Home > Opinion, politics > Stephen Prothero tells CNN viewers “Dalai Lama should condemn immolations”

Stephen Prothero tells CNN viewers “Dalai Lama should condemn immolations”

The world seems to be on pause while everyone’s attention have been put on the Olympics. Shortly before the Olympics, Stephen Prothero, a religion scholar from Boston University wrote in CNN’s blog that the Dalai Lama should condemn the immolations:

If the Dalai Lama were to speak out unequivocally against these deaths, they would surely stop. So in a very real sense, their blood is on his hands.
. . .
The Dalai Lama isn’t just a Nobel Peace Prize winner. He is also a man of peace. It is time in this crisis that he started to act like one.

Prothero also pointed to a response the Dalai Lama gave to The Hindu just few days prior on his inaction to the immolations:

This is a very, very delicate political issue. Now, the reality is that if I say something positive, then the Chinese immediately blame me. If I say something negative, then the family members of those people feel very sad. They sacrificed their own life. It is not easy. So I do not want to create some kind of impression that this is wrong. So the best thing is to remain neutral.

Of course, Prothero’s expectation that the Dalai Lama (actually, the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso) should be a man of peace is normal because that is the persona created for him in the Western press. Westerners not knowing his background believe in that persona. He is of course political. He views the immolation as foremost a political tool, not an issue of peace as Prothero urges it should be.

The Chinese government views the 14th Dalai Lama as a separatist for he colluded with the CIA in the 1950s to undermine Communism during the Cold War. “The Colorado program” – by the CIA – trained more than 200 of the Dalai Lama’s guerillas at Camp Hale in Colorado around that time. He received hundreds of tons of weapons from the CIA. His attempt at the 1959 uprising failed to unite ordinary ethnic Tibetans, and as a result fled to India with the ruling elites at that time.

Remember though, he also ruled with brutal theocracy before China reclaimed the region. Not only is the 14th Dalai Lama political, he also persecutes other ethnic Tibetans. One of the victim groups is the Western Shugden Society. Ironically, a prominent monk who is adherent to it, helped conceived a path for the 14th Dalai Lama to escape through the Himalaya’s to India following the failed uprising.

(Note, the CIA officially disbanded the separatist program in 1974. With Nixon’s 1979 normalization with Mao of the countries’ relationship, Chinese weary of American foreign policy should recognize the marked difference. U.S. does not have a hard separatist stance it took during the Cold Wars. It was a different time and a different type of relationship. Perhaps a separate post on that is in order.)

Below is a video by the Western Shugden Society showing a large protest against the 14th Dalai Lama (h/t Ray):

In an interview with CNN’s Suzanne Malveaux, the program itself and Prothero are still pushing dominant Western propaganda despite I think Prothero being right about the 14th Dalai Lama’s hypocrisy in not condemning the immolations.

Prothero mentions of China’s destruction of the Tibetan language, in passing and with casualness as if it is fact, but in reality he is wrong. Ethnic Tibetan language is taught in the region, and more than 98.2% of children in the region are enrolled in schools.

What is truly sad is that a Qing Dynasty was weak and did not ride the wave of industrial revolution the West and Japan did. This has allowed Westerners and Japan to carve China into pieces, of which Hong Kong was taken by the British as consolation for the Opium War. The British then viewed Hong Kong as a ‘notch,’ very much how a lumberer views a great oak as notches before it fell:

“A Victorian saying went like this: by acquiring Hong Kong, Great Britain had cut a notch in the body of China as a woodsman cuts a notch in a great oak he is presently going to fell. As a “notch,” Hong Kong, seized by the British navy in the First Opium War (1840–1842), has possessed a value that can never be measured in terms of territorial conquest.”

They also marched into Tibet with a weak Qing Dynasty unable to do anything.

(h/t to perspectivehere for the following research.)

A 2008 exhibition of posters showing Norfolk’s historical connexions with China in Norfolk put it this way:

“The machine gunners slaughtered the Tibetan soldiers; thirteen hundred died in the massacre. ‘I got so sick of the slaughter that I ceased fire, though the general’s order was to make as big a bag as possible’, wrote Lieutenant Arthur Hadow, commander of the machine-gun detachment. ’I hope I shall never again have to shoot down men walking away’.”

The British invading force was led by Colonel Francis Younghusband.

The New York Times March 31, 1904 reported:

Hundreds Mowed Down By Artillery After Being Surrounded.
LHASA GENERAL IS KILLED Tibetans Demanded That Invaders Retire, and Fighting Was Precipitated by Effort to Disarm Them.

TANU, March 31. — News has been received here of severe fighting, the Tibetans having attacked the British mission under Col Younghusband.

There were two engagements, and the Tibetans were repulsed with heavy loss. The British captured the Tibetan camp at Guru.

While the British advance had practically been unopposed, the expedition suffered great hardship from the intense cold, and it was sometimes found impossible to use the Maxim guns and rifles, owing to the congealing of the oil.

Among the Tibetans killed were the Lhasa General, the military commandant of Phari and Lata, and the representative of the Golden Monastery, to whose influence and violent hostility the existing difficulties are largely due.”

When the reports of the massacre reached England, it proved to be too much for the public to stomach, and Col. Younghusband came under heavy criticism, as this April 2, 1904 report from The New York Times shows:

Possibility That Col. Younghusband May Be Recalled.
Liberal Newspapers Characterize the Occurrence as One of the Worst Blots in England’s History.

LONDON, April 2. — The slaughter in Tibet has roused much feeling in Great Britain, and it is possible that Col. Younghusband will not be allowed to proceed further with the expedition. He has seventy-five miles more to travel before he reaches Gyangste, where he has been ordered to stop and parley before actually demanding entrance into ancient Lhassa, distant another 160 miles. In any case it can be taken for granted that the Government will do everything in its power to prevent a repetition of the bloody scene at Guru.

The extreme Liberal papers characterize the slaughter as one of the worst blots on the history of England. The Daily News declares that no more ‘wanton or discreditable business has been brewed by our pro-Consuls in India since the time of Lord Lytton.’ Other papers of the same political views describe Col Younghusband’s mission as another Jameson raid….

The Government organs, while expressing the regret felt in official circles that such an event occurred at this moment, reiterate Foreign Secretary Lansdowne’s assurances to Russia that Great Britain has no intention of annexing Tibet. The text of those who defend Col. Younghusband’s action is Lord Lansdowne’s statement in the House of Lords that all Great Britain desires is a new convention with the Tibetans and with China as the suzerain power of Tibet.

The Opposition, however, points out that China has repeatedly protested against the strength of the escort with which this ‘political mission’ is accompanied, and declares that, as a matter of fact, Great Britain is now at war, not with Tibet, but with China, thereby endangering China’s neutrality toward Russia and Japan and risking the peace of the World….

It is not regarded as likely that serious international complications will follow this affair, but China’s action in the matter will be anxiously awaited.”

The 14th Dalai Lama was in the news few months ago, for having won £1.1m, a healthy sum of money, for the 2012 Templeton Prize. Bestowed by who? Well, in this BBC report, he seems to like to bask in the ‘peaceful’ image the British are bestowing upon him.

This is the irony of times. Never mind the scores of Tibetans slaughtered. I wondered if he took the occasion to remind the British of the horrible history. If he did, that’d make his receiving that money a bit awkward wouldn’t it?

Why did I raise this?

Consider the new NBC reality show, “Stars Earn Stripes,” where nine Nobel Peace laureates, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Jody Williams and President Oscar Arias Sanchez, have written an open letter to the network urging them to cancel the show and not glorify war. This is what peace-minded individuals do. In the letter, they wrote:

People—military and civilians—die in ways that are anything but entertaining. Communities and societies are ripped apart in armed conflict and the aftermath can be as deadly as the war itself as simmering animosities are unleashed in horrific spirals of violence. War, whether relatively short-lived or going on for decades as in too many parts of the world, leaves deep scars that can take generations to overcome – if ever.

Trying to somehow sanitize war by likening it to an athletic competition further calls into question the morality and ethics of linking the military anywhere with the entertainment industry in barely veiled efforts to make war and its multitudinous costs more palatable to the public.

So, why isn’t the 14th Dalai Lama taking part in that letter?

Glenn Greenwald wrote:

The show is “so sleazy, repulsive and propagandistic” as to be self-evident, but does find one redeeming aspect as it relates to NBC, saying “here we have a major television network finally being relatively candid about the fact that they view war and militarism, first and foremost, as a source of entertainment and profit.”

So, peace-minded individuals worry about propaganda for war. They worry about how history is white-washed because the current generations can more easily be mislead into war. Why isn’t the 14th Dalai Lama reminding the present-day British of their atrocious past when it involves directly people of his own ethnicity? Where was he during the Iraq war?

So, Prothero’s criticism about his lack of peace is in fact an instance of a broader trend.

  1. August 13th, 2012 at 18:59 | #1

    “This is a very, very delicate political issue… if I say something positive, then the Chinese immediately blame me. If I say something negative, then the family members of those people feel very sad… So the best thing is to remain neutral.”

    So if I understand his statement correctly, the Dalai Lama would rather allow a continuation of self-immolation and death rather than make a statement which might make some people “feel sad”. In other words, for the Dalai Lama, the ethical choice between stopping more deaths and hurting people’s feelings is apparently not that clear cut, so his best position is to remain neutral… between MORE DEATHS and hurt feelings.

    & yes, he’s right, if he were to say something in support of mass suicide, he would be condemned by the Chinese government, & perhaps also by anyone else who might take a somewhat rational & moderate view of 21st century morality…

    So DEATH… or bad feelings… yeah that’s a “hard” ethical choice to make…

  2. August 13th, 2012 at 23:04 | #2

    Perhaps the title could be rename as “Gullible, impressionable, morally bankrupt westerner comes to the realization that the Dalai Lama is not so awesome”


    “Not all people built up from a cult of personality is as they seem says Professor of religion”

  3. wtlh
    August 14th, 2012 at 09:22 | #3

    “This is a very, very delicate political issue… if I say something positive, then the Chinese immediately blame me. If I say something negative, then the family members of those people feel very sad… So the best thing is to remain neutral.”


    “Don’t be stupid. If I openly support the self-immolations, it would be the same as openly admitting my involvement and give PRC political ammunition. If I criticise these people, then it would be demoralising to those who have loyally followed my teachings/orders, and will ultimately dent my authority. So let’s just stop making things difficult for me and let my people carry on doing their good work.”

  4. Charles Liu
    August 14th, 2012 at 10:29 | #4

    Setting fire on the streets, even not to oneself, can be considered terrorism. Not to mention the added psychological terror of a person setting oneself on fire.

  5. Zack
    August 14th, 2012 at 23:54 | #5

    the fact that there exist elements amongst the Tibetan monastic elite that encourage such self immolations compels the Chinese government to act. It would be legally irresponsible for any government to allow anyone to come under harm, self inflicted or otherwise, and if others encourage it and attempt to stop emergency workers from helping them, then i do expect criminal charges to be laid.

  6. August 17th, 2012 at 02:42 | #6

    this the same dalai taking $100k/yr from the cia?

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload the CAPTCHA.