BIG NY Times Article:
Today's New York Times Magazine has a long article on young Tibetan exile activists. The star of the article is poet, activist, and friend of SFT Tenzin Tsundue. I was glad to see such a long piece on the subject in such a high-profile venue. Pankaj Mishra's article is thoughtful and well-written and its portrayal of young Tibetan activists in India is very sympathetic.
Writing about Tenzin Tsundue:
He is always busy. Last spring, he helped organize a meeting in the town's central square to commemorate the victims of the massacre in Tiananmen Square in 1989. He recently finished work on a joint translation of a long poem by a Tibetan writer facing official disapproval in China. Unlike most activists, he doesn't offer a solution for every problem. Instead, he seems engaged in a long and uncertain quest - and this reflective manner is part of his charisma, what makes him attractive to young Indians and Tibetans. "The biggest question for us," he told me, "is what can we do? How do we find a solution to our dilemma? It is so easy to give up and invest all your faith in the Dalai Lama. We have to do something else. But what is it?"Nonetheless, the article fails to express how strategic and visionary Tsundue and his compatriots are. Instead, it paints them as a brand new breed of questioning young people that are just waking up to the idea that the Dalai Lama can't be expected to shoulder the entire burden of the Tibetan cause. The article also fails to give much context outside of the position of the Tibetan Government in Exile and the state of the talks with the Chinese. It doesn't mention the growing unrest within China or describe the way the youth movement for Tibet is growing and solidifying around the world. It mentions the Tibetan Youth Congress, but not that there are chapters everywhere there are Tibetans. There's a photo of the SFT India office, with SFT India's National Coordinator Tenzin Choeying sitting right in the middle. But the caption just calls it the Tibetan exiles' "new office and library," failing to connect it to an international network of young people in dozens of countries around the world. The writer thoughtfully weighs a debate between Tsundue and Samdhong Rinpoche over Gandhi's philosophy of nonviolent resistance but he doesn't look forward, towards the Beijing 2008 Olympics when China will be under unprecedented scrutiny. Nor does he note the massive demographic changes taking place in Tibet, with China encouraging increasing numbers of Chinese to settle there, threatening to simply overwhelm the Tibetan people by making them a minority in their own country.
Then there are a handful of places where the writer completely misses the point. For instance:
"...whatever benefits the Chinese bring in the form of new roads, schools and regular jobs have so far failed to diminish the popularity of the Dalai Lama."Well yes, it isn't just that the Tibetans have maintained their deeply Buddhist faith and culture in the face of the Chinese occupation - it's that the new roads (that help bring in Chinese troops and carry out natural resources), schools (where Tibetan children are indoctrinated with Chinese propaganda and forbidden from speaking their language) and regular jobs (taken by Chinese migrants) aren't "benefits" at all.
It's important for a writer to maintain focus in an article like this. But it's too focused on the supposed "novelty" of Tibetans daring to hold a different vision than the Dalai Lama. Most importantly, it fails to connect Tsundue's tireless activism to that of thousands of Tibetans and their supporters worldwide -- a global movement for Tibetan independence with which Tsundue closely coordinates. Congratulations to Tsundue for earning the coverage (he absolutely has) but let's make sure the faceless thousands of hard-working Tibet activists everywhere also get their deserved acclaim (and I don't mean to suggest that it's Tsundue's responsibility - it's all of ours).
I'm going to send an email to the NY Times Magazine's Editor [firstname.lastname@example.org] to say "thanks for the coverage" but also to encourage them to explore this critical issue much further. There has been increasing coverage of unrest in totalitarian China and corruption and instability within the Chinese Communist Party. Let's try to keep the pressure on to make publications like the New York Times give better (and more!) coverage to Tibet as well. I've posted my letter to the editor as the first comment. Please post your letters as comments too.