By Denzi Yishey
Social conflicts often involve some misunderstanding. Tibetan society is no exception. By communicating what he or she say (or do not say), Tibetans have been good at generating misunderstanding to lessen or exacerbate the outcome(s). Normally, misunderstandings originate as a result of individual biases and standpoints. However, most social misunderstandings in the Tibetan society do not end up in changing the existing social norms. In simple words, they are a passing phase in the life of a society. They come and go.
On a similar front, the general problem of political conflicts is also misunderstanding. However, the impact of such misunderstanding may be disturbing enough to change the direction of any political movement. The key to curb misunderstandings may be right communication or no communication.
As you may be aware, all kinds of communication come in some forms. One form, relevant to this piece, is the verbal communication. When the communication is verbal, tone of voice can influence interpretation. Thus, resulting in some degree of misunderstanding.
In verbal communication, the typical sources of interpretation are public leaders and activists who generally speak of political conflicts, incidents, or voices to support their political viewpoints or approaches. Their main goal is to garner sympathy and support from the general masses. As intended, public tend to believe these leaders and activists without any doubt and question. A similar pattern could be seen in the current flow of verbal communications where Tibetan political leaders and activists try to interpret the real meaning behind the voices of Tibetan self-immolators.
Particularly, after assessing several recent public talks of Tibetan political leaders and activists in the United States, it may be the right time to ask this question – are the voices of Tibet’s self-immolators derailed in exile?
Few self-immolators in Tibet shouted slogans for complete independence while several cried for freedom in Tibet. However, one voice is common – a voice that resembles the true feelings of many Tibetans in Tibet. This voice was for “the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama”. However, this common voice is now interpreted in such a way to assert that these self-immolators were marked as seekers of complete independence. This assertion or interpretation came from a few leading Tibetan leaders and activists in exile.
The rationale behind their assertion was that the common voice for the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama bears a hidden message. The hidden message, they interpret, was a voice asking for the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama as “the Head of Tibet”. As such, in their words, self-immolators were surreptitiously asking for complete independence wherein the Dalai Lama shall return as the Head of the State (Tibet).
However, how could these leaders and activists miss two key points? First, His Holiness the Dalai Lama made it clean and clear that he will not hold any political leadership or role if Tibet’s problem is resolved. As of now, he has devolved all his political power to the elected leaders in exile. Second, if there is a hidden message in the voice of self-immolators, how could it not be for the middle way policy that the Dalai Lama proposed and still stands by it? So, again, the question that is ringing loud and high is – are the voices of Tibet’s self-immolators derailed in exile?
From my perspectives, the voices of self-immolators are plain, pure, and simple. It is beyond the reach and power of anyone in exile to draw an interpretation out of it. It is best to keep their voices as it is and not be tainted by political agendas. Moreover, Tibetans in exile are not in a position to accurately interpret the true feelings of self-immolators, some of who were in teens. Further, Tibetans in exile may be risking their judgment by trying to decipher the meaning of any shouts or slogans of self-immolators in Tibet.
Most disturbingly, this interpretation from Tibetan leaders and activists is knowingly or unknowingly arming or helping the Chinese government. With the interpretation, the Chinese government now has an argument wherein they could say; “Self-immolators are engaged in separatist activities as indicated by leaders and activists in exile. As such, they are terrorists”. The question to ask is - do Tibetans in exile really need to aggravate the current situation in Tibet by interpreting their voices? Isn’t this interpretation an unwise interpretation that generates misunderstandings and helps the Chinese government?
Finally, the hope of this piece is for you to think wide and deep. It may be the time for Tibetans to be extra “smart” as well as “cautious”.