“A wolf wrapped in monk’s robes. A devil with a human face and a beast’s heart.”
That’s how Tibetan Communist Party Secretary General Zhang Qingli recently described the Dalai Lama, Tibet‘s traditional political and spiritual leader.
It almost makes me laugh. How can someone really believe this? As I am very familiar with the work of the Dalai Lama through his books, articles, interviews and speeches - and his Nobel Peace Prize - it seemed natural for me to find humor in this Chinese puppet leader’s assessment of someone almost universally recognized for being peaceful.
The more I read, however, the more I realized the depth of Qingli’s seriousness. He further said he and his party was in a “life-and-death” struggle against the Dalai Lama. Clearly, this man is on the wrong side of history and doesn’t yet realize it.
With the Summer Olympics in the Chinese capital of Beijing, talk of the Dalai’s quest for Tibetan autonomy from China is unavoidable. Whether or not Tibet ever actually becomes autonomous, it’s relatively safe to say the Dalai Lama will be remembered among one of the greatest men in history working for peaceful change.
When you take a contemporary look at Mohandas Gandhi, it’s almost absurd to justify the perspectives of those who opposed his movement at the time. It’s simple to see the simplicity of his requests and the honor of his practices. Through non-violent means, violent massacres ceased and India gained independence from British rule.
Fierce opposition to Gandhi ended with his death by an assassin’s bullet. There were plenty of British officials and Hindu radicals as strongly opposed to Gandhi as Qingli apparently is to the Dalai Lama. The majority of the time, those opposing the great leaders of world peace, miss the messenger’s entire message. These people are unmistakably on the wrong side of history; perhaps all of them in complete ignorance at the time of how they would be remembered.
On the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., many reflected on his life, times and his message of non-violence. Once again, history remembered a man who fought tyranny and injustice in a peaceful manner. Dr. King endured beatings, water hoses and enormous opposition to change not only our nation’s laws, but also our nation’s attitudes about race and equality.
Many viewed Dr. King as a communist rabble-rouser who used his status for simple notoriety. The FBI once labeled him as “the most dangerous negro in America.” Once again, looking back today, it is extremely difficult to justify such a label. Dr. King’s opponents utterly missed the essence of his message, and there has been an obvious reconsideration of their tactics against him.
It makes one wonder why people - such as the Chinese leadership today with Tibet - do not recognize they are putting themselves alongside the infamous opponents of the world’s great movements. Clearly, the Chinese are disregarding the Dalai Lama’s principled message and succumbing to short-sighted bullying that has done others a disservice in the past.
In the end, who really wants to be remembered as the guy who killed Gandhi or someone who turned the hoses on Dr. King rather than marched alongside him? What will a person tell their grandchildren about when they were apathetic to the causes of Nelson Mandela or Lech Walesa? How can we, for that matter, justify allowing Zhang Qingli and his Chinese cohorts to abuse and murder those seeking autonomy for Tibet?
If we disregard the calls for freedom and democracy in places such as Tibet, where are we placing ourselves as it relates to world history? If we disregard the Chinese abuses upon the Tibetans for political expediency, we risk going down in history as another apathetic generation against a critical tide in human events.
To quote Dr. King, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
Ak’Bar A. Shabazz is a member of the national advisory council for the Project 21 black leadership network.