September 22, 2003


Dalai Lama Lite: The Dalai Lama has been appropriated by the American people
into a cuddly projection of our hopes and dreams. (PATRICK FRENCH, 9/19/03, NY Times)

The Dalai Lama has become whoever we want him to be, a cuddly projection of our hopes and dreams. This enthusiasm, though, has not translated into any tangible political benefit for Tibetans. He has been seen on advertisements for Apple computers and software; significantly, he was not paid for either of these uses of his image. Some of the books that purport to be written by the Dalai Lama are scarcely by him at all, but have his face on the cover to increase sales.

In reality, Tibetan Buddhism is not a values-free system oriented around smiles and a warm heart. It is a religion with tough ethical underpinnings that sometimes get lost in translation. For example, the Dalai Lama explicitly condemns homosexuality, as well as all oral and anal sex. His stand is close to that of Pope John Paul II, something his Western followers find embarrassing and prefer to ignore. His American publisher even asked him to remove the injunctions against homosexuality from his book, "Ethics for the New Millennium," for fear they would offend American readers, and the Dalai Lama acquiesced. [...]

American enthusiasm for the Dalai Lama is not the same as genuine political support for Tibet. No United States government will place sympathy for Tibetans above America's strategic and economic interests. China is too large a power to be pushed around, and has always been vociferous in its refusal to listen to advice about Tibet. It is hard to see how the People's Liberation Army could be persuaded to leave the Tibetan plateau without regime change in Beijing, which is something that even President Bush might be nervous to contemplate.

Passion for the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Buddhism is a great thing, but Americans keen to buy into that image should take care to understand the man and what he stands for, and above all the moral complexity of life for the Tibetans inside Tibet.

We may not choose to force it militarily, but there's no reason regime change shouldn't be our official policy for China.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 22, 2003 1:46 PM

President Clinton reiterated that the US and China had a "strategic alliance". The absurdity of that claim was obvious.

Regime change in China - and in various other thugocracies - remains US policy.

Posted by: John J. Coupal at September 22, 2003 10:27 PM

Hmm. And the NYT recently published an interview with the Dalai Lama where he said "terror may need a violent reply", and "it was 'too early to say' whether the war in Iraq was a mistake." I picture men in a backroom somewhere: "He isn't toeing the line on Iraq. Dig up some dirt on the Dalai Lama!"

Posted by: scott h. at September 23, 2003 12:44 AM