of books, and educated millions of people.



Everywhere he travels, the Dalai Lama brings inspiration and rekindles our hope. Together, we can give His Holiness a gift that will complement his tireless work: an investment in the future of the Tibetan nation.

Please donate $77 to SFT’s innovative Youth Leadership Program in honor of His Holiness’s 77th birthday.

Our leadership trainings, activist workshops, and internship program combine nonviolence theory with invaluable hands-on experience. Working on the front lines of the Tibetan freedom movement while learning from the successes and failures of other resistance movements – from the Arab Spring to Burma’s Saffron Revolution, from the Indian freedom struggle to China’s ongoing democracy movement – produces active and visionary leaders ready to capitalize on key opportunities to create change for Tibet.

Though Tibetans are going through one of the most difficult periods in our history, we remain undefeated and hopeful. His Holiness, the epitome of hope, recently told a reporter in London, “The Tibetan spirit is very, very strong – it will remain.”

We must continue to invest in the Tibetan freedom struggle and complement His Holiness’ tireless work to ensure the Tibetan spirit remains strong for generations to come. In addition to waging hard-hitting campaigns and actions that raise China’s cost of occupation, at SFT we are equipping young Tibet movement leaders with the vision, strategy, and skills to advance the cause of Tibetan freedom.

Please support our work in honor of His Holiness’s 77th birthday:
http://sft.convio.net/site/Donation2?df_id=2000&2000.donation=form1

This year, you can also donate your birthday to SFT as a gift in honor of His Holiness’s birthday. To do so, please fill out this simple form and we will contact you two weeks before your birthday with instructions on how you can fulfill your pledge.

Your generous donation will help cultivate young leaders whose vision, dynamism, and hard work will bring us one giant step closer to Tibetan freedom.

Thank you for your support and generosity. Tibet will be free.

SFT Weekly Update: A Moment of Hope

In these times of great turmoil inside Tibet, it is easy to forget that nothing is permanent except change. As empires rise and fall, so do dictatorships. Oppression, after all, is impermanent too.

Last week we witnessed a quiet moment that serves as a profound reminder of this basic truth. After almost two decades of living under house arrest, Burma’s pro-democracy leader Aung Sun Suu Kyi was able to travel to Europe this month to deliver her belated acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize, an award she won in 1991.

Last Tuesday in London, on her 67th birthday, she met with her fellow Nobel peace laureate His Holiness the Dalai Lama. This meeting between two global peace icons – and two of the most inspiring leaders of our time – was a moment of triumph for truth and justice.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama will also celebrate his birthday soon. Next week on July 6th he turns 77 years old. It is hard to think of any living individual who better represents the ideals of peace, hope, and compassion. As a leader, visionary, philosopher, environmentalist, reformer, and peace activist, His Holiness’ monumental contribution to humankind has touched us all.

Born in a remote corner of eastern Tibet in 1935 and educated in the grandeur of Lhasa’s Potala Palace, his life – and that of his nation – was turned upside down when Tibet was invaded by China in 1949. As Chinese troops massacred Tibetans, stole their land, looted their wealth, and razed their temples to the ground, the young Dalai Lama was called upon to lead his people. 

Instead of resigning to a life under Chinese control, he risked everything to flee his beloved homeland. His dramatic escape to India, from where he could continue to lead his people in their freedom struggle, was a visionary decision and has denied the Chinese government the power to control his activities.

Ever since he moved into a humble residence in Dharamsala at the age of 24, His Holiness has dedicated every waking hour to the cause of his people, and indeed to the well-being of all sentient beings. In his effort to promote world peace, religious harmony, and universal responsibility, he has traveled across continents, given thousands of talks, written hundreds of books, and educated millions of people. 

Everywhere he travels, the Dalai Lama brings inspiration and rekindles our hope.

As he multiplies kindness and compassion around this world, his own homeland remains in chains. His people are going through one of the most difficult periods in Tibetan history. His Holiness, always undefeated and hopeful, recently told a reporter in London, “The Tibetan spirit is very, very strong – it will remain.”

While this is true, we must continue to invest in the Tibetan freedom struggle and complement His Holiness’ tireless work to ensure the Tibetan spirit remains strong for generations to come. In addition to waging hard-hitting campaigns and actions that raise China’s cost of occupation, at SFT we are equipping young Tibet movement leaders with the vision, strategy, and skills to advance the cause of Tibetan freedom.

Please donate to SFT’s innovative Youth Leadership Program in honor of His Holiness’s 77th birthday
:
http://sft.convio.net/site/Donation2?df_id=2000&2000.donation=form1

This year, you can also donate your birthday to SFT as a gift in honor of His Holiness’s birthday. To do so, please fill out this simple form and we will contact you two weeks before your birthday with instructions on how you can fulfill your pledge.

Your generous donation will help cultivate young leaders whose vision, dynamism, and hard work will bring us one giant step closer to Tibetan freedom.

Thank you for your support and generosity. Tibet will be free.

In Solidarity,

Tendor signature 

Tendor
Executive Director

P.S. To make a donation in honor of His Holiness’s 77th birthday to SFT’s Youth Leadership Program, please visit: http://sft.convio.net/site/Donation2?df_id=2000&2000.donation=form1

Support the Tibetan Delegation at the UN: Make a Call today!

Right now, a delegation of Tibetans from across Europe is inside the United Nations Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva urging member representatives to put forward a resolution on the human rights crisis in Tibet.

The delegation is meeting with UN representatives to personally bring the plight of Tibetans inside Tibet to the attention of the Council. They are also delivering a 51,550-signature pledge in support of multi-lateral diplomatic intervention in Tibet.

Since Monday, over 1400 of us have also sent letters to members of the Human Rights Council to reinforce the delegation’s appeal for a UN resolution on Tibet. Thank you for taking action! A strong resolution supported by world governments will hold China accountable for its human rights violations in Tibet.

Now let’s double our impact! Make a Call to your United Nations Ambassador’s office today.

Find the contact information for your country’s UN Permanent Mission in Geneva.

Call and ask that your country table a Tibet resolution at the 20th session of the UN Human Rights Council.

Request your country’s UN mission to meet with the Tibetan delegation at the Human Rights Council meeting.

When you speak with your Ambassador’s staff or leave a voice message, please be polite and remember to thank them for their support. Helpful talking points are included below.

Reminder: If you haven’t already taken action, please send your appeal letter to the UN Human Rights Council urging a resolution on Tibet.

The United Nations has the ultimate responsibility to protect and promote human rights around the world. Join us in taking action to ensure it upholds this important mission by addressing the urgent human rights crisis in Tibet.

Thank you for all that you do for Tibet,

Tendor, Kate, TenDolkar, Lobsang, Stef, Wangmo and the entire SFT team.

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United Nations must act now for Tibet

The UN Human Rights Council is in session. A resolution on Tibet will assert diplomatic pressure on China to stop its human rights violations. Urge the Human Rights Council to table a Tibet resolution now! Forty-one Tibetans have lit their bodies on fire in Tibet since 2009. Every one of these self-immolations is a cry for the Tibetan people’s fundamental rights as human beings.

From now until July 6, the United Nations Human Rights Council is in session. As the body responsible for addressing human rights violations around the world, it has an unavoidable responsibility to pass a resolution on Tibet. A strong resolution equals moral isolation for China, signaling to its leaders that the world does not tolerate its abuses in Tibet.

The Chinese government is trying to sweep the Tibet crisis under the rug and deflect international criticism. But we will not let this happen. 51,555 of us have signed a pledge calling for joint action by world governments. This Wednesday, SFT members and Tibetans from across Europe will deliver the pledges to the country representatives who make up the UN Human Rights Council at their meeting in Geneva.

With enough global public pressure targeting the Council members, we can ensure that a Tibet resolution is raised during this session. Multi-government action on Tibet is a moral and diplomatic challenge to the Chinese government; it puts the onus on China to prove to the world that its rule in Tibet is anything less than genocide.
At the last Human Rights Council session in April, the following countries raised serious concerns about Tibet: the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Denmark’s statement, delivered on behalf of the European Union, was supported by 34 countries, including non-EU members Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Iceland, Serbia, Albania and Liechtenstein.

Send appeal letters to the Council members representing these countries urging them to table an urgent resolution on Tibet: http://sft.convio.net/site/R?i=PKBmlI7bj59PBMW_VL7F9g

It is also important to send letters to the members who did not speak out at the 19th session, urging them to act now: https://secure3.convio.net/sft/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=875

Since the Council opened its session on June 18, two more Tibetans have set themselves on fire in Tibet. Last Wednesday, Ngawang Norpel, age 22, and Tenzin Khedup, age 24, self-immolated in Kyegudo, eastern Tibet. Khedup died on the scene while Norphel’s condition remains unknown. A rare video clip smuggled out of Tibet shows both men waving Tibetan flags while engulfed in flames. They left behind a heart-wrenching note calling on all young Tibetans to “unite and uphold the national cause of Tibet.”

Tibetans inside Tibet are taking the most drastic of nonviolent actions to show the world that they can no longer live under Chinese rule. In their messages, they have expressed the hope that their sacrifice would help bring about an end to the suffering of their people.

We do not want a single Tibetan to go through the unimaginable pain and suffering of lighting oneself on fire and burning to death. The message from Tibet is clear: Tibetans want change now! Together, we can make sure the highest human rights body in the world comes to their protection.

Team Tibet: Relaunching an Enduring Symbol

As London prepares to host the Summer Olympics, it is hard not to look back at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and marvel at how one epic year changed the course of Tibetan history.

In 2008, Tibetans and supporters around the world participated in a global uprising that started in Lhasa, spread through all three provinces of Tibet and reached every continent, creating an irreversible crisis of legitimacy for the Chinese government’s colonial occupation of Tibet.

As tens of thousands of Tibetans and supporters waved Tibetan flags and banners in the streets and outside Chinese embassies and consulates around the world, one of the most memorable sights was the sea of Team Tibet jackets at every protest, every rally, every vigil. The jacket became a dignified symbol that articulated the Tibetan people’s desire to regain our homeland and the world’s support for this vision. It symbolized the belief that one day Tibetans too will march alongside other Olympic teams, as an equal among nations.

This year, by popular demand, we have brought back the Team Tibet jacket of 2008!

Coinciding with the London Olympics, we are excited to release a limited edition of the original Team Tibet jacket with the embroidered snow lion patch. Four years after the historic protests upstaged the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, this is the perfect time to replace your old, but well-loved, Team Tibet jacket.

These jackets are sure to sell out fast. So get your limited edition Team Tibet jacket today: http://indiemerch.com/sft

100% of the proceeds support SFT’s hard-hitting campaigns and actions to promote human rights and freedom in Tibet.

Why Beijing has already lost

Every year, in the days leading up to June 4th, Chinese authorities have consistently banned the words ‘Tiananmen’ and ‘June 4′ – a place and a date. But this time around, the Chinese government has outdone itself. It went further, banning neutral words such as ‘square,’ and the numbers 6, 4, and 89. Not to mention images of candles.

When a government feels so existentially threatened by mere numbers, shapes and images, it has fundamentally lost its power and legitimacy. The Chinese authorities have gone nuts. And why shouldn’t they?

From Tunisia to Egypt to Burma, dictators are losing and democracy is gaining. This net growth in freedom worldwide is the most reliable indicator of where China too is headed. The more freedom grows around the world, the harder it gets for the remaining dictatorships and the leftover tyrants to survive.

That’s why Beijing is cracking down on its netizens, activists, and innocent citizens. That’s why it is escalating its repression in Tibet and East Turkestan. That’s why China’s internal security budget has surpassed its national defense budget. Like a wounded and dying tiger, it is making one last lunge for survival.

But if history holds any lesson, then the Chinese government’s days are numbered. The Chinese regime’s repressive streak – arresting people for the smallest of crimes, shooting at monks who are already burning, banning words and dates and even numbers – is reminiscent of the way the Soviet Union behaved in its final years, the way Milosevic behaved in his final months, and the way Mubarak and Ben Ali behaved in their final weeks.

This is the ultimate sign that the Chinese government has already been struck down in the great battle with freedom and democracy. It has no power, only the apparatus of power; it has no legitimacy, only the facade of legitimacy. Thus, it is only a matter of time before democracy comes to China, before freedom comes to Tibet.

Run for SFT International’s Board of Directors

Do you believe Tibet will be free?

Are you committed to youth empowerment and leadership?

Can you help SFT grow and inspire people to act for Tibet?

SFT Logo If you answered yes, you should consider running for SFT International’s Board of Directors and help lead the organization that is coordinating a nonviolent force of Tibetan youth, students, and supporters for Tibetan freedom.

In spite of Beijing’s ruthless crackdown and merciless policies, Tibetans inside Tibet courageously resist China’s occupation every day. SFT’s leadership develops policies and strategies to amplify their voices and to drive a global grassroots response in support of their actions.

If you’re actively involved with SFT, being a part of the Board of Directors is a great way to have a strong voice in the future of the Tibetan Freedom movement and to make a significant contribution to the restoration of Tibetan independence.

Check out SFT’s current Board of Directors:
http://www.studentsforafreetibet.org/boardofdirectors

The majority of SFT’s Board members hold elected positions, and we will have several openings this spring. Read below for the Board of Directors position description, requirements and application instructions. All applications are due no later than Wednesday, May 30, 2012.

POSITION DESCRIPTION:
SFT International’s Board of Directors is responsible for setting the overall policies and long-term organizational goals of SFT and raising money for SFT’s operations worldwide. Board members are required to commit to two years of service and we are now accepting applications for the 2012-2014 term.

Board members must actively participate in fundraising, meetings, discussions, and committee work for the duration of their term of service. Board members are expected to assist and act as advocates for staff, national coordinators, regional contacts, and chapter members. Board members are expected to work within the requirements of service established by the Board and for the express purpose of advancing the mission of SFT worldwide. Board members report to the Executive Committee of the Board.

REQUIREMENTS

  • Active participation with SFT within the last three years;
  • Ready access to e-mail;
  • Ability to travel to weekend meetings twice annually;
  • Strong written and verbal communication skills;
  • Understanding of SFT’s mission and familiarity with SFT history & structure;
  • Commitment to non-violence and determination to get things done;
  • All candidates must be a minimum of 18 years of age.

Members of the Board of Directors are expected to meet the all of the following requirements:

  • Minimum of 10 hours per month of board work;
  • A commitment to raise a minimum of $3,000 per fiscal year;
  • Active involvement in at least one Board committee;
  • Attendance at all mandatory Board meetings (two per year) and monthly conference calls;
  • Significant participation in at least one regional fundraising event and one full Board fundraising initiative each year (ie: SFT’s annual events, house parties, ask or cultivation meetings, etc.)

HOW TO APPLY: Assuming you meet the above requirements, all you need to do is fill out the APPLICATION FORM.

The APPLICATION FORM is available here:
http://sft.convio.net/site/Survey?ACTION_REQUIRED=URI_ACTION_USER_REQUESTS&SURVEY_ID=2303

Your responses will help SFT chapters and individual student members decide who to nominate. Applications must be received no later than Wednesday, May 30, 2012.

If you have any questions, please reply to this email or contact the Nominations Committee at nominations@studentsforafreetibet.org

We look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Yangchen
Nominations Committee
SFT International’s Board of Directors

(Please note: SFT does not send emails with attachments. If you receive an email from us with an attachment, it is likely a virus, so please delete and contact info@studentsforafreetibet.org)

 

Remembering Adam Yauch – Tendor’s tribute on Huffington Post

I met Adam Yauch only once. It was during a bathroom break, which came at the end of a heated session in a Tibet-China conference at Harvard in 2002. I rushed to the bathroom and found myself standing next to Adam Yauch, who was using the urinal to my right.

We greeted each other in Tibetan. I was an international relations student at Brown University at the time.

“Isn’t it appalling, what they were saying?” I said, referring to a couple of Chinese academics who had been arguing that the Chinese Communists truly wanted to liberate the Tibetans, almost “out of kindness.”

They were describing Tibet in a language that betrayed their Han chauvinism, and every Tibetan in the room was visibly distraught. But most of us were tongue-tied, understandably intimidated by the heavy use of political terminology by professors and researchers who hid the ultimate weakness of their arguments behind the cloak of academic jargon.

To read the full post, go to:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tenzin-dorjee/adam-yauch-tibet_b_1480873.html?ref=fb&src=sp&comm_ref=false