Tibet will be free once it’s shaken off the bonds of both Chinese authoriatian rule and patronizing Western pity.
Here in the West, we often hear the rallying cry “Free Tibet!,” especially from students and latte-sipping liberals, for whom Tibet has become a personality-defining issue.
Step on to any trendy, politicized campus in the US or Western Europe, and you’ll see at least one student wearing a “Free Tibet” T-shirt, accessorised with traditional Tibetan bangles and maybe a cloth shoulder bag made by Tibetan nomads.
Yet having recently returned from a sojourn to “Shangri-La,” as some people call it, I can confirm that Tibet needs to be freed twice over. Firstly from the authoritarian Chinese Stalinists who rule there, and who deny Tibetans basic liberties such as freedom of speech and the right to protest. And secondly from the Western “Free Tibet” lobby itself, whose shallow solidarity seems to be keeping Tibet in a pre-modern, underdeveloped state for the benefit of eco-conscious Westerners.
Somewhat appropriately, given that it is such a mountainous region, modern Tibet is stuck between a rock and a hard place – between the rock of authoritarian government, and the hard place of a patronizing Western pity, which treats Tibetans, in the stinging words of one leading Tibetologist, as “the baby seals of the human rights movement.”
When you first arrive in Tibet, you can’t help but be impressed by how much religious freedom there seems to be. Having heard activists from Free Tibet UK argue that the Chinese authorities are seeking to “wipe out Tibetan identity and culture,” I find myself pleasantly surprised, and relieved, that in fact Tibetans can go about their daily religious business largely unmolested.
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